Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

Pittsburgh Pirates trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Minor Moves: Obispo, Brown, Rodriguez

Here are today’s minor transactions from around the league…

  • Pirates right-hander Wirfin Obispo has been outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis, MLBTR’s Zach Links reports (on Twitter). The 29-year-old was designated for assignment last week when the Bucs claimed catcher Ramon Cabrera off waivers from the Tigers. In 25 2/3 innings with Indianapolis, Obispo has posted a 3.16 ERA with 8.4 K/9, though he’s posted a fairly high 4.6 BB/9 rate as well.
  • Red Sox outfielder Corey Brown has been outrighted to Triple-A Pawtucket, according to the team’s transactions page. Brown, 28, was designated for assignment on Aug. 17 to create roster space for right-hander Steven Wright. He has a strong track record at Triple-A as a whole, but he scuffled a bit in 2014, posting a .226/.294/.452 batting line.
  • The Yankees have signed right-hander Wilking Rodriguez, per the club’s transactions page. Rodriguez was released by the Royals after the team’s acquisition of Josh Willingham, but the 24-year-old posted solid stats between Double-A and Triple-A this season: a combined 2.36 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 26 2/3 innings. Rodriguez also made his big league debut for the Royals this year, firing two scoreless innings with one hit, one walk and one strikeout.

Central Links: Dirks, Cubs, Morton, Meyer, Reds

Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks suffered yet another setback in his return from back surgery i a rehab game on Sunday, according to James Schmel of MLive.com. Dirks sustained the second hamstring injury of his rehab assignment, and while the results of a Tuesday MRI have yet to be disclosed, it’s looking unlikely that he will play for the Tigers at all this season, writes Schmel. There are just 13 games remaining in the minor league regular season, and Dirks may not have enough time to rehab and prepare himself to suit up for the reigning AL Central champs this year.

Here’s more from baseball’s Central divisions…

  • Much has been made of the Cubs‘ plan to pursue top-of-the-rotation arms this offseason, but GM Jed Hoyer said to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times this weekend that a veteran position player is a priority as well. “…[T]here’s a lot of positions on the field that we want to dedicate to the guys that are here or to young players,” said Hoyer. “But I do think it’s important to have some veteran guys with good approaches that these guys can lean on… … It’s certainly something we want to find.”
  • Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton was originally placed on the disabled list for a hip issue, but he has now been diagnosed with a sports hernia, he told reporters, including Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Twitter link). Morton will try to return in 2014, but that doesn’t appear to be a certainty, and even if he does, offseason surgery remains a possibility.
  • Twins top prospect Alex Meyer is right where he should be in regard to the team’s projected innings limit, GM Terry Ryan tells Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Ryan will watch Meyer’s final home start of the year next week but is not ready to concretely say that the flamethrower will receive a September call-up. The Twins would need to add Meyer to the 40-man roster to do so, but as Berardino notes, that would happen following the season in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft anyway. Meyer ranked on the midseason Top 50 prospect lists of ESPN’s Keith Law, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com, placing as high as 12th overall (on B-Pro’s list).
  • Following the Reds‘ recent four-game losing streak — each of which featured the bullpen blowing a lead — John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer opines that it’s time to shift the focus to 2015. Fay examines the club’s chances of contending and writes that they won’t be big players on the free agent market, as is typically the M.O. of owner Bob Castellini. Fay also notes that the Reds debated moving a starting pitcher at the non-waiver trade deadline, but Castellini wouldn’t sign off on a sale. Fay feels that a starter, such as Johnny Cueto or Mat Latos, could become trade bait in the offseason with the Reds in need of a bat.

Blue Jays Claim Matt Hague From Pirates

The Blue Jays have claimed first baseman Matt Hague off waivers from the Pirates, Toronto announced via press release. Hague has been optioned to Triple-A.

Hague, 28, has only limited MLB experience but was swinging well this year at Triple-A Indianapolis, slashing .267/.365/.448 with 14 long balls over 386 trips to bat. Pittsburgh designated him for assignment (and ultimately exposed him to waivers) to make roster space for the acquisition of reliever John Axford.



Minor Moves: Brad Mills, Ernesto Frieri

Here are the day’s minor moves …

  • The Blue Jays have outrighted southpaw Brad Mills to Triple-A Buffalo, according to the team’s transactions page. Mills, 29, was designated for assignment by the Jays on Tuesday and will have the option to elect free agency rather than report to Triple-A, having been outrighted in the past. He has a 9.15 ERA in 20 2/3 Major League innings this season but a sensational 1.81 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 89 1/3 innings between the Triple-A affiliates for Milwaukee and Toronto this season.
  • After clearing waivers, righty Ernesto Frieri has accepted an assignment to the Pirates‘ Triple-A affiliate, Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com reports on Twitter. After starting the season as the Angels’ closer, Frieri was dealt to Pittsburgh and then designated for assignment when he failed to right the ship. Though other clubs might have been willing to take a chance on him, Frieri’s $3.8MM first-year arbitration salary no doubt scared off any claims. It seems all but certain at this point that Frieri will end up being non-tendered in the offseason.

Pirates Designate Matt Hague For Assignment

The Pirates have designated Matt Hague for assignment and placed right-hander Stolmy Pimentel on the disabled list in order to clear roster space for the recently acquired John Axford, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Hague, a 28-year-old infielder, went 0-for-2 in his only two plate appearances for the Buccos in 2014. In a previous stint back in 2012, he batted .229/.270/.257 in 74 plate appearances — his only other Major League experience. The former ninth-rounder and Oklahama State product has been solid for Triple-A Indianapolis this season, batting .267/.365/.448 with 14 homers in 386 PA.


Pirates Acquire John Axford

The Pirates have officially acquired righty John Axford from the Indians, the clubs have announced. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported the transaction (via Twitter). Axford, 31, joined Cleveland on a one-year, $4.5MM free agent contract after being non-tendered by the Cardinals.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians

Pittsburgh added the righty through a straight waiver claim , tweets ESPN.com’s Buster Olney. That means the club will be on the hook for the approximately $1.1MM that he is still owed this year, though it will not need to part with any young talent to add the veteran arm.

On the year, Axford has posted a 3.92 ERA with 10.5 K/9 but a troubling 6.5 BB/9 over 43 2/3 innings. He does have a career-best 54.1% groundball rate, but advanced metrics have not been impressed on the whole (4.71 FIP, 3.98 xFIP, 3.80 SIERA). Axford opened the season as the Cleveland closer, and picking up ten saves in the process, but lost the job with inconsistent performance. He has been much better of late, though saw his ERA jump 78 points in his last outing (August 8th) when he gave up four earned runs on three hits and an ill-timed home run.

Axford has now been dealt in August for the second time in as many seasons. Last year, the one-time Brewers closer moved from Milwaukee to St. Louis in late August. Though Axford has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, it seems rather likely that he will be a non-tender candidate once again. As with Ernesto Frieri, who was recently acquired and later outrighted by the Pirates, early-career save opportunities make it difficult to justify tendering contracts to non-elite bullpen arms.

For the Bucs, Axford represents another attempt to shore up a pen that has failed to match last year’s unit, which was third in baseball with a collective 2.89 ERA. In 2014, the Pittsburgh relief corps has put up a negative fWAR tally and combined to allow 3.52 earned per nine.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Pirates Designate Wirfin Obispo For Assignment

The Pirates announced that they have designated right-hander Wirfin Obispo for assignment in order to make room for catcher Ramon Cabrera, who was claimed off waivers from the Tigers earlier today. Cabrera will report to Double-A Altoona, according to a team release from the Pirates.

The Pirates claimed Obispo, 29, off waivers from the Braves back in June, and he’s pitched rather well for their Triple-A affiliate. In 25 2/3 innings with Indianapolis, Obispo has posted a 3.16 ERA with 8.4 K/9, though he’s posted a fairly high 4.6 BB/9 rate as well. He struggled to a 4.66 ERA with the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate and has a 3.80 ERA on the season as a whole between the two clubs. Obispo has never reached the Major League level, but he’s turned in a combined 4.01 ERA over the past three seasons at Triple-A, averaging 9.1 strikeouts and 5.3 walks per nine innings pitched.


Pirates Claim Ramon Cabrera

The Pirates have claimed catcher Ramon Cabrera off waivers from the Tigers, Jason Beck of MLB.com reports on Twitter. Cabrera was placed on waivers after being designated for assignment to create 40-man space for the promotion of spot starter Buck Farmer, Beck adds.

The 24-year-old backstop came to Detroit from Pittsburgh in a winter swap for starter Andy Oliver. Now he’ll head back to the organization that signed him out of Venezuela. For the Tigers, the loss of a young player like Cabrera represents one of the somewhat under-appreciated downsides to being surprised with the need to add a player to the 40-man.

The Pirates should have a good handle on the player they are getting back, since he spent five years in their system. Cabrera was rated Detroit’s 27th-best prospect coming into the year by Baseball America, with the publication calling him a high-contact, low-power, low-speed offensive player who is still below average behind the dish. According to BA, his upside is to produce along the lines of Josh Thole. Over 431 plate appearances at the Double-A level this year, Cabrera owns a .277/.329/.358 triple-slash.


Free Agent Stock Watch: Russell Martin

Russell Martin‘s current two-year, $17MM deal, which remains the largest free-agent contract in Pirates history, received mixed reviews when it was signed. Now, though, it’s clear the deal was a coup for the Bucs, and Martin’s impending free agency raises fascinating questions about how to balance his unusual skill set and the lack of impact catchers on next offseason’s free agent market against the worrisome aging patterns of backstops in their thirties.

Martin was a key to the Pirates’ breakout 94-win season in 2013. He hit a modest .226/.327/.377, but he still contributed 4.1 fWAR thanks to his exceptional defense, and he may have added a bit of value even beyond that thanks to his well regarded pitch framing. This season, he might be even more helpful despite missing time with a hamstring strain — his .417 OBP so far this season is an amazing 107 points above league average, and his defense again grades very well, with 9 Defensive Runs Saved above average so far.

USATSI_7978360_154513410_lowresMartin’s excellent performance in 2014 couldn’t be better timed. Now that Kurt Suzuki has signed an extension with the Twins, there won’t really be any other starting catchers on the free agent market, unless one counts players like Geovany Soto or A.J. Pierzynski. Teams like the Dodgers, Rockies and possibly Blue Jays or Cubs would all make some degree of sense as potential suitors for Martin, and the Pirates would surely love to have him back at the right price, so the market for him should be robust.

Dollar figure and contract length are always important considerations for free agents, but in Martin’s case they’re even more crucial than usual. Neal Huntington has already implied that the cost-conscious Bucs aren’t likely to be serious bidders, even though it’s a steep drop from Martin to presumptive 2015 starting catcher Tony Sanchez. A team like the Rangers might be unwilling to block a terrific catching prospect in Jorge Alfaro by signing Martin to a lengthy contract, and therefore could simply settle on Robinson Chirinos until Alfaro is ready. The same goes for the Red Sox, who have Christian Vazquez at the big-league level and Blake Swihart on the way.

Then there’s the more general problem of how to value an aging catcher. Martin will be 32 in February, and aging patterns for catchers that age are brutal, to put it mildly. Recent history is full of good starting catchers who struggled to maintain their value into their thirties, like Kenji Johjima, Ramon Hernandez and former Pirate Jason Kendall. Others, like Charles Johnson and Michael Barrett, fell off the table at an even younger age than Martin is now. Brian McCann, who’s signed to a five-year contract and who’s even younger than Martin, might end up providing another cautionary tale. Martin is a unique player with good conditioning habits, and his defense should give him value even if his offense falters, but history isn’t on his side.

On top of that, Martin’s remarkable .290/.417/.391 2014 season likely wouldn’t be sustainable even if he were younger. After five straight years of a BABIP of .287 or lower, his BABIP is .354 this season. Martin’s excellent plate discipline is legitimate, but his batting average is more likely to be something like .240 or .250, rather than .290, going forward.

These warning signs will be perfectly clear to most teams, and it’s likely that whoever signs Martin will be hoping to get good value at the start of the contract, with that value declining sharply as the contract progresses. It’s tough to find precedents for a Martin deal, since few catchers sign long free-agent deals, but he should be able to receive at least three years, and perhaps four, at north of $10MM per season. Barring an injury down the stretch, he’ll surely be in line for more than the three years and $26MM Carlos Ruiz received from the Phillies last year, but far less than the five years and $85MM McCann got.

The Ruiz contract suggests Martin will get a hefty payday, although Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s recent deal points in the other direction. Saltalamacchia posted 3.6 WAR last season before hitting the market as a 28-year-old and only got $21MM over three years, even though the Red Sox didn’t extend him a qualifying offer. For Martin, a three-year deal in the range of $12MM-13MM per season might make sense, or possibly a four-year contract worth slightly less per season. Martin could also try for a higher average annual value by taking a two-year deal, although, given his age, he probably has incentive to prefer more seasons and more guaranteed money, since he’s not likely to get another big contract after this offseason.

One can see, then, why a return to the Pirates appears so unlikely — the Bucs were unwilling to extend a $14.1MM qualifying offer to A.J. Burnett last season, explaining that their budget made it difficult to build a competitive team while committing so heavily to one player. It’s difficult, then, to see them committing to pay a similar annual salary to a player for three or four years, particularly when getting little from that player at the end of the contract could be disastrous for them. The Burnett situation also raises questions about whether the Pirates will extend Martin a qualifying offer after the season, potentially affecting his market. They will probably have a stronger incentive to do so with Martin than they did with Burnett, given that there’s less of a chance Martin would accept.

Less thrifty teams would likely have fewer concerns than the Pirates would, and might also be more inclined to pursue Martin because of his perceived value even beyond his peripherals — he’s widely regarded as a thoughtful player and leader who’s helpful with pitchers. The most likely outcome (although it’s far from certain at this point) is that Martin winds up with a three-year deal from a bigger-payroll team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Quick Hits: Upton, Martin, Giants, Astros

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported over the weekend that the Braves explored a trade prior to the deadline that would’ve sent B.J. Upton and a starting pitcher elsewhere.  David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link) has another detail on this scuttled trade, saying that the Braves would’ve taken on “a contract [the] other team [was] looking to shed.”  It sounds like it would’ve essentially been a swap of one bad contract (the roughly $50MM owed to Upton through 2017) for another, though if Atlanta was willing to move a starter as well, the other contract was likely for a shorter term.  It’ll be interesting to see if the identities of the mystery team and mystery player are revealed in the coming weeks or months but until then, let the guessing game begin!

Here’s some more from around the baseball world…

  • Russell Martin‘s plan to take a short-term contract and rebuild his value for a richer, longer-term deal seems to have paid off, MLB.com’s Tom Singer and Stephen Pianovich write.  Martin has a .743 OPS over his two seasons with the Pirates and is hitting .290/.417/.391 over 308 PA this year, which makes him easily the most attractive catcher available in this winter’s free agent market.  Martin says he loves playing in Pittsburgh, though Singer/Pianovich note that the Bucs are unlikely to be able to afford his asking price and prospect Tony Sanchez is waiting in the wings.
  • The 2015 Giants could be improved by moving Buster Posey to third base and Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News opines.  Lincecum’s value as a starter is diminishing but (as the 2012 postseason indicated) he could be a dominant force as a reliever or closer.  If Pablo Sandoval leaves in free agency, Kawakami argues that Posey could slide to third in order to help him stay healthy and perhaps lead to more production at the plate.  Posey already plays a lot of first base and Kawakami doesn’t mention another possibility I think the Giants could consider, which is trading Brandon Belt.
  • Speaking of next year’s Giants team, CSNBayArea.com’s Andrew Baggarly points out that at least $125MM is already committed to a roster that still has a big hole to address at second base and five key free agents (Sandoval, Michael Morse, Sergio Romo, Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy) to re-sign or replace.  With payroll stretched so thin both this season and next, Baggarly says the team simply doesn’t have the resources to explore replacing struggling players like Lincecum or Brandon Crawford.
  • The Astros could return to respectability by adding a few veteran players in an attempt to follow the model of the 2003 Tigers, Grantland’s Jonah Keri opines.  Those Tigers responded to an infamous 119-loss season by signing veteran free agents over the next few years, who mixed well with a young core and led the team to an AL pennant by 2006.