Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

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

Pirates Sign Corey Hart

12:59pm: Hart will earn $2.5MM in base salary and can double it with another $2.5MM in incentives, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).

12:55pm: The Pirates announced that they have signed free agent Corey Hart.

Hart could serve as a platoon partner with Pedro Alvarez to help make up for his shortcomings against lefties.  After missing the entire 2013 season due to knee surgery, Hart was signed by the Mariners around this time last year.  The veteran made 55 starts as a designated hitter while also making seven appearances in right field, two at first base and one in left field.  All in all, he posted a .203/.271/.319 slash line in 255 plate appearances.  Prior to his lost 2013 season, Hart owned a career .276/.334/.491 slash line.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Hart, the Pirates have designated right-handed pitcher Preston Guilmet for assignment.  To keep up with his status and everyone else in DFA limbo, check out MLBTR’s DFA Tracker.


Pirates Re-Sign Francisco Liriano

MONDAY: Liriano will receive a $2MM signing bonus, $11MM in 2015 and $13MM in 2016-17, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (on Twitter). His contract also calls for award bonuses, including as much as $325K per season based on Cy Young voting.

FRIDAY: The Pirates may have lost Russell Martin to free agency, but they were able to retain their other top free agent, as they announced on Friday the signing of Francisco Liriano to a three-year contract. Liriano, a client of the Legacy Agency’s Greg Genske, reportedly receives a $39MM guarantee.

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As Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes on Twitter, this deal would become the largest free agent contract in club history. For an organization that has seen its fortunes change over the last two years, the investment in a major free agent represents both a continuation and departure.

That contract lands just $1MM shy of the prediction of MLBTR’s Steve Adams before the offseason. As Steve wrote, there is a lot to like about Liriano, starting with the 323 1/3 frames of 3.20 ERA ball over the last two seasons. He achieved those results with numbers to support them: 9.4 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, and a 52.4% groundball rate. Liriano’s fastball velocity has achieved new life in Pittsburgh, and the club will look for that to continue.

Of course, there are downsides to any player, and Liriano is no exception. For one, he has never been one to rack up huge innings totals, though perhaps there is a bit of a silver lining there. Then there’s his less-than-inspiring history of injuries and inconsistency.

On the whole, however, three and $39MM seems quite a reasonable price for a pitcher with Liriano’s ability to dominate. Pittsburgh will give up the ability to add draft pick compensation, which it was in line to receive if Liriano had found a new home after declining a qualifying offer.

Robert Murray was first to report the agreement and the terms (via Twitter).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Arbitration Breakdown: Josh Harrison

Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Josh Harrison will enter his first year of arbitration this winter after having a great year. From 2011 to 2013, Harrison had irregular playing time and bounced between the minors or majors, but in 2014 he firmly cemented his starter status with a .315 average and 58 extra-base hits. Harrison had a .347 OBP after failing to crack .290 in his previous three seasons, and slugged .490. Although his high OBP, 38 doubles and 7 triples made him a tremendously valuable 4.9 WAR player in 2014, they unfortunately (for him, at least) are not the kind of contributions awarded generously through the arbitration process.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds

Harrison had just 13 home runs, along with only 52 RBIs. The limited runs batted in are not surprising given that he hit out of the leadoff spot the majority of the time, but leadoff hitters usually offset some of their lack of power numbers with stolen bases when they go to arbitration. Harrison had 18 stolen bases, which is solid but not elite. In Harrison’s case, the value he added in 2014 does not typically get rewarded in arbitration. Harrison also loses out relative to other players because he only had 550 PA in his platform season. Playing time is perhaps the most crucial characteristic of a good arbitration case, and Harrison loses out to players who have more PA.

On the other hand, Harrison does benefit from the fact that arbitration rewards a strong platform season far more than performance in recent seasons. In his previous three seasons, he had only 575 PA combined, with just 7 home runs, 46 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases. And with only a .250 average in his pre-platform seasons, Harrison hurts his case, but far less than if he had struggled to hit safely in his platform year.

As a result of this, the model projects him to earn $2.2 million for 2015 and I do not think the model is far off in this one. Combining the peculiarity of the pairing of his strong platform season and his weak pre-platform years, the high average with lack of major power or stolen bases out of the leadoff spot, and his low playing time totals, it is difficult to find comparables for Harrison, but as we discuss some options below, the $2.2 million estimate starts to look pretty appropriate.

Looking for comparables, there were three key features that I searched for first. One was having between 400 and 600 PA in his platform season, so that the player was a starter but did not get too much playing time. I also initially looked for players who hit .300 since that is such a strong part of Harrison’s case, but who had less than 20 home runs, since power would have really helped his case. That left two players in the last five years.

Nyjer Morgan’s 2012 case is a pretty strong one, and he earned $2.35MM. He hit .304 with 4 home runs and 37 RBIs, and stole 13 bases over 498 PA. So he had less power and plate appearances than Harrison in his platform year, but was otherwise similar. Morgan did have 1403 PA in his pre-platform years, more than double Harrison’s 575 PA. Morgan also hit .283 in his pre-platform years, also beating Harrison’s .250 average handily.

Rajai Davis’ 2010 case is a little old to be used a typical arbitration case but also looks similar despite only getting $1.35MM. He hit .305 with 3 home runs and 48 home runs, and actually stole 41 bases, all with 432 PA. His .256 average and 462 PA pre-platform do look a lot more like Harrison, though. Even still, that case looks pretty out of touch with more recent numbers.

Expanding the group of potential comparables by looking for guys who hit between .290 and .300 in their platform year adds a couple names. David Murphy in 2011 got $2.4MM for a .291 average, 12 home runs, 65 RBI, and 14 steals in 467 PA in his platform year, and 1085 pre-platform PA in which hit .278, with 35 home runs and 147 RBI, along with 16 stolen bases. Tyler Colvin’s 2013 case is especially similar, and he got $2.275MM. Colvin hit .290 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI, along with 7 steals, although he only got 446 PA. In his pre-platform years, he had 636 PA and hit .215 with 26 home runs and 78 RBI, adding in six stolen bases.

The main issue with this group of four guys is that none of them had 500 PA, let alone 550 like Harrison. Eric Hosmer in 2014 could perhaps be a solid comparable for his platform year, with a .302 average, 17 home runs, 79 RBI, and 11 stolen bases. But Hosmer’s pre-platform years sum to a much loftier line than Harrison’s. He had 1161 PA, again about twice Harrison’s total, and he also hit 33 home runs and 138 RBI, far more than Harrison’s seven home runs and 46 RBI. Hosmer’s $3.6MM salary seems pretty unattainable for Harrison. Austin Jackson and Billy Butler both earned $3.5MM with similar lines to Hosmer, and both seem unlikely matches for Harrison because of their far greater pre-platform playing time.

Sometimes in arbitration cases, it is useful not just to look for comparable players, but to sandwich a player between a ceiling and a floor player. The ceiling player would clearly have superior numbers and should have a salary above the player in question, while the floor player would have inferior numbers and a low salary.

Alejandro de Aza’s 2013 arbitration case netted him $2.075MM, which seems like a reasonable floor for Harrison. He had a similar number of PA, 585, but hit just .281 and only had 9 home runs and 50 RBI, although he did steal 26 bags. His pre-platform years are worse, with only 388 PA to Harrison’s 575, and only four home runs and 36 RBI, both less than Harrison’s seven and 46, and with a similar number of stolen bases. De Aza did hit .280 in his pre-platform years, but that difference is not as large as the platform year batting average advantage that Harrison enjoys. As a result, it is difficult to see Harrison getting less than $2.075MM.

Jay Bruce looks like a ceiling. He had 573 PA going into his 2011 case, and he hit 25 home runs with 70 RBI. Bruce did have a .281 average, which is less than Harrison’s .315, but it seems unlikely that Harrison’s batting average could be more important than his lack of relative power. Bruce also had 839 PA pre-platform, and although he hit just .240, he had 43 home runs and 110 RBI. The fact that Bruce went into arbitration with 68 career home runs, more than triple Harrison’s 20, makes him a ceiling. Harrison is unlikely to match Bruce’s $2.792MM salary.

So it seems likely that Harrison will fall somewhere between $2.075MM and $2.792MM, and probably closer to $2.075MM. Tyler Colvin’s 2013 earnings of $2.275MM seem like the best comparison, which further cements Harrison around that range. I could see Harrison getting somewhere in between my $2.2MM estimate and maybe $2.5MM, but it will be hard for Harrison to go much past that point.



NL Notes: Harper, Zimmermann, Marlins, Pirates, Rasmus

The latest salvo in Bryce Harper‘s grievance against the Nationals over his arbitration eligibility was fired yesterday when Harper failed to appear at NatsFest, the team’s annual fan convention. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo told reporters, including James Wagner of the Washington Post, “We’re disappointed he’s not here, but he chose not to be here because of the grievance.” Harper responded with a statement provided by his representatives and quoted by Wagner, “I have attended NatsFest each year and always enjoy my experience with the fans, but was unable to attend this year’s event due to matters out of my control. I look forward to next year’s NatsFest.” The grievance hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in New York. If Harper wins his grievance, MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects a $2.5MM arbitration award for the outfielder (as opposed to the $1.5MM base his contract stipulates for 2015), which will create a larger platform for future arbitration earnings.

In other news and notes involving the National League:

  • Jordan Zimmermann reiterated his desire to sign an extension with the Nationals, but only at the right price, reports CSNWashington.com’s Chase Hughes. “If it’s a fair value, like I have said all along, I would gladly sign,” said Zimmermann. “But at the end of the day, it’s gotta be something that’s fair and if it’s not, then I’ll be moving on.
  • The Marlins are not willing to trade either Henderson Alvarez or Jarred Cosart for a first baseman, tweets Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Jackson also reports the Marlins have had more talks with Michael Morse in recent days and he represents the best realistic option to upgrade the position.
  • The Marlins are listening to offers for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi; but, while the Pirates view him as a “terrific young pitcher” and “someone we’ll keep looking at,” club president Frank Coonelly says they are not close to bringing him to Pittsburgh, tweets MLB.com’s Tom Singer.
  • In a separate Singer tweet, Coonelly also downplays the return of Edinson Volquez. “Two years for $20MM not far off for Volquez,” Coonelly said. “He could get that. It probably won’t be here.
  • The Cubs have met recently with Colby Rasmus and are one of several teams to show interest in him, reports Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes identified the Cubs as a potential landing spot for Rasmus back in September while the Orioles and Royals have also been linked to the free agent center fielder.
  • With the elevation of Jeff Bridich to general manager, Rockies manager Walt Weiss has more independence in running the team with the front office no longer maintaining an offfice in the clubhouse and is more involved in player personnel decisions, writes Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post.

Quick Hits: Stanton, Mets, Tulowitzki, Miller, Mariners

The Marlins do not think they’ll have to pay out the entire $325MM balance of Giancarlo Stanton‘s contract, Pirates president Frank Coonelly told a crowd (including the Tribune-Review’s Rob Biertempfel) at PirateFest Saturday. Speaking very candidly for a team president, Coonelly recalled a recent conversation with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson: “They said to me, ‘You don’t understand. (Stanton) has an out clause after six years. Those first six years are only going to cost $107 million. After that, he’ll leave and play for somebody else. So, it’s not really $325 million.'” Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • The Mets should trade for Troy Tulowitzki, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. Yes, Sherman says, Tulowitzki has $106MM on his contract and a long list of injuries, but if he were a perfect player, the Rockies would not trade him at a reasonable price. (In fact, they still might not trade him at a reasonable price.) And the time is right for the Mets, who have plenty of promising pitching but don’t have a shortstop. A trade for Tulowitzki could be just the risk the Mets need, Sherman writes, like their trade for Gary Carter 30 years ago. As for Tulowitzki, Sherman says that it’s “a poorly kept secret in the game is just how badly he wants out of Colorado now.” He doesn’t have a no-trade clause, but the Rockies’ front office would likely consult him about a possible trade, and Sherman thinks he would appreciate the chance to play for the Mets.
  • The Cardinals say they are not actively pursuing Max Scherzer, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets. Scherzer is from the St. Louis area, and he reportedly met with the team earlier in the offseason.
  • A Mariners official says the team doesn’t want to trade Brad Miller, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. “[U]nderstand this: We’re not looking to trade him,” the official says. “I’m not saying it won’t happen, but it’s a lot less likely than some people seem to think.” Dutton adds, however, that Miller was part of a deal the Mariners proposed to try to get Matt Kemp from the Dodgers. The Dodgers then demanded the Mariners include either Taijuan Walker or James Paxton. The Mariners declined, and the Dodgers agreed to trade Kemp to the Padres instead.
  • The Twins have shown interest in former Reds third baseman Jack Hannahan, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com tweets. Hannahan was born in St. Paul and went to both high school and college in the Twin Cities. He played sparingly in 2014 and posted just a .470 OPS in 50 plate appearances, so as Wolfson notes, the Twins would likely have interest in him only on a minor league deal.

Pirates To Sign Radhames Liz To Major League Deal

DECEMBER 13: The Pirates have made the Liz deal official, and it’s not a two-year deal, but rather a one-year deal worth $1MM. Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review explains that the Pirates were uncomfortable with the results of Liz’s physical, which led to the lesser deal.

NOVEMBER 21: The Pirates have signed right-hander Radhames Liz to a Major League contract, tweets ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net was the first to report that he’d been signed to a big league deal, reporting it as a two-year, $3MM contract (Twitter link).

Some may remember the hard-throwing Liz from his days with the Orioles, with whom he pitched from 2007-09. Liz ranked as a Top 100 prospect per Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, but he struggled greatly in those three seasons, pitching to a 7.50 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 6.2 BB/9 in 110 1/3 innings. Following his time with Baltimore, the Dominican hurler spent a season with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate before heading overseas to pitch in Korea.

Liz reinvented himself as a member of the LG Twins in the Korea Baseball Organization, compiling a 3.51 ERA with 454 strikeouts against 240 walks in 518 2/3 innings over a three-year stint. Those numbers are no small feat in the hitter-friendly KBO, and Liz’s best season was his last in Korea — a 3.06 ERA with a league-leading 188 strikeouts in 202 2/3 innings.

The righty returned to pro ball in North America in 2014, notching a 2.95 ERA in 61 innings with the Blue Jays’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. Liz was said to be mulling over multiple seven-figure offers to return to Japan or Korea, but the Pirates were able to convince him to stay, apparently with a two-year contract that comes with little financial risk.

Pittsburgh is known for revitalizing pitchers under coordinator Jim Benedict and pitching coach Ray Searage. The team has worked wonders with the likes of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, Vance Worley and Edinson Volquez in recent seasons. Liz will be the next reclamation project, it seems. He averaged nearly 94 mph on his heater back in his Orioles days and has what one scout from the Dominican Republic described to Stark as “power stuff” and a “vicious curve.”


NL Notes: Desmond, Alvarez, Gomes

Free-agent-to-be Ian Desmond is focused on the upcoming season, but he would love to stay with the Nationals past 2015 if he can, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes. The Expos drafted Desmond in 2004, and he’s been with the organization ever since. “I was 18 when I signed, I had like four armpit hairs. Now I’ve got three kids,” says Desmond. “This is an organization I’ve been with a long time. Obviously I want to be here and play here, but this is a business.” Here’s more from the National League.

  • The Pirates plan to play Pedro Alvarez at first base against both lefties and righties, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets. “It’s going to be Pedro’s job to keep,” said manager Clint Hurdle at today’s PirateFest. That suggests that the Pirates are unlikely to hunt for a replacement for righty first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who they recently designated for assignment and then non-tendered. Brink also notes, however, that right-handed catcher Tony Sanchez will get work at first base and could potentially win a bench job, giving the Pirates an extra option in case Alvarez continues to struggle against lefties after hitting .175/.241/.263 against them last season.
  • The Reds are looking for outfielders, but they haven’t shown interest in Jonny Gomes, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets. Gomes played with the Reds from 2009 until they traded him to the Nationals midway through the 2011 season, but it seems they aren’t interested in a reunion after he hit .234/.327/.330 in 321 plate appearances for Boston and Oakland in 2014.

Pirates Designate Josh Lindblom

The Pirates have designated reliever Josh Lindblom for assignment, the team announced. The move was made in conjunction with the team’s announcement of the signing of Radhames Liz.

Pittsburgh claimed Lindblom off waivers from the Athletics just five days ago. Lindblom, 27, only made one appearance at the big league level last year in Oakland. Over 84 minor league frames, he posted a 5.79 ERA while striking out 6.4 and walking 2.8 batters per nine. In parts of four seasons in the bigs, Lindblom owns a 3.82 ERA.


Rays, Pirates Complete Sean Rodriguez Trade

DEC. 12: The Rays announced that they have acquired right-hander Buddy Borden from the Pirates to complete the trade (via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times).

The 22-year-old Borden was Pittsburgh’s seventh-round pick out of UNLV in 2013 and spent this past season in the Class-A South Atlantic League. There, he pitched to a 3.16 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 128 innings (26 starts, 27 appearances total). At the time of the draft, Baseball America (subscription required) praised his durable, athletic build and a 90-92 mph fastball that could touch 95. However, BA also noted that his secondary pitches were below average, which could point to relief work in the long-term.

DEC. 1: The Pirates announced that they have acquired infielder Sean Rodriguez from the Rays in exchange for a player to be named later and cash considerations. First baseman Gaby Sanchez has been designated for assignment to clear roster space.

Rodriguez was designated for assignment by the Rays last week. The 29-year-old, projected to earn $2MM via arbitration by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, posted a career-high 12 home runs in 2014 with a career-best .232 isolated power mark, but the rest of his stats took a tumble. Rodriguez batted .211/.258/.443 on the whole, walking at a career-low 3.9 percent clip while striking out in nearly 26 percent of his plate appearances.

Rodriguez is able to play all four infield positions as well the outfield corners, and he generally has posted plus defensive marks as an infielder. The Pirates are set to enter the season with Josh Harrison at third base, Jordy Mercer at shortstop, Neil Walker at second and Pedro Alvarez at first, and Rodriguez can back up all four of those positions at a reasonable price.

Sanchez, who turned 31 in September, struggled through one of the worst seasons of his career at the plate this past year, batting just .229/.293/.385 with seven homers. The right-handed hitting Sanchez is best served as a platoon bat, as evidenced by the 170-point differential between his career OPS marks versus lefties and righties. He did hit a respectable .256/.318/.429 against southpaws in 2014, so he’d make a good platoon partner for someone like Adam Lind in Milwaukee. However, with a projected arb salary of $2.7MM, interested teams may first hope that he can be claimed off waivers or even clears waivers rather than giving up a minor prospect in a trade.


NL Central Notes: Lester, McCarthy, Cozart, Reds

The trust that Jon Lester has in Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer from their days together in Boston is singled out by Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan as the key reason why the lefty chose Wrigley Field as his next home.  Here’s some news from around the NL Central…

  • The Pirates were one of the finalists for Brandon McCarthy, MLB.com’s Tom Singer writes.  The Bucs weren’t known to be connected to McCarthy in the offseason rumor mill, though they fit as a logical contender for his services.  Even with Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett signed, Singer thinks the Pirates could still look to add starting pitching, such as re-signing Edinson Volquez.
  • Other teams feel that the Reds will look to trade Zack Cozart now that they’ve acquired Eugenio Suarez, ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports (Twitter link).
  • With Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon respectively traded to the Marlins and Tigers, Reds GM Walt Jocketty told reporters (including MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon) that the team can start to explore other upgrades now that they’ve addressed their payroll concerns.  “We’re in a better position to start looking at some other possibilities to improve our club — the hitter we’re looking for and some bullpen depth,” Jocketty said.  “We’re close to where we need to be, [payroll-wise]. Now we can concentrate on filling some of the needs.”
  • In an Insider-only post, ESPN’s Keith Law looks at the Reds‘ two pitching trades and feels the team got more from Detroit than they did from Miami.  Law thinks Suarez is an improvement over Cozart and Jonathon Crawford could potentially be the Reds’ closer of the future.
  • Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo are two of several prominent Brewers entering the last year of their contracts, and MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy opines that the Crew could explore trading the two starters if they think Mike Fiers or Jimmy Nelson can be viable rotation options.