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Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors
The Diamondbacks expect new assistant GM Bryan Minniti to focus on the administrative side of baseball operations while also contributing to the organization’s analytical development, reports Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. “I won’t say [administration is] a weakness for me, but it’s part of my job that I don’t necessarily want to embrace on a day-to-day basis,” said GM Dave Stewart. “He picks me up in that area and is very knowledgeable in that area. People in the industry say he’s one of the best in the business at that position.” Minniti said he is not an “analytics guy,” though he does have a statistical background and is said to have played an important role in that regard with the Nationals. Here are more notes out of the National League.
- As Minniti settles into his new job, the Nationals have begun the process of replacing him, as Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports. They made a variety of moves in their front office, including promoting director of baseball operations Adam Cromie to assistant general manager and hiring two analysts.
- Braves president John Schuerholz says that he never approached Royals GM Dayton Moore about a return to Atlanta and would not have done so since Moore has two years left on his contract, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on Twitter. Reports had suggested that the Braves were considering making a run at bringing back Moore as general manager, but the team ultimately convinced John Hart to take over baseball operations and says it has no plans of hiring a new GM under him.
- The Mets have hired Kevin Long as their hitting coach, the club announced via Twitter. Long had served as the Yankees’ hitting coach before his recent firing after eight years with the team.
- The Brewers have named a new hitting coach as well, hiring Darnell Coles to replace Johnny Narron, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports on Twitter. Coles served as the Tigers’ assistant hitting coach in 2014 and managed the Brewers’ Double-A Huntsville affiliate in 2012 and 2013.
- As the Pirates look forward to 2015, the club faces a number of complicated arbitration decisions, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review discusses. Two of those were seemingly resolved this morning when the Bucs designated John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez for assignment, but the Pirates still have 11 arbitration-eligible players, including three first basemen (or likely first basemen) in Pedro Alvarez, Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez.
Led by outstanding seasons from Andrew McCutchen, Russell Martin and Josh Harrison, the Pirates made the playoffs for the second straight year in 2014, but the possible departures of Martin and Francisco Liriano cloud their immediate future.
- Andrew McCutchen, OF: $38MM through 2017
- Starling Marte, OF: $28.5MM through 2019
- Charlie Morton, SP: $17MM through 2016
- Jose Tabata, OF: $8.75MM through 2016
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Gaby Sanchez, 1B (5.025): $2.7MM
- John Axford, RP (4.170): $5.2MM*
- Neil Walker, 2B (4.166): $8.6MM
- Ike Davis, 1B (4.155): $4.4MM
- Mark Melancon, RP (4.098): $7.6MM**
- Travis Snider, OF (4.091): $2MM
- Chris Stewart, C (4.091): $1.3MM
- Pedro Alvarez, 3B (4.085): $5.5MM
- Tony Watson, RP (3.101): $2MM
- Jeanmar Gomez, RP (3.063): $800K*
- Josh Harrison, 3B (3.033): $2.2MM
- Jared Hughes, RP (2.162): $1.1MM
- Vance Worley, SP (2.139): $2.9MM
- Non-tender candidates: Sanchez, Axford, Davis, Gomez
*Axford and Gomez were designated for assignment Saturday.
**Melancon had 33 saves and 14 holds last season, a rare combination that caused Swartz’s model to project Melancon would receive a raise of $5MM to $7.6MM. We think such a large increase is unlikely.
Despite an unceremonious end to their season with an 8-0 loss to the Giants in the NL Wild Card game, the Pirates have a strong core of players, along with a well regarded farm system. They appear poised to be competitive for years to come. This year’s offseason, however, will likely revolve around their decision regarding Martin, who’s set to depart as a free agent.
Martin’s expiring two-year, $17MM contract was a fantastic deal by any standard, and was easily the best free agent signing of GM Neal Huntington’s career. Martin contributed 9.4 fWAR over the course of the contract and arguably produced even more value than that thanks to his framing and his work with pitchers. The Pirates have gotten unexpectedly strong work from pitchers like Liriano, Edinson Volquez and Mark Melancon in the last two years, and Martin was by all accounts a big reason why.
Now, the Pirates will either have to let Martin go or make the sort of expensive, multi-year commitment he’ll surely receive on the free agent market. The Bucs have indicated they’re willing to “stretch” to keep Martin, but re-signing him would represent a dramatic departure from their usual offseason patterns. And as important as Martin has been to the Pirates, signing him for, say, four years might put them in dangerous territory, given their tight budget and the brutal aging patterns of catchers in their thirties.
There are, however, no comparable options on the free agent market, and the Pirates’ internal replacements to replace Martin, Tony Sanchez and Chris Stewart, represent big downgrades that the Pirates will have to make up elsewhere (even though Stewart is another good framer who had a surprisingly palatable offensive season in 2014). The Pirates have already indicated they will extend Martin a qualifying offer, earning them a draft pick in the likely event that he signs elsewhere.
The Bucs could also lose Liriano and Edinson Volquez, who were key contributors to the team’s 2014 rotation. (They have not indicated they plan to extend a qualifying offer to Liriano, and perhaps they won’t — they didn’t extend one to A.J. Burnett last offseason and likely don’t feel Liriano is as crucial a player as Martin.) The Pirates might feel it makes more sense to replace Liriano and Volquez with buy-low reclamation projects (Justin Masterson or Brett Anderson might make sense, given the Pirates’ love of ground-ball pitchers) rather than paying top dollar for pitchers they’ve already helped improve. Of course, the Bucs’ talents with reclamation pitchers could decrease if Martin leaves.
In any case, the Pirates will need to do something to acquire starting pitching this winter — Charlie Morton and top prospect Jameson Taillon will both be returning from significant injuries, leaving the Pirates with only Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley and the erratic Jeff Locke as sure bets to make their rotation out of spring training.
The Bucs’ corner infield positions will also need tweaking, thanks mostly to Pedro Alvarez’s throwing issues at third base last year. Harrison, who before this season had looked like little more than a spare infielder, had a shocking borderline-MVP-caliber campaign in 2014. He replaced Alvarez at third base down the stretch and will probably continue as the Pirates’ third baseman next year. The lefty-hitting Alvarez is a likely a first baseman going forward, with the Bucs either trading or non-tendering lefty Ike Davis. The Pirates could also consider trading Alvarez, but he’s not eligible for free agency until after 2016, so they could again gamble on his raw power, even though he produced -0.2 fWAR last season. The Bucs will also have to decide whether to keep righty Gaby Sanchez, who is arbitration eligible for the third time and who hit just .229/.293/.385 in 2014. If Sanchez returns, he will presumably continue in a platoon role.
Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer are set to man the middle infield, but the Bucs will need a utility infielder, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they re-signed Clint Barmes to a one-year deal, like they did last offseason. Barmes doesn’t hit well, but his strong defense makes him a good fit for the Pirates’ grounder-heavy pitching staff. The newly acquired Justin Sellers, who is out of options, could also fill that role, but given his weak bat, the Pirates seem likely to try to sneak him through waivers at some point.
In the outfield, the Pirates have superstar Andrew McCutchen in center and emerging star Starling Marte in left, both of them signed long-term to team-friendly extensions. Gregory Polanco, who will likely supplant Travis Snider as the starter in right field in 2015, also has superstar upside, although he struggled in his rookie season. Snider quietly had a strong 2014, hitting .264/.338/.438, and he’ll probably continue on as the Pirates’ fourth outfielder and top pinch-hitting option.
The Pirates’ bullpen wasn’t a strength in 2014, but the Bucs control most of their relief talent and aren’t likely to make a big addition. Melancon and Tony Watson should return as closer and set-up man, respectively, and huge righty John Holdzkom improbably emerged from independent baseball to become another late-inning option. Jared Hughes, Justin Wilson and Stolmy Pimentel are also set to return.
Fans have long criticized the Pirates for failing to spend, and though the Bucs’ Opening Day payrolls have increased in each of the past four seasons, they’re still way behind the rest of the league. Heavy spending made little sense when the Pirates were perennial doormats, but now that they’re contenders, judicious spending can make a big difference. To cherry-pick one example, the Pirates lost the NL Wild Card game this year; if they had signed Jose Abreu last offseason, they might have won the NL Central and bypassed that game altogether.
This offseason, many fans will treat the team’s decision with Martin as a bellwether of its willingness to spend to keep their team competitive. On one hand, that’s not entirely fair — there are legitimate worries about Martin’s age, and a bad, expensive contract can be a serious problem for even a mid-market team.
On the other hand, replacing Martin’s production will be very difficult if he leaves. The Pirates’ key needs are at catcher and in the starting rotation. If they believe in their ability to fix broken pitchers, it hardly makes sense for them to pay heavily for pitchers who are already at the tops of their games, particularly given how risky multi-year deals for aging pitchers tend to be. Many of the best hitters in a very weak hitting class are either third basemen or outfielders, and the Pirates already have excellent or potentially excellent options at all four of those positions. Meanwhile, there’s no obvious way for the Pirates to replace Martin at catcher with anyone remotely comparable, even in a trade. The top names after Martin on the free agent market are players like Geovany Soto and A.J. Pierzynski.
Another way for the Pirates to upgrade this offseason might be to deal from their deep pool of outfield talent to acquire a younger, cost-controlled starting pitcher. The Mets, who have plenty of promising starting pitching and can use outfield help, might be a good trade partner. The Bucs could also try to deal prospects to a rebuilding team for a pitcher (a ground-ball pitcher like Dallas Keuchel might make sense), but such a trade might be easier in July — teams often aren’t willing to wave the white flag on their seasons before they’ve even begun.
The Pirates’ only significant moves last offseason were to sign Volquez and re-sign Barmes, even though they were coming off their first winning season in two decades and were set to lose a top starting pitcher in Burnett. (They also traded for Davis early in the season.) This winter might not be much different. The Pirates’ acquisitions to address catcher and their rotation will probably be relatively quiet ones. Or, in the case of the catcher position, they might not acquire anyone at all. Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently made the case for Stewart as a stopgap starting catcher — Stewart isn’t anywhere near Martin’s equal offensively, but he’s good enough at framing and defense to be a passable starter, particularly given the weak catching market. Tony Sanchez could then serve as Stewart’s backup, with prospect Elias Diaz (who is quickly developing a strong defensive reputation of his own) possibly taking over for Stewart in 2016.
With Stewart at catcher, the Pirates would then likely focus their offseason spending on their large group of arbitration-eligible players. They could also continue to try to negotiate a long-term deal with Polanco, who despite a somewhat disappointing rookie season is a prime extension candidate, given his outstanding tools and control of the strike zone. Harrison and Walker might also be extension candidates, albeit less likely ones.
Pirates fans won’t be happy about losing Martin. At this point, though, it’s unwise to ever bet on the Bucs being serious players in free agency. They’ve now had two straight winning seasons, and they set a PNC Park attendance record in 2014, but they’ve shown no indication of the willingness (or perhaps ability) to raise their payroll out of the lowest third of MLB teams, even for a season or two.
There are ways for the Pirates to make significant additions this offseason even without a huge payroll increase. One might be to non-tender or trade Davis, Gaby Sanchez and Alvarez, and go with rookie Andrew Lambo at first base. The Pirates could then use the savings (along with the $7.5MM they’ll have coming off the books now that they’re out from under their portion of Wandy Rodriguez‘s salary) to make a splash elsewhere. But that possibility seems remote, given that it’s unclear which big names the Bucs might pursue, other than Martin. It’s more likely that they’ll have another relatively quiet winter.
The Pirates have announced that they’ve acquired shortstop Justin Sellers from the Indians for cash considerations. They’ve also designated relievers John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez for assignment and reinstated starter Charlie Morton from the 60-day disabled list.
Sellers spent most of the 2014 season with Triple-A Columbus, hitting .254/.307/.355. The 28-year-old has hit sparingly in parts of four seasons with the Dodgers and Indians, but he can play second and third as well as shortstop and he has a strong defensive reputation. He will be on the Pirates’ 40-man roster.
Axford and Gomez were both non-tender candidates, so it’s no surprise that the Bucs would designate them for assignment. Axford, a former closer, would have received a small raise on this year’s $4.5MM salary, even though he had a walk-heavy 2014 season in which the Indians let him head to the Pirates via waivers. Gomez served as a long reliever for the Pirates in 2014 and posted a 3.19 ERA, but with an underwhelming 5.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…
- The Twins have re-signed minor league right-hander Mark Hamburger to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. The 27-year-old St. Paul native has had a brief taste of the Majors, tossing eight innings for the 2011 Rangers after the Twins sent him to Texas in exchange for Eddie Guardado. Last season, Hamburger split the season between Double-A and Triple-A, posting a combined 3.69 ERA with 6.9 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 70 2/3 innings.
- The Pirates announced that they have signed right-hander Josh Stinson to a minor league contract that contains in invitation to Major League Spring Training. The Moye Sports client has big league experience with the Mets, Brewers and most recently the Orioles. Over the past two seasons, Stinson has posted a 4.50 ERA with 18 strikeouts and nine walks in 30 innings for Baltimore. Stinson, who will turn 27 next March, has a career 4.47 ERA in 52 1/3 Major League innings and a 4.88 ERA in 306 innings at the Triple-A level.
A number of teams have made staff moves today. Here’s the latest.
- The Padres have announced several changes to their player development staff, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Randy Smith, formerly VP of player development, is now the senior adviser for baseball operations and will focus on scouting. Three others were let go from their posts. GM A.J. Preller will focus on hiring a new farm director. Per Preller, “I think it’s a matter of maybe a little different look, a chance to get some other voices in the organization.”
- Scout Mike Russell has left the Tigers to serve as a special assistant to Diamondbacks senior VP of baseball operations De Jon Watson, writes Jason Beck of MLB.com. Russell worked with Watson under GM Dave Dombrowski while with the Marlins in the mid-1990’s.
- Beck also learned that the Tigers are expected to replace Russell with former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield. Most recently, Littlefield has worked as a scout with the Cubs. Littlefield was with Dombrowski in Miami from 1999 through 2001.
- The Blue Jays have hired Nationals scout Paul Tinnell, tweets Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun. Tinnell, a former scouting director with the Pirates, is credited with the signings of Michael Burgess and Steve Lombardozzi per Baseball Reference.
- The Padres have hired former Blue Jays scout Rob St. Julien, according to another tweet from Elliott. Evan Crawford, Danny Farquhar, and Aaron Loup are among his notable signees.
- The Nationals may target former Reds executive Bob Miller to fill the shoes of erstwhile assistant GM Bryan Minnitti, writes Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post. Minnitti resigned last week. Miller’s specializes in budgetary matters, specifically arbitration and other contractual considerations. This makes him a good candidate to fill in for Minnitti.
- Speaking of Minnitti, he has emerged as a front runner for the Diamondbacks assistant GM role, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Minnitti has also been linked to the Dodgers front office, so the Diamondbacks may be looking to outpace their division rivals. MLBTR profiled Minnitti as a possible GM candidate back in 2011.
- The Astros have hired Dave Hudgens as their hitting coach, reports Adam Rubin of ESPN New York. Hudgens served for four seasons as the Mets hitting coach before he was dismissed this past May. The Mets have also re-assigned their most recent hitting coach, Lamar Johnson, to the minors. Dave Magadan and Kevin Long are candidates for the role.
First baseman Adam LaRoche would like to stay with the Nationals, Chase Hughes of Nats Insider writes. “If it was up to me, I’m signing a deal with D.C. that puts me there for the rest of my career,” says LaRoche. The Nationals are expected to pay LaRoche a $2MM buyout rather than picking up their end of a $15MM option, and with Ryan Zimmerman likely to play first base next season, it’s unlikely the Nats will retain LaRoche even for a smaller amount. Nonetheless, LaRoche, coming off a .259/.362/.455 season, will likely attract significant interest on the free agent market. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- The Marlins might have interest in Pirates first baseman Ike Davis, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes. The Marlins already have another former Pirates first baseman, Garrett Jones, under contract for 2015, but Jones is 33 and coming off a second consecutive near-replacement-level season. The Pirates, meanwhile, may want Pedro Alvarez (who suffered from serious throwing issues at third base in 2014) to play first in 2015, which would leave nowhere for Davis, particularly since he and Alvarez are both left-handed. The Bucs could deal or non-tender Davis this offseason.
- After a terrific season in 2014, Nelson Cruz has a big contract coming his way, but whether the Orioles should be the team to pay it is questionable, MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski writes. The O’s plan to extend Cruz a qualifying offer, and they’ll get a draft pick if another team signs him. Also, Cruz is in his mid-30s and is coming off a great season, so it’s possible whichever team signs him won’t get much bang for their buck as Cruz declines over the next few years. Cruz has said he wants to remain in Baltimore, but the Orioles sound skeptical about keeping him.
FRIDAY: Banister’s contract is a three-year deal with a club option for a fourth season, reports Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Twitter link).
THURSDAY, 6:03pm: The Rangers have announced the hiring.
10:34am: The Rangers will hire Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister as their next manager, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link).
The Rangers interviewed a wide variety of candidates for the position following Ron Washington’s abrupt resignation. Interim manager Tim Bogar and Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash were announced by the team as finalists in addition to Banister. However, Texas also interviewed internal candidates Mike Maddux and Steve Buechele, as well as the following external candidates: Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing and former big leaguer Alex Cora (who currently is an analyst for ESPN).
Banister’s hiring will be bittersweet for the Pirates organization, as while they’re undoubtedly happy to see him receive the opportunity, the hiring will also bring to a close a tenure with Pittsburgh that has lasted 29 seasons. Banister was a 25th-round draft pick by the Bucs in 1986 and spent seven years with them as a minor leaguer (he also received one plate appearance in the Majors in 1991). Banister managed for five seasons in the minors with Pittsburgh and has also spent three seasons as the Major Legaue field coordinator and eight as a minor league field coordinator. He was named the team’s bench coach in 2010 and also served as an interim pitching coach in 2008.
Last year, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times penned an excellent article on Banister’s extraordinary journey to his then-position with the Pirates. A bone cancer survivor in high school, Banister underwent seven operations on his left ankle. As a junior college player in his native Texas, Banister got behind the plate on a day he was not scheduled to catch because a Yankees scout was on-hand to watch him. Tragedy ensued, as Banister was left paralyzed from the neck down following a home-plate collision. He underwent spinal surgery and lost nearly 90 pounds before leaving the hospital, but he recovered, returned to the field after a year and ended up being selected in the 25th round of the ’86 draft.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here are today’s minor moves and outright assignments from around the league…
- Outfielder Roger Bernadina has elected free agency, thereby freeing a 40-man roster spot for the Dodgers, the team announced last night (Twitter link). Bernadina picked up 80 plate appearances between the Reds and Dodgers this season, slashing a combined .167/.304/.258 with a homer and a pair of steals. The longtime Nationals outfielder is a lifetime .236/.307/.354 hitter in 1480 big league plate appearances.
- The Blue Jays announced that they have re-signed infielder Jonathan Diaz to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training next year (hat tip: Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith on Twitter). The 29-year-old Diaz received 45 PA with Toronto this season, hitting .158/.256/.184. The majority of his work came at shortstop, though he did see 16 innings at second base and play at least one inning at all three outfield spots.
- Right-hander Collin Balester, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, has re-signed with the Pirates on a minor league deal, Chris Iott of MLive.com reports (via Twitter). The 28-year-old hasn’t pitched in the Majors since posting a 6.50 ERA in 18 innings with the Tigers back in 2012, but he spent part of the four prior seasons in the Nationals’ bullpen. Balester has a 5.30 ERA in 185 innings between the Nats and Tigers.
It was 100 years ago today that the Boston Braves finished off their sweep of the heavily-favored Philadelphia A’s to win the 1914 World Series. The “Miracle Braves” were in last place on July 18 and didn’t even hit the .500 mark until August 1, yet they rocketed to the NL pennant with a 61-16 record over their final 77 games. The Braves’ championship was even more stunning since they hadn’t even had a winning season since 1902. Let’s see, a team with a lack of recent success going on an incredible late-season run….a century after the Miracle Braves, could the Miracle Royals be next?
Here’s some news from around baseball…
- “If the Tigers want me back, we will work that out hopefully. Other than that, I’m still thinking about my situation,” Torii Hunter wrote in a text message to MLB.com’s Jason Beck. Hunter hinted at retirement following the Tigers’ elimination in the ALDS, and it seems that he might more inclined to hang up his cleats if he can’t return to Detroit in 2015.
- If the Pirates can’t re-sign Russell Martin, backup Chris Stewart wouldn’t be a bad option to take over the regular catching job next season, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opines. Stewart can serve as a bridge to the Bucs’ young catching prospects, and while the 32-year-old isn’t much of a hitter, he is an excellent defensive catcher and pitch-framer. Since the Pirates would have to choose between a lot of flawed catching options on the open market, Sawchik reasons that the team could stick with a known commodity at a low cost.
- Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis is a contender to be the team’s new bench coach, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. With the Yankees, Red Sox and possibly the Cubs all interested in Davis as a hitting coach, the A’s could offer him a promotion to stay in the fold. The rest of the A’s coaching staff and (as Slusser previously reported) Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete are also candidates for the bench coach job, while Kirk Gibson and Ron Washington are unlikely to be considered since recently-fired managers usually aren’t so quick to accept bench coach gigs.
- On paper, the Nationals don’t have any great need for any bullpen additions this offseason, yet CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman wouldn’t be surprised to see the club add another notable relief arm.
- Six pitchers seem like candidates to receive qualifying offers this offseason, Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello writes. Max Scherzer and James Shields are locks to receive and reject the one-year, $15.3MM offers, while Petriello thinks Francisco Liriano and Hiroki Kuroda will also reject the QO — Liriano in favor of a multiyear deal and Kuroda since he could retire, pitch in Japan or re-sign with the Yankees for slightly more than the qualifying offer (as he did last year). Petriello also tentatively thinks Ervin Santana could reject a QO from the Braves while David Robertson could actually accept the qualifying offer, since his market could be hurt by draft pick compensation.
- The Yankees will address the closer’s job, the rotation, third base and shortstop as their main offseason focuses, George A. King III of the New York Post writes. King notes that the Yankees like Alcides Escobar, though he obviously isn’t a trade candidate this offseason since he’s such a key part of the Royals’ success.
Pirates catcher Russell Martin rejected an extension offer made by the team at some point during the season, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Terms of the offer (or its precise timing) are not known. There are no indications that the sides are close on a late-breaking deal to keep Martin off the market, Heyman adds.
Pittsburgh reportedly has continued interest in bringing back Martin, and this reported mid-season effort lends credence to the idea that they will be serious in pursuit. On the other hand, of course, Martin stands alone among free agent backstops, and plenty of other clubs figure to make a run at him.
The Bucs had preliminary discussions with Martin in the spring, but held off on making an offer. That may have cost the team its window to reach a deal. Martin has delivered plenty of value on the two-year, $17MM deal he signed with Pittsburgh before the 2013 season, and his .290/.402/.430 line in 2014 brought him into a new performance tier. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth profiled Martin’s rising standing in August.