Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

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

Quick Hits: Front Office Moves

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.

East Notes: LaRoche, Davis, Cruz

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.

Rangers Hire Jeff Banister As Manager

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).

Jeff Banister

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.



Minor Moves: Bernadina, Diaz, Balester

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.

Quick Hits: Hunter, Stewart, A’s, Nats

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.

Russell Martin Declined Pirates’ Mid-Season Extension Offer

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.


Outrighted: Tabata, Buck, Boesch

After being designated for assignment last week, Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata has been outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis and accepted the assignment, reports MLB.com’s Tom Singer. The move is not a surprise, as had Tabata rejected the assignment he would have forfeited the remaining $8.5MM on his contract.

Here are some more outright-related moves from around the league…

  • Both John Buck and Brennan Boesch have rejected outright assignments from the Angels in lieu of free agency, Angels director of communications Eric Kay announced (on Twitter). Buck, 34, picked up five plate appearances with the Halos this season after spending much of the season with the Mariners. The veteran batted .225/.289/.281 in 97 plate appearances overall on the year. Boesch, 29, hit .187/.203/.293 with a pair of home runs in 79 PA for the Angels. The duo was designated for assignment earlier this week when the Angels claimed Alfredo Marte and Roger Kieschnick on waivers.

NL Central Links: Mueller, Frazier, Mesoraco, Bucs, Cards

Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller has resigned after one year on the job, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers reported yesterday (via Twitter). Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com tweets that the Cubs have confirmed Mueller’s decision and added that he resigned after learning that assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley was reassigned by the team. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford speculates (Twitter link) that the Red Sox might have interest in adding Mueller to their coaching staff. For those who would have some fun and speculate, Rogers also tweets that Manny Ramirez is not a candidate to become the club’s new hitting coach, as he’s yet to even officially retire as a player.

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that too much focus is being placed on what the Reds should do with their quartet of starters that are free agents following the 2015 season, and not enough is being placed on the fact that the team should try to extend breakout stars Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco. While the future of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon is indeed a big part of the Reds’ offseason, Fay notes that the team can position itself for sustained success by controlling the salaries of Frazier and Mesoraco and keeping them in place beyond their arbitration seasons.
  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington tells Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he expects his entire coaching staff back in 2015, unless one of them unexpectedly departs. Price notes how much the offense improved under first-year hitting coach Jeff Branson and first-year assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey. She also points out that pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas also played a key role, helping to facilitate the turnarounds of Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley.
  • The Cardinals view the draft as “a mechanism to save money,” scouting director Dan Kantrovitz tells David Laurila of Fangraphs in a fascinating interview. Whether it’s landing a solid starter or a future bench piece, the draft can open flexibility down the line, says Kantrovitz, who explains that savings from drafted players represents “money that our GM can allocate to another area, or a more abundant, cheaper position.” Kantrovitz says that the team is focused on adapting and finding value, rather than “stick[ing] to a rigid strategy that is not data-driven.” Ultimately, the team takes all the information it can acquire, then attempts to combine them and apply discount rates to reach a present value for the amateurs under consideration. There’s plenty more to glean from this interview, and you’ll want to give it a full read.

Quick Hits: Rangers Rotation, Martin, Trumbo

The Rangers top priority is finding a manager. Their other top priority is building a rotation, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The Rangers aren’t expected to “play in the top end of free agency,” according to GM Jon Daniels, but they will need to locate some external rotation help. Even if staff ace Yu Darvish is pronounced healthy and ready to resume throwing in November, the club needs a mid-rotation pitcher to slot after Derek Holland. Grant assumes Colby Lewis will be re-signed (I agree) and the final spot will likely fall to Nick Tepesch or Nick Martinez. Martin Perez is a mid-season option as he works back from Tommy John surgery, and Matt Harrison could potentially slot into the rotation if he recovers from spinal fusion surgery. My own two cents: in order to avoid a repeat of 2014, the Rangers need at least one more viable major league starter than Grant suggests.

  • The Pirates would like to re-sign catcher Russell Martin, says Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The issue – he’s arguably outperformed peers like Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero, and Brian McCann in the seasons leading up to a new contract. Molina signed for $75MM, Montero for $60MM and McCann for $85MM. Martin’s combination of defensive value and stealthy offensive prowess makes one wonder if Molina’s five-year, $75MM deal could be in play. If so, it would be hard for Pittsburgh to flex the muscles necessary to retain him.
  • We haven’t heard much from newly minted Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart, but he seems to be a fan of Mark Trumbo, according to Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona. With Paul Goldschmidt set to return to first base in 2015, Trumbo will either slot in left or right field. Arizona brought in Trumbo to provide a double threat with Goldschmidt in the middle of the order. While some have looked to him as a trade candidate, it sounds like Stewart is inclined to see what he can do when healthy.

NL Notes: Mozeliak, Mets, Braves, Pirates, Padres

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak tackled a variety of topics in a two-part interview with MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch. Looking back to the last offseason, he said that the team identified Pat Neshek as an option because he offered a different look from the club’s other relievers, and said that the David Freese-for-Peter Bourjos trade would not have been made without the inclusion of prospect Randal Grichuk.

Here’s the latest out of the National League …

  • The Mets have, as expected, decided not to bring back hitting coach Lamar Johnson and assistant Luis Natera in those roles, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Johnson stepped in mid-season after his predecessor, Dave Hudgen, was fired. Meanwhile, Triple-A skipper Wally Backman will not be elevated to the big league staff, but will be offered the chance to keep his position.
  • As the Braves continue to make their own staff changes, scouting director Tony DeMacio has been re-assigned, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Atlanta is still waiting to hear whether interim GM John Hart will take the job full-time, Nightengale adds.
  • If the Pirates are unable to bring back catcher Russell Martin, another impactful transaction that could have PR benefits would be a Neil Walker extension, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. With a $5.75MM arbitration salary to build off of over his next two seasons of eligibility, and coming off of a .271/.342/.467 slash with 23 home runs, he will not be cheap.
  • The Padres had a private workout today with Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Tomas officially hit the open market yesterday.