- Veteran lefty Phil Coke has spent the 2016 season traveling around the state of Pennsylvania, Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. After being released by the Braves near the end of Spring Training, Coke joined the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. He eventually signed with the Yankees and headed to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, about two and a half hours away. Coke was in Scranton following the end of the minor league season when Yankees GM Brian Cashman called him earlier this week to ask if he wanted to join the Pirates’ bullpen. “OK, that’s not far away,” Coke said. “I’m in.” He officially headed to the Pittsburgh organization on Thursday in a minor trade.
After struggling through the first four months of the season with the Pirates, lefty Francisco Liriano has enjoyed success since coming to the Blue Jays in a deadline trade, writes Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. Nicholson-Smith notes that, since the trade, Liriano has gotten opposing batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone 35.1% of the time, up from 27.8% with the Bucs. “He’s always had one of the better arms in baseball. He’s one of those guys that can always dominate teams and he really hasn’t lost a whole lot,” says manager John Gibbons. In seven starts with Toronto, Liriano has a 3.35 ERA, 8.8 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. If he can maintain similar numbers in 2017, he’ll be more than worth his $13.7MM salary, which means that the Blue Jays will likely come out significantly ahead in the trade that brought Liriano to Toronto, in which they also received prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez while giving up only righty Drew Hutchison, who hasn’t been impressive in the Pirates organization so far. Here’s more from the American League.
The Pirates are “aggressively trying” to come to agreement with righty Ivan Nova on an extension that would keep him out of free agency, according to Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Twitter links). We learned recently that Pittsburgh had opened dialogue with the 29-year-old.
Things do not seem to be progressing quite as smoothly as the Bucs might have hoped, though. Agent Greg Genske confirms that there have been “multiple offers” and says that “there is mutual interest,” but also made clear that “no agreement is imminent.”
Though Genske did not address his client’s asking price, prior reports put it at five years and $70MM. It remains hard to imagine the Pirates going near that amount, but the fact that discussions remain open certainly suggests that they put a high value on their most recent reclamation project. The report suggests that the organization is mindful of a weak upcoming market for pitching.
Nova has undeniably been spectacular since coming to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline — even as the organization sold some veteran pieces. His 2.93 ERA over 55 1/3 innings doesn’t really tell the true story. Nova has permitted only three walks in that span while picking up 45 strikeouts, meaning that he carries an outstanding 15.0 K/BB ratio.
With perhaps only a pair of starts to go before he’ll reach the open market, Nova doesn’t have a ton of risk at this point. A few duds could put a damper on his market, as could any kind of injury, but it isn’t as if he’s facing a full season at this point. And the Bucs can’t slap a qualifying offer on him, limiting the team’s leverage. All told, it would be surprising to see a deal come together, as there’s little downside and plenty of upside in testing the market in this case.
Ivan Nova has been a revelation in the Pirates’ rotation since being acquired for a pair of minor leaguers (Stephen Tarpley and Tito Polo), and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Pittsburgh is already working to prevent Nova from reaching the open market. The Pirates have made a pair of extension offers to Nova, according to Brink, but Nova’s representatives with the Legacy Agency opened talks with an asking price of $70MM over five years.
While that’s a shocking number, to be sure, given Nova’s lack of a track record, it’s not surprising to see any agency come in with high starting point. (Conversely, while Brink doesn’t report the size of Pittsburgh’s early offer, one can only imagine that it was probably considerably lower than the top of their comfort zone and than Nova’s market value.) Brink does note that the Pirates were the ones to initiate talks with Nova’s camp in the first week of September, and they came back with an increased counter-offer after hearing the early asking price. While Brink doesn’t indicate that anything is close between the two sides, discussions are still alive at this juncture.
Two months ago, that number for Nova would’ve seemed preposterous, but like many pitchers before him, Nova has experienced a renaissance in Pittsburgh. Though he finally had a rough outing in his most recent start, the 29-year-old Nova has worked to a brilliant 2.93 ERA with 7.3 K/9 against a superlative 0.5 BB/9 in 55 1/3 innings of work. He’s maintained his strong ground-ball rate (50.9 percent since the trade) and issued an unthinkable three walks to the 220 batters he’s faced. While there will, of course, be skepticism about his ability to sustain this performance (particularly the superlative command), this isn’t the first prolonged stretch of excellence that Nova has enjoyed in his career. He tossed 139 innings of 3.10 ERA ball for the Yankees in 2013, but Tommy John surgery in late April of the 2014 season prematurely halted his opportunity to build on that success.
MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently likened Nova’s emergence with the Bucs to that of J.A. Happ last season following a trade from the Blue Jays, and the comparison is apt. However, Happ was three years older than Nova at the time of their respective trades, and he was walking into a considerably stronger market for starting pitching. I’ve been slow to warm to this idea, personally, as I recently explained in the MLBTR Mailbag, but a four-year contract for Nova is looking increasingly likely on this year’s dreadful market for free-agent starters. His primary competition will be a 36-year-old Rich Hill (37 next March) and Jeremy Hellickson. However, while Hellickson is more comparably aged to Nova (29) and has been an outstanding buy-low investment for the Phillies, he’ll almost certainly have to deal with a qualifying offer this winter. Nova, though, will be free of that burden by virtue of the midseason trade that sent him from New York to Pittsburgh and made him ineligible to receive a QO.
The Pirates have acquired lefty Phil Coke from the Yankees for cash considerations, the teams announced. Pittsburgh will need to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate the acquisition.
Coke, 34, made three major league appearances earlier in the year for New York, but has spent the bulk of the season at Triple-A. Though he has pitched almost exclusively as a reliever for most of his big league career, Coke made 11 starts during his time at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
On the year, Coke threw to a 2.96 ERA over 70 frames at the highest level of the minors. He compiled 7.8 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9, with 68 hits and just three home runs recorded against him.
It’s a bit unclear what Pittsburgh plans to do with Coke, though he will indeed be headed for the major league roster. He could conceivably take a start or two in an effort at a Rich Hill-like metamorphosis, or may just log some frames from the pen. The Pirates are technically still alive in the Wild Card race, but only barely. Coke will again be a free agent at season’s end.
SEPT. 20: Stewart underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, the Pirates announced. The operation was performed by Dr. James Andrews and comes with a recovery timeline of six to eight weeks, so he should have plenty of time to recover and prepare for Spring Training in 2017.
SEPT. 14: Pirates catcher Chris Stewart will likely require knee surgery, MLB.com’s Adam Berry was among those to report. Pittsburgh has already placed him on the 60-day DL and scheduled a visit with Dr. James Andrews.
It seems that the knee issue isn’t just a run-of-the-mill injury. Stewart has suggested that a surgical option could be career-threatening, but also said that he may not be able to continue playing without it.
“Everything is on the table at this point. We don’t know,” he said. “The way I’ve been playing, I’m kind of leaning toward [surgery, which] might be the only way to go to continue my career. We’ve tried to do pretty much everything else to keep me on the field without the surgery.”
The 34-year-old has found a home in Pittsburgh as a reserve backstop, signing a two-year, $3MM deal over the winter which includes a club option for 2018. But the injury has limited Stewart to 113 plate appearances on the year, and he has compiled a subpar .214/.319/.286 batting line.
- The Pirates aren’t willing to commit at this point to giving righty Ryan Vogelsong another start, as Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. GM Neal Huntington says that the team is weighing his recent span of four awful outings against the quality showing that Vogelsong had made immediately upon returning from his injury. “Ryan feels there’s a mechanical adjustment that he can and will make moving forward,” Huntington said. “It’s hard to walk away from his first stretch of starts for us.” While that won’t have much of an impact on the Bucs’ fortunes this year, continued opportunity to work from the rotation could impact Vogelsong’s upcoming free agent case.
- The Pirates could still theoretically win a playoff berth, but if their remote postseason chances do evaporate, their distribution of playing time is unlikely to chance much, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. “Look at the at-bats that Adam Frazier and Josh Bell are getting, look at the innings that (Jameson) Taillon, (Steve) Brault and now (Tyler) Glasnow are getting, and (Felipe) Rivero is an anchor in our bullpen,” says GM Neal Huntington. “We don’t feel like we’ve got a veteran who’s taking innings or at-bats from a young player that necessarily we would change if we were to get eliminated.” Huntington does allow that Glasnow could get a turn in the Bucs’ rotation before the end of the season.
The Pirates acquired Ivan Nova from the Yankees without much fanfare at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, but the right-hander has since turned into Pittsburgh’s latest successful reclamation project. Nova had a rough showing against the Reds on Sunday, but he entered the contest with a 2.41 ERA to pair with an even more impressive 0.52 BB/9 in 52 1/3 innings with the Pirates. As an impending free agent, Nova’s breakout might go down as a bittersweet development for the Bucs, who could lose him after the season.
“He has obviously changed the direction of his winter in the last six weeks,” manager Clint Hurdle admitted to Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Nova, 29, was back-of-the-rotation fodder in New York over the past couple seasons, but he’s likely to cash in soon as an appealing arm in a free agent market that will be largely devoid of them. It will also help Nova’s cause that the Pirates won’t be able to tender him a qualifying offer, which would force another team to give up a first-round pick to sign him. J.A. Happ, who was dominant with the Pirates after they acquired him from Seattle a year ago, also didn’t have a qualifying offer weighing him down when he hit free agency last winter. That, combined with his down-the-stretch performance in Pittsburgh, earned him a three-year, $36MM deal with the Blue Jays.
While many are quick to credit highly regarded pitching coach Ray Searage when an unheralded pickup fares well with the Pirates, Hurdle told Nesbitt that the team hasn’t had Nova make any significant changes since it landed him.
“There’s been no major overhaul,” Hurdle said. “For Nova, the downhill angle has been there, the strike-throwing efficiency has been there. It’s just been a couple things he has tightened up.”
In addition to Nova, the Pirates will have offseason decisions to make on other free agents, including reliever Neftali Feliz and a pair of position players – outfielder Matt Joyce and utilityman Sean Rodriguez – writes Nesbitt. All three signed inexpensive one-year deals with the Bucs last offseason, and Joyce and Rodriguez have been especially effective in 2016. As a result, they’re in line for raises. Joyce, who’s on a $1MM salary, has batted a stellar .248/.408/.481 with 12 home runs in 262 plate appearances. That’s a far cry from the .174/.272/.291 line and five homers he put up in 284 PAs with the Angels last year. Rodriguez, a $2.5MM player, has slashed a career-best .266/.349/.516 with 16 homers in 293 trips to the plate. Along the way, the 31-year-old has spent time at every position but pitcher and catcher.
Elsewhere on the roster, arbitration-eligible pitchers Juan Nicasio, Jared Hughes, Jeff Locke and Wade LeBlanc are potential non-tender candidates, per Nesbitt. Nicasio and Hughes have been superior to Locke and LeBlanc, both of whom seem likely to go. Locke will be due a raise over his $3.025MM salary despite having posted ugly numbers (5.49 ERA, 1.64 K/BB ratio) in 126 1/3 innings this year. LeBlanc, meanwhile, joined the Pirates on Tuesday after they picked him up in a trade with Seattle. The Mariners previously designated him for assignment in late August.
- At 74-74 and five games out of a wild-card spot, the Pirates have gone backward this year after three straight playoff seasons. There are a slew of reasons for the team’s decline, as Travis Sawchuk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review details. One cause has been the starting rotation, where low-ceiling offseason acquisitions Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong have contributed little this year. The Pirates traded second baseman Neil Walker to the Mets last offseason for Niese, who pitched to a 4.91 ERA in 110 innings with Pittsburgh before it sent him back to New York for reliever Antonio Bastardo on Aug. 1. Vogelsong, a buy-low signing in free agency, has recorded a 4.87 ERA in 68 1/3 innings. In previous years, the Bucs gambled on high-upside starters like A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez, all of whom panned out and helped lead them to the playoffs.