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Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors
Big league spring matchups started today, which means that the sights and sounds of game action are officially back. It also provided a first look at Jung-ho Kang of the Pirates, who showed that his raw power is real in swatting a home run to center field. He still has a ways to go in earning playing time and proving his value, of course, but it was a nice start for the Korean ballplayer. Earlier today, MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth broke down the Bucs’ winter in the first installment of this year’s Offseason in Review series.
- Though the Brewers are still in the process of finalizing their deal with Francisco Rodriguez, the team found now a good opportunity to outright righty Brooks Hall, as MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reports. “This was strategically calculated,” explained assistant GM Gord Ash, “because [Hall] has not pitched that much, he’s been injured on and off. We hoped we could sneak him through, and that’s exactly what was able to happen.”
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson indicated to reporters today that trade talks regarding the team’s starting pitching have been very quiet of late, as Anthony DiComo of MLB.com tweets. New York has an oft-discussed glut of rotation candidates, but seems content waiting for a good offer to come in or for an internal need to arise before deciding upon a course of action.
- The Braves seem to be angling towards using recently-acquired youngster Manny Banuelos as a reliever to start the year before shifting him to the rotation, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports (Twitter links). Whether or not that action comes at Triple-A or with the big league club remains to be seen, but Atlanta is hoping to mix and match his roles in order to build his innings in a manageable way while allowing him to compete all season. Once considered one of the game’s best prospects, Banuelos will look to turn things around in Atlanta, which gave up reliever David Carpenter to acquire him.
The Pirates spent much of the winter trying to insulate themselves against the potential departures of players who had been keys to their successful 2013 and 2014 seasons. In the end, they spent surprisingly heavily, given their usual thriftiness, signing two familiar starting pitchers and adding a high-profile but largely untested Korean infielder.
Major League Signings
- Francisco Liriano, SP: Three years, $39MM
- Jung-ho Kang, SS: Four years plus club option for 2019, $11MM guaranteed (plus $5,002,015 posting fee)
- A.J. Burnett, SP: One year, $8.5MM
- Corey Hart, 1B/OF: One year, $2.5MM
- Radhames Liz, P: One year, $1MM
- Total spend: ~$67MM
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades And Claims
- Acquired C Francisco Cervelli from Yankees for RP Justin Wilson
- Acquired P Stephen Tarpley and P Steven Brault from Orioles for OF Travis Snider
- Acquired RP Antonio Bastardo from Phillies for Joely Rodriguez
- Acquired UT Sean Rodriguez from Rays for P Buddy Borden and cash
- Acquired the rights to international bonus spending from Athletics for 1B Ike Davis
- Acquired RP Rob Scahill from Rockies for P Shane Carle
- Acquired SS Justin Sellers from Indians for cash
- Acquired RP Arquimedes Caminero from Marlins for cash
- Claimed SS Pedro Florimon from Nationals
The Pirates lost catcher Russell Martin, a key to their franchise-changing 2013 and 2014 campaigns and a bargain to the franchise when he signed following the 2012 season for two years and $17MM. Martin headed to Toronto at a dramatic markup, with the Pirates receiving only a draft pick in return. In Martin’s place, the Bucs acquired former Yankees backstop Francisco Cervelli, who has struggled to stay healthy and isn’t likely to hit nearly as well as Martin did, since Cervelli’s strong offensive performance in a small sample last year was largely BABIP-fueled. Via StatCorner, however, Cervelli and backup Chris Stewart have both ranked as above-average pitch framers in each of the last four seasons, potentially giving the Pirates an edge that won’t be reflected in their catchers’ offensive numbers. Cervelli and Stewart aren’t likely to replace Martin’s .290/.402/.430 2014 season at the plate, but they could approximate Martin’s value behind it at a fraction of the cost.
The Bucs also faced uncertainties in their rotation, given that Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez were eligible for free agency. The Bucs re-signed Liriano for $39MM, more than doubling Martin’s record for the organization’s largest ever free agent contract. To some extent, the Pirates paid heavily for their own handiwork, as their combination of framing, defensive shifts and strong coaching had helped Liriano rebuild his value after he posted consecutive seasons with five-plus ERAs in 2011 and 2012. But the Bucs needed pitching, and there were few better bets on the market, with Brandon McCarthy the only pitcher in the Pirates’ presumed price range who might have been as good a fit for their ground-ball-heavy approach. Liriano’s price was reasonable, too, given that McCarthy and Ervin Santana, pitchers in a similar tier, each got four years and more money (although it should be noted that McCarthy, unlike Liriano and Santana, did not require the loss of a draft pick).
The Pirates’ replacement for Volquez (another pitcher whose value skyrocketed thanks in part to the Bucs’ planning and coaching) fell into their laps in November, when A.J. Burnett told his agent he was only interested in playing in Pittsburgh. Burnett had rejected a $12.75MM player option to remain in Philadelphia, and he took a significant discount to return to the Pirates. Burnett’s peripherals declined with the Phillies, and at 38, he’ll be hard-pressed to repeat his excellent performances with Pittsburgh 2012 and 2013. Like Liriano and Volquez, though, he’s a good fit for the Pirates given his ground ball tendencies and the Bucs’ defense and ballpark, so some rebound from his disappointing, hernia-plagued 2014 season is likely.
The Pirates also allowed Clint Barmes, a light-hitting shortstop whose good glove was often a crucial part of the Bucs’ swarming infield defense, to leave for the Padres via free agency. With Jordy Mercer remaining as the Pirates’ starter, the Bucs first aimed to replace Barmes’ glove by collecting low-cost infielders, including Sean Rodriguez, Justin Sellers, Pedro Florimon and Jake Elmore (who is already out of the organization). Rodriguez, who can also play the outfield, still looks like a fit for the Pirates’ bench, but the Bucs’ plans for the others likely changed in December, when they unexpectedly won the bidding for Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang. The Bucs then signed Kang to a four-year deal with an option for 2019.
It’s hard to tell what to expect of Kang, the first position player from the KBO to arrive in US baseball via the posting system. The 27-year-old posted a ridiculous .356/.459/.739 line with Nexen in 2014, although the KBO is an extremely hitter-friendly league with a competition level significantly lower than that of the Majors, and there are questions about Kang’s ability to handle shortstop in the big leagues. He’ll likely start the season as a bench option for the Pirates. If he proves he can handle big-league pitching, however, he might not stay there. Mercer has never been a star, first baseman Pedro Alvarez is strikeout-prone and erratic, second baseman Neil Walker has struggled to stay healthy, and third baseman Josh Harrison is versatile and can be moved back into his previous super-utility role, so there could be opportunities for Kang to start at some point in the future.
Kang wasn’t the only player from the KBO the Pirates added, also signing Dominican pitcher Radhames Liz, who pitched for the LG Twins from 2011-2013, to a cheap one-year deal. Liz started in Korea, but the Pirates have already suggested they’re likely to use him in relief — not a surprise, given the 31-year-old’s live arm and history of control issues.
To make up for the departure of lefty Justin Wilson in the Cervelli deal, the Bucs traded lefty prospect Joely Rodriguez to the Phillies for Antonio Bastardo, who they’d also reportedly pursued at the 2014 trade deadline. As a fly ball pitcher, Bastardo doesn’t match the Pirates’ usual pitcher type, but he whiffed 11.4 batters per nine innings last season and should give the Bucs an effective second lefty to pair with Tony Watson.
Finally, the Pirates signed Corey Hart to a cheap deal to provide a right-handed bat at first base and in the outfield. Hart effectively replaces Gaby Sanchez, who struggled while serving as the right-handed side of an underwhelming platoon with Ike Davis in 2014. Hart himself missed the entire 2013 season due to injury and had a terrible 2014 in Seattle, but he was well above average in three straight seasons before that, so he might have some upside that Sanchez doesn’t. At $2.5MM (plus some incentives for plate appearance thresholds he isn’t likely to reach), Hart poses little risk.
The Bucs have few obvious holes, but it’s unclear whether they have the talent necessary to topple the Cardinals and hold off the Cubs in the NL Central. (And while the Brewers and Reds aren’t as likely to contend, they won’t be complete pushovers either.) With the departure of Travis Snider in a deal with the Orioles, the Bucs will lean heavily on Gregory Polanco in right field. Polanco, who has stratospheric upside, should certainly start, but he struggled in his rookie season in 2014. He has more than enough talent to make the necessary adjustments, but if he doesn’t, the Pirates’ outfield picture could get interesting, particularly if Kang proves he’s good enough to start somewhere in the infield — in that case, Kang could take over at third with Harrison moving to right.
The Pirates’ new first base platoon of Alvarez and Hart might or might not pan out. Alvarez, who had to be moved off third after a series of throwing misadventures last season, has barely played his new position. And then there’s his offense — he’s only two years removed from a 36-homer 2013 campaign, but he has strikeout issues that dramatically limit his ability to hit for average. He improved his plate discipline in 2014, but his new approach perhaps cost him power, as he went from one home run every 17 plate appearances to one every 25. He’s set to make $5.75MM in his penultimate season before free agency eligibility, and this year could be his last in a Pirates uniform, since the arbitration process threatens to pay him more than he’s worth.
The Pirates will also have to determine who belongs in their rotation. Liriano, Burnett and Gerrit Cole are easy choices, along with Charlie Morton, as long as Morton remains on track after having hip surgery late last season. After that, there’s Vance Worley and Jeff Locke, both of whom are out of options. Worley was the better of the two last season, posting a 2.85 ERA with 6.4 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, so he could take over the fifth spot. Locke is too valuable to designate for assignment and probably isn’t ideally suited to relief work, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Pirates trade him near the end of Spring Training if all their big-league starters are healthy. If they did, it would make sense to get a starting pitcher who has options. The Bucs’ rotation depth took a hit in early March when it was revealed that Brandon Cumpton, a starter on the 40-man roster who figured to begin the year at Triple-A Indianapolis, needed to visit Dr. James Andrews.
The Pirates’ biggest problem, though, is that they’ll have to make up for some individual performances they probably won’t get again. Cervelli is capable, but he’s not Martin. Harrison produced an out-of-nowhere 4.9-WAR season that he’s unlikely to repeat, given his previous performance record, although his breakout was fueled in part by an increase in his line-drive rate that’s probably sustainable to some degree. Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Neil Walker had terrific seasons as well. Breakouts from Polanco or Cole would help offset likely declines at other positions. If flame-throwing rookie reliever John Holdzkom can pitch as well over a full season as he did for the Pirates in September, that would help, too.
Deal of Note
The Pirates spent most of the offseason accumulating veteran talent where they could, but they went in the opposite direction when they traded Travis Snider to the Orioles for pitching prospects Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault. They had traded two young pitching prospects, Joely Rodriguez and Buddy Borden, in previous offseason deals, so their return in the Snider deal allowed them to replenish their farm system. But it still seemed like an odd trade — even with the left-handed Polanco projected to take over for the Snider in right field, Snider had a clear role on the team as the Bucs’ only projected lefty bench option. Snider hit a solid .268/.338/.438 and produced 1.7 fWAR in just 359 plate appearances last season, so his loss is a significant one, at least on the surface.
Many projection systems think Snider and minor-leaguer Andrew Lambo will produce at about the same rate next year, though, and Snider had never previously had a big-league season like the one he had in 2014. So perhaps the Pirates thought they sold high on Snider while clearing a space for Lambo, who clobbered Triple-A pitching for the second consecutive season last year. And while trading Snider for prospects seems like the behavior of a rebuilding team, not a contending one, GMs increasingly seem to be pursuing multiple goals at once — not just trying to win now or just trying to win later, but trying to do both at the same time.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington, his front office, and the Bucs’ coaching staff have now produced two straight teams that were better than they appeared to be on paper. The Pirates target pitchers who induce buckets of ground balls, then get the most out of what seem to be average infield defenses with expert positioning. Add in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and the NL’s lack of the DH, and many Pirates pitchers during the last two years — Burnett, Liriano, Volquez, Charlie Morton, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes — were probably as likely to succeed with the Pirates as with any other team in baseball. The way the Bucs help pitchers, chronicled in detail in Travis Sawchik’s forthcoming book Big Data Baseball, is specific and sophisticated enough that certain types of pitchers — ground-ballers who can pitch into the Bucs’ shifts — give the Pirates a significant edge on their competition. The number of pitchers it even makes sense for them to pursue in any given offseason is thus fairly small.
Because of their pitcher support system, the Pirates have a good chance at continued success in the future despite payrolls that most of their fans still find frustratingly low. They have a collection of relatively cheap pitching that they are ideally suited to nurture. They have a franchise player, Andrew McCutchen, who’s under control for four more years thanks to one of the most team-friendly contracts in the game, and an emerging star in Starling Marte who’s signed to a team-friendly deal of his own. The Bucs also have one of baseball’s better farm systems, with Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon set to join their rotation by 2016 and Josh Bell perhaps set to take over for Alvarez and Hart at first base around then. By 2018, after which McCutchen is eligible to depart via free agency, maybe those players will be part of a Pirates core headed by Marte, Polanco and Cole.
2014-2015 was about as flashy as Pirates offseasons get, and yet, by the standards of most other teams, they did very little. In fact, with Martin gone, they probably even downgraded. But the Pirates’ plans don’t center on flashy offseason moves. Or, as Huntington puts it, “We’ll never win the offseason.” They probably won’t head into any season in the near future as a favorite to win the World Series, or perhaps even as a runaway favorite to win their division. But they do look like they could continue to contend for the next several seasons, 2015 included.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post runs down a list of the teams with obvious trade candidates this spring and notes that executives to whom he spoke most often mentioned the Red Sox as a team to watch. Sherman examines speculative landing spots for Allen Craig, Shane Victorino and Jackie Bradley. He feels that a healthy Victorino would be an idea fit in Seattle in front of Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano (though I don’t imagine Seattle having interest given their platoon acquisition of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano). For Craig, he theorizes that the Angels make some sense, should Josh Hamilton face a lengthy suspension. And the Braves have long fancied Bradley, even before Melvin Upton went down with a foot injury, Sherman adds. Sherman also runs down situations in Los Angeles, San Diego, Toronto, Chicago and Philadelphia.
A bit more from his piece and a few other trade-related notes from around the league…
- As Sherman notes, many out-of-options players will become trade candidates at the end of Spring Training, and he feels that some such candidates could be outfielder David Lough, infielder Eduardo Nunez, lefties Felix Doubront and Brad Hand, and right-handers Jacob Turner, Randall Delgado, Stolmy Pimentel and Jesse Chavez. I’d be a bit surprised to see Chavez moved coming off such a strong season, though it’s certainly possible. Lough, in particular, strikes me as someone who could interest clubs, given his elite defense and his strong numbers against right-handed pitching.
- While each side will privately acknowledge that they’ve been in contact with the other, talks between the Red Sox and Phillies regarding Cole Hamels have been dormant for weeks, writes Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Nightengale spoke to Boston GM Ben Cherington and Red Sox pitchers Rick Porcello and Wade Miley about the confidence each has in their current staff.
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson tells MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo that it’s “fair to say” there’s been little to no recent trade talk regarding right-hander Dillon Gee and any of the Mets’ other starting pitching options (Twitter link). Gee seems destined to open the season in the bullpen, barring an injury or a spring injury to a rotation member.
- Travis Sawchick of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review takes a look at the spring battle between Vance Worley and Jeff Locke for the Pirates‘ fifth spot in the rotation, noting that neither is a candidate for a bullpen spot, so the loser of the battle could ultimately end up as a trade candidate. Sawchik notes that it’s possible that both could end up breaking camp with the team, should Charlie Morton open the season on the DL (or should the Bucs incur another spring injury), but he predicts that Worley will win the rotation spot if everyone else is healthy.
The White Sox announced today that they have promoted Jeremy Haber, who was previously assistant to general manager Rick Hahn and will now bear the title of assistant GM. The 31-year-old Haber led negotiations on the team’s five-year, $21MM extension with Jose Quintana last offseason, says Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune (on Twitter), and he also leads salary arbitration negotiations. CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes profiled Haber last offseason, noting an impressive educational background but little experience in the baseball world. Haber has a B.A. in political science from Brown as well as an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Haber was initially hired as an intern with the Red Sox after a series of blind emails to teams in search of a front office opportunity, and he’s since helped in the White Sox’ hiring of hitting coach Todd Steverson in addition to making player acquisition recommendations for Hahn and the rest of the Chicago front office.
More from the American League:
- Huston Street tells Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register that he and Angels GM Jerry Dipoto have begun swapping text messages to figure out a time when they can have more serious extension discussions in the near future. Street, who acts as his own agent, has said he wants to get a new contract worked out in Spring Training and made no attempt to hide the fact that he’s eyeing something between the four-year, $36MM deal inked by Andrew Miller and the four-year, $46MM contract signed by David Robertson. He did say he envisions a new contract overriding his current one-year deal, so he’s essentially looking for three new years.
- Ryan Ludwick told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com that multiple teams for which he had played in the past expressed interest in bringing him back this offseason, though he declined to specify which teams. The Rangers are clearly one, as the now-36-year-old signed a minor league pact to return to Texas, where he made his big league debut 13 years ago. “It’s cool knowing that teams are willing to take you on,” Ludwick said Sunday. “I guess that means I’m somewhat of a decent guy.” The Rangers will hope that in addition to being a “somewhat decent guy,” Ludwick will bring the offense he showed as recently as 2012, when he hit .275/.346/.531 with 26 homers in just 472 plate appearances for the Reds. He’s also played for the Cardinals, Indians, Padres and Pirates.
- Replacing Nelson Cruz‘s production will not be straightforward but may yet be possible for the Orioles, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com writes. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette explains that the current roster not only has power across the board but does so with generally well-rounded players. And, as he notes, the team will never “grab a lot of headlines in the offseason,” as would have been needed to bring Cruz back or replace him with a single player. “We pick up players year round,” said Duquette. “We don’t do it all in the offseason.”
Adam Wainwright returned to the mound today and threw a 30- to 40-pitch bullpen session without issue, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wainwright gave Cardinals fans a bit of a scare last week when he had to return to St. Louis to see a specialist for pain in his abdomen, but he was diagnosed with a strain and merely prescribed some rest. Manager Mike Matheny said his ace will first have to face hitters in a live batting practice session before getting into a game, but he didn’t give reporters a timeline on that next step.
More from the NL Central…
- Matt Holliday said to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports today that he hopes the Cardinals will eventually pick up his 2017 option (Twitter link). Holliday says he’s not concerned with the financial component of the $17MM option, but rather that he likes playing in St. Louis and hopes to remain as long as he can. In reply, Goold tweeted to Heyman that team president Bill DeWitt Jr. has told the Post-Dispatch’s Bernie Miklasz that the current intention is indeed to exercise the option. Of course, plenty could change that line of thinking over the next two seasons, especially considering the fact that Holliday is already 35.
- Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opines that new addition Jung-ho Kang is more likely to eventually cut into the playing time of Jordy Mercer or Josh Harrison than Neil Walker in the short-term. He also tackles recent reports that the Pirates are open to an extension with Andrew McCutchen at a premium price, wondering if such a move would be wise for the Bucs four years in advance of the end of a contract that already runs through McCutchen’s age-31 season. As Sawchik notes, paying for a player’s decline phase rarely proves to be a sound decision for any team, and the team could have younger assets like Gerrit Cole or Gregory Polanco on which to use that hefty sum as they enter their arbitration years.
- Mike Leake tells John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer that he’s happy to have survived the Reds‘ offseason with the team, as he and fellow right-handers Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon entered the offseason fully aware that they could be traded. (Latos and Simon, of course, were indeed traded.) Leake hasn’t been approached by the Reds about an extension yet and isn’t expecting them to do so, although he’d like to see them at least try to work out a long-term deal. The 27-year-old former No. 8 overall pick can become a free agent at season’s end and has enjoyed a pair of productive seasons in 2013-14, posting a 3.54 ERA in 406 2/3 innings.
Former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins viewed the Dodgers as his number one choice for a new club, writes Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. But if a deal hadn’t been reached, Rollins would have considered a trade to the division rival Mets. Rollins said, “I considered the Mets to be No. 2. They have some arms over there.” Rollins clarified that he’s unsure if he would have ultimately accepted a trade to New York. Adam Rubin of ESPN New York tweets that the Mets inquired about Rollins in November but were told he would not accept a trade.
- The Phillies are working quickly to evaluate Rule 5 picks Odubel Herrera and Andy Oliver, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes. Herrera will start in the outfield and Oliver will pitch an inning of relief as the Phillies take on the University of Tampa in an exhibition Sunday. Neither Herrera, who posted good on-base percentages in the Rangers system, nor Oliver, a hard-throwing but wild lefty from the Pirates organization, expected to wind up with the Phillies. “This is a good opportunity for me,” says Oliver. “I feel like I’m in a better place than where I came from.”
- In addition to Oliver, Phillippe Aumont and non-roster invitee Jeanmar Gomez could make the opening day bullpen due to transactional reasons, writes Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. The Phillies acquired Aumont in 2009 as part of the haul from the Mariners for Cliff Lee. He’s the lone remaining asset from that trade and is out of options. If he does not make the club, he’ll be subject to waivers. Gomez, 27, would have to earn a spot on the 40-man roster, but the club isn’t in a position to pass on viable major league pitchers. He has a 3.28 ERA in 78 appearances over the last two seasons, although his peripherals suggest we should expect something closer to a 4.00 ERA.
The Pirates are willing to consider a significant second extension for star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. There are no active talks at present, but Biertempfel’s sources tell him that the team would be “willing to go to great lengths” to work out a new contract if they engaged McCutchen, even if that meant going into the range of $25MM annually.
Team owner Bob Nutting acknowledged that he hopes McCutchen is a Pirate “for a long, long time.” For his part, McCutchen said that he is not thinking about that possibility but would “look forward to it” if the team opened negotiations.
Of course, there is no pressing impetus to strike a deal. But for the budget-conscious Bucs and an increasingly underpaid McCutchen, it is easy to see how circumstances could line up to create an opportunity to get something done.
On the one hand, Pittsburgh is sitting pretty with respect to contract status. McCutchen’s current deal gives the club control through 2018 while promising him just $38MM in total. That covers three guaranteed seasons as well as a $1MM buyout of a $14.5MM club option, bringing the max payout to an unquestioned bargain of $51.5MM for four years.
Then again, McCutchen is not without his own leverage. He is still just 28 and has been one of the game’s very best players in recent seasons, racking up a .320/.405/.534 slash with 77 home runs and 65 stolen bases over the last three seasons combined. McCutchen has ended each of those campaigns in the top three of the National League MVP vote and took home the award in 2013. All said, he has been valued at better than seven wins above replacement in each of those years.
The net is, as Biertempfel’s colleague Travis Sawchik rightly observed last year, the parties are in a rather analogous situation to the one that led the Rays to strike a second long-term deal with Evan Longoria. While Longoria’s deal was probably even more slanted in his club’s favor — its four years of control remaining included three cheap options — the essential premise seems sound, though Longoria was a few years younger at the time of his signing.
Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright has left the team’s Spring Training complex in Florida and will head to St. Louis after experiencing abdominal pain, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wainwright will see a specialist in St. Louis to diagnose the source of the injury. GM John Mozeliak said it would be incorrect to label the injury a sports hernia at this time. Wainwright said that he’s been feeling better each day, but seeing a specialist will give the team some further clarity.
- The Cubs announced today that they have hired Manny Ramirez as a hitting consultant. Ramirez, who spent the 2014 season as a player-coach with Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate, will work with the Cubs’ Major League and Minor League players on the fundamental and mental aspects of hitting, according to a press release from the team.
- Via ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers, commissioner Rob Manfred said yesterday that the investigation into the Cubs‘ alleged tampering regarding their hiring of Joe Maddon will be resolved by Opening Day (Twitter link). The Cubs agreed to bring Maddon on as their new manager on a five-year deal just 10 days after he opted out of his contract with the Rays.
- Corey Hart had other offers in free agency but welcomed the opportunity to return to the familiar setting of the NL Central when the Pirates made a one-year offer, he tells Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hart admits that he also rushed back to action too quickly in 2014 after missing the entire 2013 season due to surgery on both of his knees. The fact that Pirates have morphed into one of the National League’s best teams over the past few seasons also played a role in his decision to select Pittsburgh’s offer.
- The Pirates are drawing some influence from the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in determining how much to rest their stars this offseason, writes ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Manager Clint Hurdle said that an interesting article on how much the Warriors are resting their best players and how the on-court production has improved as a result Seeing the analysis was no accident, however, as GM Neal Huntington tells Stark that the Pirates are constantly studying successful teams in other sports to see if any trends or philosophies can carry over to baseball.
It goes without saying that baseball teams invest incredible sums of money in individual players, all with the hopes that they will perform well throughout the game’s rather lengthy annual schedule. In that regard, it is not surprising that ballclubs look high and low for ways not only to identify the right player-contract investments, but also for means of maximizing the dollars spent. Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal discusses one area in which an increasing number of teams are looking to extract value (or, perhaps, slow a value drain). MLB’s exhausting travel, training, and playing schedule may contribute to injuries and performance decline late in the year, says Costa, who looks at a few ways that health and wellness are being improved around the game.
- New Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang is just starting out on his first run through the full major league cycle, of course, after spending all of his career in his native South Korea. As Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports, the team seems bullish on his future and optimistic that he will force his way into the lineup right away. “We believe we’ve brought in a player who’s going to be an everyday player,” said manager Clint Hurdle. “When that happens, we don’t know. We want to prepare him for a starting role, see how the season plays out, see where he can fit and what he can add. Everybody’s vision down the road is for this man to post up and become a regular player in the Pirates’ lineup.”
- The Dodgers still appear to be among the most plausible suitors for Cuban free agent-to-be Hector Olivera, and Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes that he is a name to watch for the team. It seems to be a waiting game for now, as GM Farhan Zaidi indicated: “I have no sense of the timetable,” Zaidi said. “We have had some discussions with them being at the workout and whatnot, but until he’s declared eligible to sign we can’t have any more concrete discussions.”
- Former Rangers manager Ron Washington is looking for a way back into the game as camp opens, he tells Darrell Williams of the Baton Rouge Advocate (h/t Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News). He says that his expressions of interest with several teams have gone unrequited, indicating a willingness to work in just about any capacity. Washington’s abrupt resignation from the helm of the Rangers is still rather fresh, of course, and it seems likely that he’ll be given another chance at some point.
The Pirates are studying the NBA’s Warriors to see if there’s anything they can learn from Golden State’s success, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark writes. “I read an interesting article a while ago on the Golden State Warriors, how they get maximum production with their players,” says manager Clint Hurdle. “They’re actually playing less, and they’re playing better collectively as a group.” A member of the Pirates’ front office recently did a study on the Warriors, with the Pirates trying to determine whether they can glean an advantage by somehow optimizing playing time for their roster. As Stark notes, though, it’s likely tricky to figure out how playing time in the NBA correlates to playing time in the Majors. Here are more notes.
- There were plenty of high-profile starting pitchers available on this year’s free-agent market, but the Yankees‘ main starting pitching acquisition was 25-year-old Nathan Eovaldi, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News notes. That’s not the sort of acquisition the Yankees are known for, but Eovaldi feels he fits in well with them. “The Yankees are rebuilding in a way,” he says. “A lot of guys are leaving, and we’re starting to get a lot more of the younger guys coming in here, too.” Eovaldi began working on a splitter near the end of last season, and he and the Yankees hope that pitch can help him boost his strikeout totals, which have been relatively low despite a terrific fastball.
- It’s well known that the Cubs have an outstanding core of hitting prospects, but it’s tough to project how far that core will actually take them. Baseball America’s Matt Eddy aims to figure that out by comparing the Cubs’ top young hitters to other exceptional groups of prospects from the past. Some of those groups (those of the 2006 Diamondbacks, 2011 Royals and 2004 Brewers) didn’t produce obviously exceptional results in wins and losses, although at least the Royals and Brewers would probably argue that they’re happy with how the intervening years unfolded. The other two great prospect groups (the 2007 Rays and 1992 Braves) helped produce great results by any standard, even if the Braves’ subsequent run was fueled largely by pitching that was already in the big leagues at the time.