- 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.
- The Pirates are still awaiting the return of outfielder Starling Marte, who has dealt with back spasms. Skipper Clint Hurdle says that he believes Marte will be ready to go tomorrow, as Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tweets. Unfortunately, it’s likely too late for the talented outfielder to impact the team’s postseason chances; Pittsburgh sat 5.5 games out of Wild Card position entering play today. The multi-talented 27-year-old has turned in another high-quality campaign, with a .311/.362/.457 batting line, nine home runs, and 47 steals, and his extension continues to look like an outstanding investment.
- It doesn’t appear as if the investigation into sexual assault allegations against Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang is progressing much, as Andrew Goldstein of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The Chicago police who are looking into the claims say that they are not having success in making contact with the woman who says she was assaulted by the Korean star. At this time, though, it appears that it still remains an open matter. The police “are seeking clarification on several items to corroborate the allegations made,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has stated that the league will not take action on the matter until the investigation has progressed.
The Pirates have shut down star right-hander Gerrit Cole for the rest of the season, as Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review first suggested on Twitter. It does not seem as if there is any concern about a significant injury, with the team likely deciding that it isn’t worth continuing to press a critical piece of the team’s future rotation.
Cole is continuing to deal with discomfort and inflammation in his right elbow, Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets. Specifically, per a club announcement, “posterior inflammation” is the reason that Cole will end his year on the 60-day DL.
Things didn’t go well for Cole in his recent outing, as he tried to return from brief rest. While the big righty was working in the mid-to-upper nineties, he surrendered five earned runs on four hits and four walks in just two innings of work.
The Pirates have acquired southpaw Wade LeBlanc from the Mariners, the teams announced. Seattle will receive a player to be named later or cash considerations in the deal.
LeBlanc, 32, was outrighted after his fifty-inning big league run for the M’s this year. He worked to a 4.50 ERA in that span, with a useful 7.4 K/9 against 1.6 BB/9.
The Pirates have activated righty Gerrit Cole to take the ball tonight, per a team announcement. That certainly represents the best case scenario for the staff ace, who hit the shelf about two weeks ago.
Unfortunately, the tide has turned quite a bit in the mean time. Pittsburgh sat just a half game out of Wild Card position when Cole went on the DL, but is now buried a full six games out of the postseason picture.
Even if the playoffs are no longer particularly realistic, there’s still plenty for Cole to pitch for. The righty, who turned 26 during his DL stint, is filling out a stat sheet before his first trip through arbitration this winter.
The 2016 hasn’t been as productive as the one before it, though Cole still carries a 3.55 ERA. From an arb perspective, his 114 frames to date will limit his earnings. Of greater concern from an on-field perspective is the decline in Cole’s strikeout ability (from about 10% swinging strike rate to 8.4%). Cole has received mixed reviews from ERA estimators, with a 3.16 FIP but only a 3.94 xFIP and 4.16 SIERA.
The Pirates have issued a press release announcing that infielder Josh Harrison has suffered a right groin strain and is projected to require four to six weeks in order to recover, thus ruling him out for the remainder of the regular season. Should the Pirates make a last-minute surge and find themselves in the postseason, Harrison could potentially return in mid-October if his recovery period proves to be on the shorter end of the spectrum provided by the team. Harrison tells MLB.com’s Adam Berry that he’ll perform his rehab with the team and continue to travel with the club (Twitter link).
Harrison, 29, will see his regular season come to a close with a .283/.311/.388 batting line, four homers and a career-high 19 stolen bases on the year. Though he’s capable of playing all over the diamond, Harrison has served as Pittsburgh’s primary second baseman this season, with David Freese manning third base in the lengthy absences of Jung Ho Kang, Jordy Mercer handling shortstop and Sean Rodriguez filling in at three infield spots and both corner outfield positions.
Harrison is in the second season of a four-year, $27.3MM contract extension that was signed early in the 2015 season and called for him to earn a reasonable $5MM in 2016. He’s guaranteed salaries of $7.5MM and $10MM in each of the next two seasons, and the Bucs have club options that are worth $10.5MM and $11MM, respectively, for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. While Harrison hasn’t played up to the standard that earned him that contract — he batted .315/.347/.490 with a career-best 13 homers in 2014 — he’s been a useful piece for the Pirates in each of the past two seasons and figures to continue to operate as such moving forward. The power he displayed in 2014 always seemed a bit dubious — six of his homers that year were of the “just enough” variety, and he’d never topped seven homers in a previous professional season — but Harrison has maintained his excellent contact skills (14.6 percent strikeout rate this year), delivered consistently above-average value on the basepaths and provided perennially above-average defense at second base.
Since the Pirates acquired Ivan Nova from the Yankees prior to the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline, the right-hander has unexpectedly performed like a top-of-the-rotation starter. In seven starts and 46 1/3 innings with the Bucs, Nova has recorded a 2.54 ERA while tossing two complete games and amassing 32 strikeouts against a paltry two walks. Part of the reason for Nova’s success is the Pirates’ stadium, PNC Park, he told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s not like pitching in Baltimore or Boston, Toronto, where the ball flies, or New York. A fly ball, (and) it’s a homer,” said Nova, whose new venue has the largest left field in the majors, per Sawchik. Yankee Stadium, on the other hand, has the league’s shallowest right field and is among its most home run-friendly venues. The change in parks has been timely for Nova, a free agent-to-be who is likely pitching his way to an appreciable raise over his current salary of $4.1MM.