- Members of the Pirates are relieved that MLB has canceled their planned two-game series against the Marlins in Puerto Rico later this month, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. The trip was intended to be part of the league’s celebration of Roberto Clemente Day, which celebrates the legendary Pirate and Puerto Rican, but players expressed concern about the spread of the Zika virus, which could impact their families. “[W]hen we sat down with the CDC and they gave us a thorough presentation, we felt that the risk to the players and the players’ families was just too significant to proceed,” says Pirates union representative Gerrit Cole.
- The Pirates announced earlier this week that top catching prospect Elias Diaz would undergo surgery on his right elbow, but there were no further details and no timeline provided by the club. MLB.com’s Adam Berry adds some context to the report, tweeting that Diaz underwent a debridement of his throwing elbow and is currently expected to miss seven to nine weeks while recovering from the injury. While that’s still bad news for the organization, it’s fortuitous that Diaz’s ulnar collateral ligament remained intact and that he seemingly has a strong chance of returning before the 2016 season comes to a close.
- The Pirates will lose one of their top prospects, catcher Elias Diaz, to right elbow surgery, per a club announcement. As Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, the club didn’t disclose the type of operation, though he notes that Diaz has previously been dealing with pain on the lateral side of his right (throwing) elbow. Both the club and Diaz himself have said previously that they don’t believe his ulnar collateral ligament is an issue, which would take Tommy John surgery off the table. Diaz, it would appear, had the surgery earlier today, as he shared a post-op photo with Dr. James Andrews on his Instagram.
- The Pirates will ease shortstop/third baseman Jung Ho Kang back into their lineup when he returns soon from a left knee injury, general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday (link via Adam Berry of MLB.com). That could mean starting Kang two of every three games and using him as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement when he’s not in the lineup, Huntington suggested. Kang has amassed 32 at-bats during his rehab stint with Triple-A Indianapolis, and he could rejoin the Pirates once he gets anywhere from 45 to 60.
- The Pirates have announced that righty Jared Hughes has been reinstated from the 15-day DL, and that they’ve cleared space for him on the active roster by optioning fellow Rob Scahill to Triple-A Indianapolis. Hughes had missed the entire season to this point with a lat strain. The return of the ground-ball specialist should provide a boost to a Bucs bullpen that has struggled to this point, posting a 4.48 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and an ugly 4.5 BB/9 thus far and ranking as below replacement level as a unit.
The Pirates announced on Friday that they have extended their entire coaching staff through the 2017 season. The club did not announce a new contract for skipper Clint Hurdle, though Hurdle was already signed through the 2017 season himself, whereas the coaches’ contracts ran through the end of the current campaign. The new contracts mean that bench coach Dave Jauss, pitching coach Ray Searage, hitting coach Jeff Branson, third base coach Rick Sofield, first base coach Nick Leyva, bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey and bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade will all return for another season. Searage, in particular, has become particularly notable in the national media due to Pittsburgh’s success in rehabilitating pitchers that have endured recent struggles (though the Bucs did lose noted pitching specialist Jim Benedict to the Marlins’ front office this past winter).
Coming into the season, Tyler Glasnow was expected to provide a mid-season boost to the Pirates rotation, and that looks likelier by the day. As MiLB.com’s Sam Dykstra writes, the young righty has been dominant at Triple-A and currently leads the International League in strikeout rate. Though a promotion seems all but inevitable at some point, the timing remains uncertain and may be dependent upon what the club can get from its current options (as well as its estimation of where the Super Two cutoff will fall). Jeff Locke is coming off of his best start of the year after some significant early struggles, while Juan Nicasio is throwing well enough currently to hold down another slot and Ryan Vogelsong remains a factor.
- The Pirates have released outfielder Antoan Richardson from Triple-A, per a club announcement. Richardson, a speedy 32-year-old, was scuffling in limited duty. He’s been up in the majors before as a late-season option, recording six steals despite taking only 21 plate appearances. In 785 career plate appearances at the Triple-A level, Richardson owns a .261/.377/.347 slash and has 56 steals while being caught only three times.
APRIL 21: Morse has been unconditionally released by the Pirates, tweets MLB.com’s Adam Berry. He’s now a free agent and can sign with any club.
APRIL 13: The Pirates announced today that they have selected the contract of right-hander A.J. Schugel and designated first baseman/outfielder Michael Morse for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 25- and 40-man rosters.
The Pirates acquired Morse and cash considerations from the Dodgers last season in exchange for outfielder Jose Tabata and the remaining money on his contract, meaning they didn’t actually take on any additional salary in picking up Morse, who is owed $8MM in 2016 — the second season of a two-year, $16MM contract originally signed with the Marlins. The 34-year-old Morse has had one of the more interesting career arcs you’ll come across, going from third-round pick of the White Sox to failed prospect in Chicago/Seattle to breakout slugger at the age of 28 with the Nationals. Morse slugged 64 homers in 346 games for the 2010-12 Nats, posting an OPS+ of 131 before being sent back to Seattle in a trade. The 2013 season was another dreadful year for Morse, but he again revitalized his career with a huge season at the plate for the 2014 World Champion Giants. Upon signing his two-year deal with the Marlins, though, Morse’s offense again deteriorated, and he found himself involved in two salary dump trades last season.
Morse has batted a combined .247/.356/.351 in 90 plate appearances with the Pirates across the past two seasons. However, the offseason additions of Jason Rogers and David Freese left the club without a clear need for Morse, who had previously been penciled in as a right-handed platoon mate for first baseman John Jaso. It’s unlikely that any club will pick Morse up on release waivers due to his salary, so Morse is likely to clear and hit the open market, where he’ll be free to sign with any club. In that scenario, a new team would only be required to pay him the pro-rated league minimum (assuming they’re willing to give a 40-man roster spot).
As for Schugel, the 26-year-old was an offseason waiver claim for the Pirates, who subsequently outrighted him off the 40-man roster. Schugel struggled in nine innings with the D-backs last year — his first taste of Major League action — and has had some alarming troubles at the Triple-A level as well. Schugel has dominated Double-A but owns a 7.92 ERA in 128 1/3 Triple-A innings.
- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday that he hopes first baseman/outfielder Mike Morse is able to find a major league opportunity after the team designated him for assignment earlier this week. However, he expects the Bucs would “have to take back a significant amount of money,” tweets Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Morse, 34, is owed $8MM this year and coming off a season in which he hit just .231/.313/.336 in 256 PAs. That obviously won’t cut it for a bat-only player like Morse, though he was a standout offensive performer as recently as 2014. Then a member of the Giants, he batted .279/.336/.475 with 16 homers in 482 PAs.
- Here’s an interesting tidbit: Pirates manager Clint Hurdle expects a woman to break into the major leagues as a player at some point. “I still believe firmly there is going to be a day where there is a female player in the big leagues. I got that. Where it goes, I don’t know. I don’t believe I’ll be in the dugout to see it,” he said (link via Matt Eisenberg of espnW).