- Also outrighted, per the MLB.com transactions page, was Pirates first baseman/third baseman Jason Rogers. He, too, was designated to clear roster space for a new addition — in his case, righty Nefi Ogando. The bulky 28-year-old has seen scattered time in the majors over the last three years, and hit well in 2015 for the Brewers, but didn’t enjoy a productive season in his first go-round in the Pirates organization. Pittsburgh acquired Rogers in a deal that sent Trey Supak and Keon Broxton to the Brewers last offseason. But he ended up seeing just 33 MLB plate appearances and struggled to a .263/.338/.371 slash with four home runs in his 420 trips to the plate at the highest level of the minors.
The White Sox announced on Friday that they’ve claimed outfielder Willy Garcia off waivers from the Pirates and designated fellow outfielder Jason Coats for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. Garcia was designated for assignment by the Pirates last weekend to open space for Ivan Nova on Pittsburgh’s roster.
The 24-year-old Garcia posted solid numbers throughout his minor league tenure until reaching the Triple-A level, where he’s struggled to a .245/.290/.388 batting line in 790 plate appearances across the past two seasons. However, Garcia delivered strong production at the Double-A level in parts of two seasons, hitting .285/.324/.467 with 23 homers and 11 steals in 698 trips to the plate. Baseball America rated him 12th among Pirates prospects just last offseason, praising his “incredible” arm and above-average speed. While Garcia’s plate discipline is a major concern, per BA (and he indeed at a near-27 percent clip last year), their post-2015 scouting report noted that improvement in that regard could lead to an everyday corner outfielder.
Coats, meanwhile, will turn 27 next month. The former 29th-round pick made his big league debut in 2016, tallying 58 plate appearances and batting .200/.298/.340 in that brief cup of coffee. Coats did post a huge season with Triple-A Charlotte last season, slashing .330/.394/.519, and he’s delivered reasonably productive results throughout his minor league career. A right-handed hitter, Coats is primarily limited to the outfield corners.
The White Sox have maintained daily trade talks centering around ace Jose Quintana, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). The Astros, Pirates and, to a much lesser extent, the Yankees remain involved in talks, though the Yankees are less willing than other interested suitors to part with the requisite prospects to pull off a Quintana deal. Rosenthal characterizes the Yanks as a “long shot,” noting that the White Sox are steadfast in their asking price on Quintana and could look to move him at the deadline if no suitable offer arises this winter. Other teams could be in the mix as well, he further adds.
Earlier today, ESPN’s Buster Olney suggested that the White Sox would like any trade for Quintana to be completed before Spring Training opens, though Quintana’s excellence and favorable contract would allow him to be traded at virtually any point during the calendar year so long as he’s healthy.
Both the Astros and Pirates have long been rumored as potential suitors for Quintana, though to this point neither club has been willing to meet Chicago’s understandably lofty asking price for the second of its prized top-of-the-rotation southpaws. (Chris Sale, of course, has already been dealt to Boston.) The White Sox reportedly asked the Astros for 24-year-old right-hander Joe Musgrove (who was solid in a 69-inning MLB debut last year) and the team’s top two prospects, righty Francis Martes and outfielder Kyle Tucker, in exchange for Quintana last month.
It’s not clear precisely what the Sox have asked of the Pirates to this point, though one can imagine top prospects like Austin Meadows and Mitch Keller have come up in trade talks. Young, potentially MLB-ready assets like Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow, each of whom rated as a top 50 prospect before debuting in the Majors last year, also figure to hold plenty of appeal to the rebuilding Pale Hose.
Rosenthal adds in a third tweet that if the White Sox are able to find a palatable offer for their top remaining starter, then they could look to add a veteran pitcher on a one-year deal to help round out the rotation and mentor some of the organization’s young arms. Chicago already went down that road once by buying low on longtime Rangers lefty Derek Holland following the trade of Sale, and a similar move would seem prudent in the event that Quintana moves as well. Adding a veteran starter would prevent the Sox from feeling the need to rush a top pitching prospect like Lucas Giolito or Reynaldo Lopez to the Majors, and any veteran that performs well on a short-term pact could become a trade commodity this summer once contending clubs look to augment their starting rotations.
Quintana won’t turn 28 until later this month and is controlled for another four seasons at an eminently affordable total of $37.85MM. Better yet, only two of those seasons are guaranteed (at a total of $16.85MM), so if Quintana does suffer a disastrous injury or experience a stunning downturn in productivity, the financial commitment is even more manageable. That, of course, seems decidedly unlikely. Quintana is still in the midst of his prime and has been one of the game’s best performers on the mound across the past several seasons. He’s turned in four straight seasons of at least 200 innings, combining for a 3.35 ERA with 7.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 43.7 percent ground-ball rate in 814 2/3 frames — numbers that are all the more impressive when considering his hitter-friendly home environment and the poor defenses that the White Sox have deployed in recent years.
To set the stage for the remainder of the offseason, we’ll take a look at the most pressing remaining needs of every team in baseball over the coming week or so, division by division. (Hat tip to MLBTR commenter mike156 for the idea.) We often discuss things through the lens of an organization’s trajectory; thus, a rebuilding team might “need” to move some salary, while a contender might “need” an expensive starter. But with camp in sight, every club is making final calls on who’ll compete for big league jobs in the season to come (while also pursuing broader opportunities), so the focus here is on specific positions on the MLB roster. Fortunately, the task of roster analysis is made much easier by the MLB depth charts available at RosterResource.com. Each team listed below is linked to its respective depth chart, so you can take a look for yourself.
- Negotiate with Jake Arrieta. The Cubs appear set to try to negotiate a deal with their star righty this month after the two sides swap arbitration figures. As MLBTR’s Jeff Todd noted this week, it’s hard to assess the Cubs’ chances of extending Arrieta, or what kind of money he should ultimately get after a good, but still disappointing, 2016 season. Negotiations between the Cubs and Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, will be an important story line in Wrigleyville over the next few weeks. And even if there’s no extension, expect to see at least a couple interesting Arrieta-related headlines — he’s projected to make $16.8MM through arbitration in 2017, so even arriving at a one-year salary will be a relatively high-stakes endeavor.
- Keep an eye out for starting pitching help. The Cubs’ roster is extraordinarily talented and deep, so much of what we’ve heard about the team since their swap of Jorge Soler for Wade Davis and their signing of Koji Uehara has pertained to potential role players. One name who’s repeatedly come up has been that of Tyson Ross, who (as MLBTR’s Steve Adams pointed out in a recent chat) would be an interesting fit with the Cubs in that the team’s depth would give him the luxury of taking his time returning from shoulder injury, then providing rotation help once fully healthy. In any case, the Cubs could still perhaps use a bit more starting pitching, although options like Rob Zastryzny, Aaron Brooks and Jake Buchanan do give them a variety of palatable spot starters.
- Consider adding a bit more left-handed relief. The Cubs have a heavily right-handed bullpen (with veteran Brian Duensing, waiver claim David Rollins, Rule 5 pick Caleb Smith and Jack Leathersich topping their current list of lefty relief options), so they could consider adding a lefty as a late-offseason move. They’ve been connected to Justin Wilson of the Tigers, and they could also make a move to bump lefty Mike Montgomery from the rotation back to the bullpen. Of course, the idea that lefty relief is a serious need for the Cubs is already nit-picking — they do already have a sufficient quantity of lefties, and their excellent group of righty relievers somewhat mitigates the need for southpaws, particularly since newcomer Uehara is very tough on lefty batters.
- Add pitching help. The Reds haven’t signed a single player to a big-league deal to this point in the offseason, which isn’t necessarily surprising — as a rebuilding club, they shouldn’t feel an urgent need to make short-term upgrades, and they might get better deals on helpful players later in the winter anyway. Last week, MLBTR’s Steve Adams and Jeff Todd looked at big-league free agent pitchers the Reds could pursue, focusing in large part on the Reds’ open closer role, which could provide an opportunity both for interested free agents (who might be able to establish or reestablish themselves as closers in Cincinnati) and for the team (which might be able to deal relievers they sign this winter at next year’s deadline).
- Find opportunities for young players. The Reds’ projected 25-man roster still includes a variety of veterans. The team hasn’t been able to strike deals this offseason, though, in part because those veterans either have no-trade protection or aren’t in high demand. For 2017, that leaves them in somewhat of an awkward position, particularly in their middle infield, where they have prospects Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera ready for playing time and veterans Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart blocking them. Phillips, of course, is one of those veterans with a no-trade clause. The Reds might not make any moves before the start of the season to deal with their middle-infield issue, but they’ll have to deal with it one way or another, perhaps by getting creative with various infielders’ playing time. Peraza could also occasionally play center field.
- Acquire more catching depth. The Reds have identified catching depth as an area of need — Devin Mesoraco has struggled to stay healthy in the past two seasons, and the team doesn’t have enough help behind Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart. Rule 5 pick Stuart Turner is another possibility, but he has a limited offensive track record and has never played above Double-A.
- Add power. Assessing what the Brewers perceive their needs to be at this point is difficult, since they’ve been relatively quiet since the Winter Meetings and they don’t figure to contend in 2017. One area where they might have an opportunity, though, is in adding power to their lineup. First base is mostly open for them after they non-tendered Chris Carter, and their string of veteran trades leaves them with what should be plenty of money available to add a bat. The team did sign Eric Thames for a relatively substantial $16MM guarantee earlier in the offseason, and Thames currently tops their depth chart at first. Thames, though, can also play outfield, and the team’s relative uncertainty in the corners (where they have trade candidate Ryan Braun and the interesting but still unproven Domingo Santana) could clear space for Thames to move around. Meanwhile, the glut of power bats remaining on the free agent market (including Carter and many others) could give the Brewers an opportunity to add someone who could potentially contribute in 2017 and possibly fetch a prospect in a trade next summer.
- Continue evaluating Braun’s market. The Brewers and Dodgers reportedly discussed a deal last summer that would have sent Braun to Los Angeles for a package that included Yasiel Puig, but Braun’s market has been relatively quiet this winter. Now, the same market conditions mentioned in the previous bullet might have an impact on Braun’s market. There have also been whispers that Braun’s large contract and PED history might be problems as well. Regardless, with much of the Brewers’ previous core already having departed, there’s little reason for the Brewers not to investigate potential trades involving Braun.
- Create competition. The Brewers likely won’t be competitive in 2017, but they’ve already acquired a fair amount of interesting talent in their rebuild, and they have plenty of flexibility heading into the near future. With that in mind, they’ve added a number of marginal players this offseason, including catcher Jett Bandy, infielder Eric Sogard, and pitchers Tommy Milone, Ryan Webb and Andy Oliver. The moves that landed those players weren’t glamorous, but they’ll help give the Brewers depth they’ll need to get through 162 games, while also limiting the possibility of disaster should players further up the depth chart struggle.
- Consider continuing to add starting pitching. The Pirates made a big move to steady a wobbly rotation when they re-signed Ivan Nova late last month. Still, the team could use a bit more pitching help, as it currently figures to be heavily reliant on youngsters behind Gerrit Cole and Nova. The Pirates have been connected to White Sox star Jose Quintana, who certainly would be a big step forward. Beyond that, GM Neal Huntington has been outwardly noncommittal about the possibility of further additions, noting that he is open to bringing in more pitching but adding that “we like the group as is,” via Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Balance the bullpen. With the recent addition of Daniel Hudson to a group that already included Tony Watson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Antonio Bastardo, A.J. Schugel, Jared Hughes and others, the Pirates have what appears to be a decent group of relievers. That group, however, is heavily left-handed, with Watson, Rivero, Bastardo, Wade LeBlanc and Rule 5 pick Tyler Webb all pitching from the left side. Watson’s name has come up in trade rumors this offseason, and either he or Bastardo look like reasonable candidates to be dealt, partially to get value from them but also partially to clear space for more right-handed relief help.
- Figure out whether Andrew McCutchen stays or goes. Following the collapse of trade negotiations with the Nationals, Huntington said the Pirates were likely to keep their star center fielder. Rumblings surrounding McCutchen have continued, albeit in more muted form, over the past several weeks, however. There’s also the question of what position he’ll play in 2017, as there have been various reports about the likelihood that the Pirates will move him to a corner after he posted poor defensive numbers in center in 2016.
- Figure out who’s on second. The latest Cardinals-related rumors have connected them to Twins second baseman Brian Dozier. While Dozier would undoubtedly help almost any team, though, most indications have been that the Cardinals’ interest in striking a deal with Minnesota isn’t particularly strong. Cardinals brass have also strongly praised Kolten Wong, who is signed through 2020 with an option for 2021 and who currently appears unlikely to be traded elsewhere.
- Consider extending Carlos Martinez. As of October, both Martinez and the Cardinals reportedly had interest in extension, and as Jeff noted last week, deal discussions could happen in the coming weeks as the two sides discuss Martinez’s pending arbitration case. The 25-year-old’s youth, blistering fastball and strong performances the last two seasons figure to make him a player well worth keeping, if the right deal can be found.
- Consider adding another outfielder. The Cardinals have a perfectly good starting outfield of Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty. But as Viva El Birdos’ Ben Markham recently pointed out, the team’s fourth outfielder, Tommy Pham, has struggled to stay healthy, and the team doesn’t have great depth beyond that. As Markham notes, Brandon Moss is probably the best outfielder available who could conceivably sign as a backup, and Moss is a lefty hitter who could complement righties Grichuk and Piscotty in the corners.
Garcia, who turned 24 in September, has been rated by Baseball America in each of the last two years as the 12th-best prospect in the Pirates’ system. His star may have dimmed, however, following a rough 2016 season that saw Garcia hit only .245/.293/.366 with six homers over 499 plate appearances at Triple-A Indianapolis. Garcia struck out 131 times (against 31 walks), continuing his career-long issues with plate discipline. This problem has offset his other talents, as the 2016 Baseball America Prospect Handbook credits Garcia with strong raw power, above-average baserunning ability and an outstanding throwing arm.
8:15pm: FanRag’s Jon Heyman tweets the financial breakdown of the deal. Nova receives a $2MM signing bonus and will take home $7MM in 2017 before earning salaries of $8.5MM in 2018 and $8.5MM in 2019.
12:30pm: The Pirates entered the offseason with uncertainty throughout their rotation but added some stability on Tuesday, announcing that they’ve re-signed right-hander Ivan Nova to a three-year contract. The deal reportedly guarantees Nova $26MM and allows the Legacy Agency client to earn up to an additional $2MM per year via incentives, meaning it can max out at $32MM over the three-year term.
[Updated Pirates roster and depth chart at Roster Resource]
The deal ensures that Nova, who turns 30 on January 12, will remain with the team that seemingly revived his career after he was dealt from the Yankees to the Pirates on August 1. Nova underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 and had struggled to regain his old form since, with middling numbers in 2015 and then a 4.90 ERA over 97 1/3 innings (starting 15 of 21 games) with New York in 2016.
In Pittsburgh, however, Nova became the latest reclamation project to thrive under pitching coach Ray Searage. Nova posted a 3.06 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and an unreal 17.33 K/BB rate over 64 2/3 innings in a Pirates uniform, with just three walks against 52 strikeouts. The move to a less-friendly ballpark for home run hitters was also a boon to Nova, who had long struggled to keep the ball in the yard over his career. Always a strong ground-ball pitcher, Nova had a career-best 53.6% grounder rate over his 162 combined innings for both teams in 2016.
The stark contrast between the Yankees’ Nova and the Pirates’ Nova led to rather an interesting free agent case for the righty, as it wasn’t clear how teams would view that 64 2/3-inning sample against the rest of Nova’s career. MLBTR ranked Nova 10th on our list of the winter’s Top 50 free agents with a projection of a four-year, $52MM deal given the severe lack of quality starting pitching and J.A. Happ’s successful 2016 season serving as a model of how a Pirates revival project could thrive outside of PNC Park.
Instead, Nova rather surprisingly ended up signing for less guaranteed money than what Happ received (three years, $36MM) from the Blue Jays last winter despite being over four years younger. Looking at the big picture of this offseason, it seems that teams in general preferred to spend their pitching dollars on relievers as opposed to the thin starting piching market. As FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal points out, only three other starters (Rich Hill, Edinson Volquez and Charlie Morton) signed multi-year deals this winter. Even Jeremy Hellickson, thought to be the winter’s top available starter, accepted a qualifying offer to remain with the Phillies due to some concerns about his market, though Hellickson was rather a different case since he had draft pick compensation attached to his services.
Greg Genske, Nova’s agent, said in mid-November that his client had received offers in the three-year/$36MM range, though there was very little buzz about Nova on the rumor mill. The only club significantly linked to Nova was, in fact, Pittsburgh. The Pirates ardently tried to sign him to an extension prior to hitting free agency, though since Nova was reportedly asking for five years and $70MM to forego the open market, it isn’t surprising that the Bucs chose to wait. Nova stated that he wanted to remain with the Pirates, so it’s possible he could have turned down a slightly larger offer in order to stay in a familiar and comfortable environment.
It certainly looks like a good signing for the Pirates, who went into the offseason prioritizing run prevention via both improved pitching and defense. The Bucs add a veteran arm and (if Nova’s turn-around is for real) maybe even a possible ace to a young rotation headlined by Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, with Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow and Drew Hutchison battling it out for the final two rotation slots.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
- Ivan Nova called the decision to return to the Pirates “an easy choice” at today’s conference call announcing his signing, as Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. Nova said that his preference all along was to return to Pittsburgh after enjoying his two-month stint there to close out the season and expressed excitement over the opportunity to return. GM Neal Huntington told the media that Nova has long been a target of the Pirates’ front office. “There are reasons we tried to acquire him in past offseasons, in past trade deadlines,” said Huntington. “…our hope was that this could turn into a prolonged relationship and a situation where he’d want to stay here. For us, thankfully, he did.” Huntington added that he’s still open to improving the rotation if it makes sense “in the big picture as well as the short-term” — the Pirates are rumored to have interest in White Sox ace Jose Quintana — but retaining Nova does give the Bucs some stability. Brink notes that Chad Kuhl appears to have an inside track on the fourth spot behind Nova, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, though there’ll be a sizable competition for the final two rotation spots.
The Blue Jays have “kicked around” Andrew McCutchen’s name as they attempt to address their outfield, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (all Twitter links). Pirates GM Neal Huntington recently said the team was likely to keep McCutchen after trade negotiations with the Nationals fell through. But, Crasnick writes, the Jays are one of several teams who are still interested in the Pirates’ star.
The Blue Jays have Kevin Pillar, an exceptional defender, in center field, so McCutchen would likely move to a corner if he were to be traded to Toronto. That might be best anyway, since McCutchen’s declining speed helped result in dreadful defensive numbers in center last season, leading to talk about him moving to a corner even if he stays in Pittsburgh. (His positioning might also have been a factor in his poor defensive stats.)
McCutchen posted a .256/.336/.430 line last season, with all three figures representing career lows. Still, the Pirates’ price to move him will be high — he’s still just 30 and has two years of relatively cheap control remaining, and his outstanding pre-2016 performances and strong hitting over the last two months last season inspire hope for his future. The discussions with the Nationals reportedly included top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito as well as another good prospect, Dane Dunning, both of whom later went to the White Sox in the Adam Eaton deal.
Since then, though, the Pirates have agreed to re-sign Ivan Nova, and been connected in trade talks to star White Sox lefty Jose Quintana. Their outlook now might be somewhat different than it was a month ago, as they now might be more focused on contending. Last week, Fan Rag’s Jon Heyman wrote that the Pirates wanted MLB-ready talent in return if they were to trade McCutchen.
The Jays, of course, recently lost Edwin Encarnacion to the Indians via free agency. It remains unclear which players they might use to lure the Pirates to trade McCutchen — their farm system, headed by shortstop Richard Urena, righty Sean Reid-Foley and outfielder Anthony Alford, is decent but not outstanding. The Jays acquired two of their other top prospects, catcher Reese McGuire and outfielder Harold Ramirez, with Francisco Liriano in a summer trade with the Pirates seemingly designed to help the Bucs shed Liriano’s salary.
The 27-year-old Ogando only has 18 MLB appearances to his credit, but has shown an average fastball that sits right at 95 mph. He has also generated grounders at an impressive 57.6% clip and owns a solid 3.66 ERA in his 19 2/3 frames.
Of course, that’s not all there is to the story. Ogando has also recorded as many walks as strikeouts (ten apiece) in his limited big-league time. And he has never fully capitalized on his big heater in the minors, where he compiled pedestrian whiff rates and often exhibited a lack of command. Over two seasons and 52 2/3 frames of action at Triple-A, Ogando owns a 3.08 ERA with 7.0 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9.
In order to take a shot on Ogando’s arm, Pittsburgh will open the possibility of losing Rogers. The 28-year-old had shown some hitting ability with the Brewers, but largely struggled in his first year with the Pirates organization after coming over in a trade last winter.
Rogers struggled in brief action in the majors in 2016, receiving just 33 plate appearances over 25 games of action. He spent most of the year at Triple-A, slashing .263/.338/.371 with just four home runs over 420 plate appearances. That represented a rather significant fall-off in power output (and overall productivity at the plate) as against his prior work in the minors.
The Rangers announced on Friday that they’ve claimed right-hander Brady Dragmire off waivers from the Pirates and added that left-hander David Rollins has been claimed by the Cubs. (FOX’s Ken Rosenthal first tweeted that Rollins was on his way to the Cubs via waivers.)
Both pitchers have bounced around the waiver circuit a staggering amount this offseason. Rollins has now been claimed off waivers a stunning five times since Nov. 18, going from the Mariners, to the Cubs, to the Rangers, to the Phillies, back to the Rangers and now back to the Cubs. While Rollins has to be glad to continually be deemed worthy of a 40-man roster spot, the offseason has unquestionably been a tumultuous one for the former Rule 5 pick.
The 27-year-old Rollins is a former 24th-round pick that has a 7.60 ERA in 34 innings with the Mariners across the past two seasons and has averaged 7.1 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9 with a 41.9 percent ground-ball rate. He’s been rather unlucky, as evidenced by a .379 BABIP, but even the most optimistic ERA estimator pegs him in the mid-4.00s (4.41 SIERA). Rollins does have minor league options remaining, so he could be sent down in Spring Training if he doesn’t break camp with the team. However, multiple clubs seem intent on trying to slip Rollins through waivers this winter, though none have been unable to do so successfully.
As for Dragmire, he’s gone from the Blue Jays, to the Rangers, to the Pirates and now back to the Rangers. The 23-year-old logged a 4.38 ERA with 5.1 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 in 72 innings at Double-A New Hampshire (Toronto’s affiliate) this season. While those numbers don’t exactly stand out, Dragmire boasts exceptional ground-ball tendencies and turned in a stellar 63.6 percent rate in that regard this year. That factor, as well as his relative youth, undoubtedly contributes to the appeal he’s generated around the league this winter.