Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

Pittsburgh Pirates trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

NL Central Notes: Villanueva, Castillo, Leake, Kang

Carlos Villanueva had hoped to throw in a different division before he was contacted by the Cardinals, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. After spending seven of his nine seasons with NL Central teams, Villanueva will look to take a swingman role with St. Louis. Though Villanueva was given no guarantees, Goold says that the club targeted him with hopes he would earn a pen/spot starter slot in camp.

Here are some notes from the rest of the division:

  • The time for Welington Castillo with the Cubs is up, says Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Though the backstop has said he still hopes to compete for a job, multi-year commitments to Miguel Montero and David Ross make that exceedingly unlikely. Chicago has continued to discuss trades — and had already started doing so even before dealing for Montero — with the Phillies among the teams in talks, per Wittenmyer. Castillo certainly seems to be bringing a good attitude with him to camp, but the report indicates that Chicago is mostly just waiting for the market to open up.
  • Righty Mike Leake, who’ll qualify for free agency after the season, said he would be interested in exploring an extension but that the club has not approached him, MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports“I’ll be happy to stay in Cincinnati, but I’d also be happy to go to free agency,” he said. “I’d like for them to show interest. They haven’t yet. If they don’t have interest, they don’t have interest.”
  • It’s all reading tea leaves at this point, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gave no indication in early spring comments that Jung-ho Kang is being groomed as an eventual replacement for second baseman Neil Walker, MLB.com’s Tom Singer reports. Per Hurdle, Kang “will get reps at short and third, positions he has played, then maybe second.” While Kang’s potential versatility — like that of Josh Harrison — could well impact the team’s plans for the increasingly-pricey Walker, it seems most likely that Pittsburgh will allow circumstances to dictate how things proceed.
  • Of course, Kang has a significant period of transition in store, on and off the field. Global Sporting Integration discusses that and provides an audio link to the proper pronunciation of the Korean star’s name.

Pirates, Orioles Complete Travis Snider Trade

The Pirates have acquired lefty Steven Brault from the Orioles, the Pirates announced. He will serve as the player to be named later from this January’s Travis Snider deal, joining another young lefty — Stephen Tarpley — to make up the final package for Pittsburgh.

Brault, 22, was floated as a possible name to change hands at the time of the deal, and will indeed be on the move. The southpaw has worked primarily as a starter, reaching the High-A level at the tail end of 2014. He spent most of the year in the Sally League, compiling a 3.05 ERA with 8.0 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9.

Prospect watchers generally saw Brault as something like the twentieth-best  prospect in the O’s system. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs explains that the southpaw will need to find consistent arm speed to reach the bigs as a back-of-the-rotation starter


Central Notes: Morales, Finnegan, Castillo, Pirates, Marshall

While it may seem curious to some that the Royals are adding relief arms such as Franklin Morales because of the perceived strength of their bullpen, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes that the bullpen isn’t as deep as the team would like. The Royals are hoping for a return to form from Luke Hochevar, but he’s less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Tim Collins and Louis Coleman each posted FIP marks of 4.80 or higher with poor strikeout-to-walk ratios, and other candidates such as Rule 5 pick Jandel Gustave, journeyman Joe Paterson and reclamation projects Ryan Madson and Joe Blanton offer little certainty. While 2014 top pick and late-season bullpen weapon Brandon Finnegan is an option, the club still wants to develop him as a starter, which likely means more time in the minors.

Here’s more from baseball’s Central divisions…

  • Finnegan, for his part, tells McCullough that he would prefer to open the season with the Royals as a reliever than go back to the minor leagues as a starting pitcher (Twitter link). Of course, it’s not surprising that he’d prefer to remain with the Major League club any way that he can, however, as McCullough points out, it’s also not his decision. Certainly, Finnegan’s long-term value to the club would be increased were he able to make it as a starting pitcher, and he may not have to wait that long for a shot, as Jeremy Guthrie can become a free agent next winter.
  • While some players will admit that a trade suits them best when their path to playing time becomes obscured, Welington Castillo tells Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune that he hopes to remain with the Cubs even after their acquisitions of Miguel Montero and David Ross (Twitter link). Castillo looks to be an expensive and perhaps superfluous third catcher at this stage, and there have been some indications that the 27-year-old may find himself with a new team before Opening Day.
  • Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette argues that the Pirates should have found a way to avoid arbitration with Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Vance Worley rather than ending up in hearings that resulted in a savings of a mere $50K. While Cook is accurate that the money saved was minimal, GM Neal Huntington explained via email that the team’s goal was “to simply explain why the club’s submitted salary is a more accurate salary for the player based on other comparable past and current players than the player’s submitted salary.” I’d add that teams feel a sense of responsibility to the rest of the league to manage arbitration salaries, as the arbitration process is based largely on statistical comparables.
  • Reds lefty Sean Marshall has had a minor setback in recovery from his June shoulder surgery and isn’t throwing from the mound yet, he tells John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. However, Marshall is pleased with how his offseason has progressed and isn’t concerned about having to slow things down a bit. The 32-year-old has pitched just 24 1/3 innings since signing a three-year, $16.5MM extension with Cincinnati, though he was among the game’s elite left-handed relievers the three seasons prior (2010-12).


NL Central Links: Bryant, Cueto, Burnett

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant is baseball’s best prospect, as per Baseball America’s newly-released list of the top 100 prospects in the game.  Since being drafted second overall in 2013, Bryant has put up an extraordinary .331/.431/.673 slash line and 58 homers in 832 minor league plate appearances, which includes an 1.036 OPS in 297 PA at the Triple-A level last season.  The Cubs placed six players on the top 100 list overall, including four in the top 19 (Kyle Schwarber at #19, Jorge Soler at #12) and two in the top three, as shortstop Addison Russell was ranked in the #3 spot.

Here’s the latest from around the NL Central…

  • There’s nothing new to report” about Johnny Cueto‘s extension negotiations with the Reds, agent Bryce Dixon told John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer in a text message. Dixon said in a text message.  “Johnny’s excited for camp and optimistic about the season and wants to be a Red, so nothing’s changed on our end.”  Cueto reiterated to reporters today that he wants to stay in Cincinnati but is focusing on his Spring Training preparations rather than contract talks.
  • If the Reds can’t extend Cueto before he hits free agency next winter, the question then becomes whether the team will be competitive enough to avoid having to trade Cueto before the July deadline, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince writes.
  • A.J. Burnett made it clear to Pirates GM Neal Huntington that he only wanted to pitch for the Bucs next season, which almost made their negotiation “odd,” Huntington tells FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.  Burnett declined a $12.75MM player option with the Phillies to sign a one-year, $8.5MM deal to return to Pittsburgh, and finding the appropriate dollar figure was difficult.  “The last thing we wanted to do was insult him,” Huntington said. “At the same time, every dollar we can save in every contract we can re-allocate to another player who can make us deeper, a better club.  It was almost a little bit more challenging to approach that negotiation vs. a negotiation where you know you’re competing against prior comparable contracts or other players on the market.”  Also in the piece, Burnett talks to Rosenthal about how he missed his Pirates teammates and how he decided that 2015 will be his last season.
  • In other NL Central news from earlier today on MLBTR, Pedro Alvarez won his arbitration case against the Pirates, and the Cardinals and John Lackey haven’t made any headway on a new contract.

Pedro Alvarez Wins Arbitration Hearing Versus Pirates

Pedro Alvarez has won an arbitration hearing against the Pirates and will be awarded with the $5.75MM salary for which he filed as opposed to the team’s $5.25MM offer, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports (via Twitter). The Scott Boras client and former No. 2 overall pick had been projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $5.5MM in this, his second trip through the arbitration process.

The 28-year-old Alvarez wins his hearing in spite of a down season in 2014 that saw his homer total from the previous year halved — from 36 to 18. Alvarez also saw his already questionable defense at third base decline, making an astounding 24 throwing errors in 823 innings at the hot corner. That led to him losing the reins on the everyday job at third base to breakout infielder Josh Harrison. Alvarez will be tasked with shifting to first base on a full-time basis beginning in 2015.

Overall, Alvarez will be receiving a modest $1.5MM raise from last season’s $4.25MM salary. Restored power would go a long ways toward earning him one more significant pay increase in arbitration next offseason as he heads into a contract year; Alvarez will be free-agent eligible following the 2016 campaign.

For the Pirates — a noted “file and trial” arbitration team — this was the third arb hearing they’ve had this winter, as can be seen in MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker. The team won a hearing against Neil Walker (who had filed at $9MM against Pittsburgh’s $8MM) and also lost a hearing to Vance Worley ($2.45MM versus $2MM).


Central Notes: Youkilis, Liriano, Murphy, Tigers

Recently-retired veteran Kevin Youkilis will be joining the Cubs as a special assistant, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports on Twitter. The connection will be obvious for many: Youkilis rose to prominence and made most of his impact on the field playing for former Red Sox GM and current Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

Here’s more from the central divisions:

  • Pirates starter Francisco Liriano held talks with the Red SoxTwinsAstros, and Royals before re-signing with Pittsburgh, the lefty told Dan Zangrilli of 93.7 The Fan (Twitter links). Kansas City went as high as $36MM over three years, said Liriano, who ultimately took home $39MM from the Pirates. Interestingly, Liriano noted that he felt the qualifying offer did not significantly hinder his market.
  • If Brandon Moss and Nick Swisher prove their health this spring, outfielder David Murphy (or another roster candidate) will likely need to be dealt before breaking camp, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. It may be hard to find a taker without eating a good bit of Murphy’s $6MM salary, should that come to pass. For now, this remains an interesting story to watch over the coming months.
  • While the Tigers do have some worrying signs in their large contracts and low-rated farm, they are not yet facing the kind of difficulties that the Phillies have found, Mike Petriello of Fangraphs writes. If nothing else, Detroit still looks to be legitimately competitive at present, and has time to prepare for a soft landing when its window does finally begin closing.

Central Links: Alvarez, Kang, Hanrahan, Chen

The Pirates and third baseman turned first baseman Pedro Alvarez have their arbitration hearing set for tomorrow, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter). That means that by Thursday of this week, we should know whether Alvarez will earn the $5.75MM for which he filed or the $5.25MM figure submitted by the team (as shown in MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker). Alvarez, who turned 28 earlier this month, saw his homer total cut in half from 2013 (36) to 2014 (18) in a season in which he hit .231/.312/.405 overall. The Pirates have already won an arbitration hearing this offseason, beating Neil Walker. He’d filed at $9MM against the team’s $8MM. They also lost a hearing against Vance Worley, who will earn $2.45MM rather than $2MM as a result.

Here’s more from the game’s Central divisions…

  • Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang isn’t making the jump the Major Leagues just for himself, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Rather, Kang hopes to be a trailblazer whose success allows other position players to jump from the Korea Baseball Organization to the Major Leagues. “…I know that if I do well, more Korean players will come here,” said Kang through an interpreter. “So while I feel pressure, I’m also very excited about opening the market here for Korean players.” Kang knows the language barrier he faces will be an obstacle, though he’s already met teammates Andrew Lambo and Tony Sanchez and has positive interactions down in Florida. “He seems like a great dude,” Lambo told Biertempfel. “He’ll fit in right. He’s real quiet, obviously, coming from a different country. But he’s also given a (vibe) that he is genuinely friendly and wants to get to know every player, which is really cool.”
  • Joel Hanrahan‘s 2015 contract with the Tigers contains opt-out clauses on April 30 and June 5, reports Chris Iott of MLive.com. As Iott points out, Hanrahan will also be an Article XX(B) free agent this year. As a player who finished the 2014 season on a Major League contract but signed a minor league deal this offseason, he’ll have to be released or paid a $100K retention bonus before sending him to the minors at the end of Spring Training. MLBTR will again cover all of the Article XX(B) free agents in a more in-depth fashion as Spring Training wears on.
  • Left-hander Bruce Chen will have a shot to crack the Indians‘ rotation after signing a minor league deal with an invite to big league Spring Training, but he faces an uphill battle in making the roster, writes MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. Cleveland’s top four rotation slots are occupied by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Gavin Floyd. The fifth spot will be competed for by Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Zach McAllister and Chen. Though he could land in the bullpen as well, he’s seemingly behind fellow lefties Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Hagadone and Kyle Crockett on the depth chart.

Central Notes: Kang, Twins, Tigers

The Pirates‘ signing of Jung Ho Kang didn’t represent a big expenditure in terms of today’s baseball dollars but it was a pretty big deal for a historically budget-conscious Pirates team, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes.  Still, the Bucs have one of the smallest payroll in all of baseball.  This year, the Pirates will have doubled their payroll in a six-year span and could still rank in the bottom third of MLB.  The Pirates will continue to receive additional spending money via revenue sharing and television money from MLB’s central fund, which allocates each team with a chunk of money from the league’s national television deals.  As for their own TV deal, team president Frank Coonelly called the Pirates’ local deal “competitive,” and suggested that the team will continue to be forward-thinking in terms of acquiring talent.  “I think our foray into the South Korean market this offseason is an example that we can’t sit still,” Coonelly said. “We’ve got to continue to look to see where the next horizon is and be first on the next horizon if it’s feasible for us.” More from the Central divisions..

  • A Twins official told Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (Twitter links) not to put too much stock into the idea that the Twins are still after a right-handed bat. That’s something they could explore, but it probably wouldn’t come until late March.   With that said, the Twins are actively scouring the free agent market and have interest in making minor league depth signings.
  • There are questions abound when it comes to the Tigers, including their new-look rotation which features only two starters who were in the starting five at the beginning of the 2014 season, Chris Iott of MLive.com writes.
  • As spring training approaches, Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wonders which version of A.J. Burnett the Pirates are getting in 2015.  The 38-year-old struggled mightily with the Phillies last season and he hopes to get back to the form he exhibited in Pittsburgh in the previous two years.  For his part, Burnett says he’s healthy from a hernia injury that nagged him throughout the 2014 season.
  • After Travis Snider was shipped to the Orioles, Nesbitt wonders who the Pirates‘ fourth outfielder will be.  Recently, GM Neal Huntington listed about eight names who could fill that void, including the recently-signed Corey Hart.

Central Links: McCutchen, Zito, Albers, Herndon

The expensive costs of youth travel leagues are an obstacle to attracting young talent to baseball, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen writes in a piece for The Players Tribune.  The full scholarships provided by college basketball or football make them more appealing sports than the long, usually financially-unrewarding path to the majors that the vast majority of prospects face — McCutchen himself admits that, were it not for an ACL tear when he was 15, he would’ve likely pursued NCAA football and not been a big league star today.  He argues that kids from low-income families need more entry points into the game, with one possible solution being a new system similar to the academy program for international prospects.

Here’s the latest from around the NL and AL Central divisions…


International Notes: Balfour, Moncada, Olivera, Alvarez, Kang

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tells the emotional story of Rays reliever Grant Balfour and his father David, who is battling pancreatic cancer. Baseball Australia’s Hall of Fame will induct the younger Balfour even before his playing career is over so that his father — a notable figure in the Australian game — can be there to participate. The piece is well worth your time.

Here are the latest reports on the international scene:

  • The Diamondbacks are among the teams expected to watch touted young Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada later this week, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports. Arizona has already gone well over its international bonus pool and has been one of the most active teams on the international market. The Cubs, too, will take a look at him (as have many other, previously-reported teams), though they would be unable to offer him more than a $250K bonus unless he waits until after July 2 to sign.
  • Hector Olivera drew hundreds of scouts to his final public showcase, as Ben Badler of Baseball America reports on Twitter, and seemingly did not disappoint. Per Badler, the Dodgers, Giants, Athletics, and Padres were well-represented in attendance. You’ll want to read through Badler’s Twitter feed (some earlier portion of which was compiled here by Baseball America) for more information on Olivera’s impressive display as well as some other notes from the international showcase.
  • Right-hander Yadier Alvarez, just 18, is the latest Cuban citizen drawing buzz. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted recently that he is pushing a high-90s fastball, and today Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs reports (Twitter links) that his buzz “checks out.” Not only does the young righty work in the mid-90s and touch even higher, he has a “more than usable” change to go with it. That will likely result in a big payday, per McDaniel, who also notes in a tweet that it may take a month or two for him to be cleared to sign.
  • Former KBO superstar and current Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang might just be capable of putting up huge numbers in the big leagues, according to the analysis of Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs. Farnsworth breaks down Kang’s “upper-echelon swing” and compares it to some notable MLB power bats, concluding that the Korean ballplayer could break out with a .280+ batting average and 25 or more home runs in his first MLB season.