Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

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

NL Notes: Asche, Franco, Kang, Rockies

The Phillies announced that Cody Asche will be optioned to Triple-A and converted into an outfielder. That move seems all but certain to herald the return of top prospect Maikel Franco, a third baseman. As Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News tweets, Philadelphia will wait until at least Friday to formally move Franco up, which will ensure that the club will add an additional year of control.

  • Meanwhile, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says that the club is continuing to talk with other clubs, as Todd Zolecki of MLB.com tweets“We’ve been in dialogue about a lot of things,” said Amaro. “That really hasn’t stopped since the offseason.” Obviously, with Philadelphia having long been established as a seller, plenty of homework and groundwork has already been accomplished heading into the summer.
  • Jung-ho Kang continues to produce at the plate for the Pirates, and Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that it isn’t too soon to increase his workload. The Pittsburgh front office and field staff is favorably impressed with Kang’s effort to adapt to his new environment, both on and off the field. Colleague Adam Bittner, meanwhile, offers a counterpoint, arguing that both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer have enough of a track record and promise in their peripherals to warrant continued patience.
  • Rockies GM Jeff Bridich addressed his club’s pronounced struggles, as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reports. “We have a good collection of players,” said Bridich. “And at this point, meaning the last two weeks of the season, they’ve added up to a bad team.” Colorado’s head baseball decisionmaker went on to discuss the fundamental problems he sees, such as a failure to move runners and hit when runners do reach scoring position (on the offensive side) and issuing too many walks while failing to attack the strike zone (for the club’s pitchers). While there may be plenty of truth in that assessment, and while it would surely be hard for Bridich to say much else at this stage, the fact remains that a broader roster shake-up looks like an increasingly strong option for the front office to consider.

Neal Huntington On Harrison, Kingham, Tabata

Here’s the latest on the Pirates from GM Neal Huntington, courtesy of the Post-Gazette’s Paul Zeise:

  • Huntington feels that third baseman Josh Harrison, who’s hitting just .173/.209/.282 after today’s game, is pressing to prove he deserves the extension he received last month. Huntington feels that players react one of three ways after receiving a new contract. Some players relax and play better as a result; others, content with their newfound wealth, stop trying as hard. And then there’s Harrison. “The third case, which is what we believe is the case with Josh, he is trying to justify the contract, he is trying to show those who doubted him and show those of us that had faith in him that he is deserving.”
  • Prospect Nick Kingham, who injured his elbow last week, is seeking a second opinion. Huntington is not yet willing to say what doctors believe Kingham’s injury is. Heading into the season, MLB.com, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus all ranked Kingham in the bottom half of their lists of the top 100 prospects in the game. He was pitching reasonably well for Triple-A Indianapolis and likely will make his big-league debut this season if he can return to health. The news that he’s seeking a second opinion suggests that his injury is significant, however.
  • Jose Tabata is hitting .338/.416/.397 at Indianapolis, but it doesn’t sound like Huntington is anticipating that the often frustrating outfielder will return to Pittsburgh, even though he’s signed through at least 2016. “We have been very open with Jose that while we hope his return to the big leagues [is] with us, he is a guy who may need to get somebody else’s attention and have somebody come get him,” says Huntington.

Pirates Acquire Jayson Aquino

The Pirates have announced they have acquired left-hander Jayson Aquino from the Blue Jays for cash considerations. Aquino, who was designated for assignment Tuesday, will report to Class A-Advanced Bradenton.

This is the 22-year-old’s third organization in as many months. Aquino was obtained by the Blue Jays in a February trade after he was designated by the Rockies. Per Baseball America, Aquino has been ranked among Colorado’s top 30 prospects three times topping out at 9th following the 2012 season, but falling to 28th last offseason. Baseball America notes in its scouting report Aquino possesses a plus changeup and an average slider, but poor fastball command and becomes emotional on the mound when the strike zone isn’t to his liking.

In five starts for Toronto’s Class A-Advanced affiliate, Aquino has thrown 25 2/3 innings posting a 2.81 ERA, 5.6 K/9, and 2.1 BB/9.


Minor Moves: Parker, Cabrera, Walters, Hernandez, Stock

Some minor transactions from around the league and the independent circuit…

  • The Cubs have released right-hander Blake Parker, according to the MLB.com transactions page. Parker, designated for assignment yesterday, had not appeared in the big leagues this year. In his 3 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level, Parker permitted one earned run to score while striking out one and walking three batters. He does own a 3.68 career ERA in the majors, with a healthy 10.4 K/9 against just 2.9 BB/9.
  • Righty Daniel Cabrera has been released by the Reds, the club’s Triple-A affiliate tweets. The 33-year-old has not appeared in the big leagues since 2009, and spent each of the last two seasons playing in Japan. He made just one appearance at Louisville this season, going three innings and allowing one earned run but issuing four free passes and striking out only one opposing batter.
  • The Dodgers have signed right-hander P.J. Walters, who had been pitching with the independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster Barnstormers, reports Mike Ashmore of the Trentonian (Twitter link). The 30-year-old Walters should join L.A.’s Minor League ranks following the move. Though Walters has posted just a 6.28 ERA in parts of five Major League seasons with the Cardinals, Twins and Blue Jays, he does have a lifetime 4.70 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in Triple-A.
  • Former Twins left-hander Pedro Hernandez has signed a contract with the independent St. Paul Saints, the team announced. Hernandez was acquired along with Eduardo Escobar in the 2012 trade that sent Francisco Liriano to the White Sox. The now-26-year-old Hernandez struggled to a 7.33 ERA with 33 strikeouts against 26 walks in 66 1/3 Major League innings with the Sox, Twins and Rockies from 2012-14. He posted solid, if unspectacular numbers throughout much of his Minor League career until reaching the Triple-A level.
  • Right-hander Robert Stock‘s contract has been purchased by the Pirates, according to a tweet from the Normal CornBelters of the independent Frontier League. The 25-year-old hit the indy circuit after posting a 4.12 ERA with 43 strikeouts against 46 walks in 63 1/3 innings between the Cardinals’ Class-A and Class-A Advanced affiliates in 2014.

NL Central Notes: Saltalamacchia, Garcia, Kang

After a more in-depth look at the Brewers earlier today, here’s a look around the rest of the NL Central…

  • The Reds will not pursue catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia despite an injury that could force Devin Mesoraco to undergo hip surgery, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Mesoraco will serve as a pinch-hitter/interleague DH and try to delay surgery for as long as he is able. The Reds have 8 games in AL parks over the coming two weeks, Rosenthal adds. The decision not to place Mesoraco on the disabled list is strange, to say the least, as he’s contributed a mere eight plate appearances to the Reds dating back to April 12. By opting not to place Mesoraco on the DL, the Reds have given manager Bryan Price a limited bench with which to work and prevented themselves from perhaps adding some defensive versatility or speed to the bench.
  • Oft-injured Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia has ramped up his throwing program to a 70-pitch live BP, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports on Twitter. At this point, St. Louis probably cannot count on much from Garcia, given his significant shoulder problems, but would surely welcome the opportunity to get what it can from him with Adam Wainwright down for the year.
  • The Pirates ought to seriously consider giving more time to infielder Jung-ho Kang, Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opines. Pittsbugh’s offense has scuffled badly, of course, with shortstop Jordy Mercer and third baseman Josh Harrison among the struggling starters. It would not be surprising to see Kang appear more frequently in the lineup, particularly given that he has exhibited some promising signs with a 10.3% walk rate, 17.9% strikeout rate, and sturdy .265/.333/.412 overall batting line, along with solid-enough defensive ratings, all in a short sample. Harrison, at least, presumably has a reasonably long leash after signing a significant extension over the offseason.

Jeff Karstens Announces Retirement

Former Pirates and Yankes right-hander Jeff Karstens took to Twitter yesterday to announce that he has officially retired from the baseball.

Karstens, still just 32 years of age, hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2012, as a series of shoulder injuries that culminated in 2013 surgery to repair the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder slowed and ultimately ended his career.

Originally a 19th-round selection of the Yankees in 2003 out of Texas Tech, Karstens was traded to the Pirates along with Daniel McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Ross Ohlendorf in the 2008 trade that sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to New York. In 2011-12, the San Diego-born Karstens made 41 starts and eight relief appearances for the Bucs, pitching to a solid 3.59 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 in 253 innings of work.

Though injuries prevented Karstens from stepping onto a Major League mound following that injury-shortened 2012 season, he was still able to pocket roughly $7.8MM over the life of a career that spanned parts of seven seasons. We at MLB Trade Rumors extend our best wishes to Karstens, as well his family and friends, as he enters his post-playing days.

NL Notes: Brewers, Pirates, Rockies

There have been numerous reports about the Brewers trading veteran players and rebuilding. But they aren’t likely to do so this early in the season, if only because it’s hard to find trading partners, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. If the Brewers don’t start trading immediately, though, it doesn’t sound like it will be because of any lack of eagerness on their part. “Very few teams are open to taking on money at this time of year. You get similar answers: ‘We’re still looking at our club right now,'” says GM Doug Melvin. “The frustrating part is you would like to make some moves and do some things. But, early in the year, the only thing you can do is (between) your club and Triple-A.” Here are more notes from the National League.

  • Brewers first baseman Adam Lind could make a good trade target for the Pirates, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets. The Pirates could certainly use more offense, but they already have a left-handed first baseman in Pedro Alvarez, and he’s one of a handful of players on the team not hitting poorly. The Bucs could also move Alvarez to third base and have Josh Harrison go back to a utility role, although that seems unlikely, given Alvarez’s extreme problems with throwing last season.
  • The Rockies have struggled in part because they haven’t been bold enough in their pursuit of starting pitching, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. The team has been reluctant to make big commitments to starting pitchers since their deals with Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle went south, Saunders writes. Of course, one problem is that it’s very difficult to get free agent starting pitchers to play half their games in Coors Field. Instead, Saunders suggests the Rockies could make a bold trade for a top starting pitcher, the way the Royals did with James Shields.

International Notes: Ibanez, KBO, Park

The Yankees held a private workout for Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez this week in Florida, Dan Martin and George A. King of the New York Post write (via Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues). Ibanez is already eligible to sign and could receive a bonus of up to around $10MM. (Ben Badler of Baseball America recently noted that Ibanez has outperformed fellow infielder Roberto Baldoquin, who received $8MM from the Angels.) The Yankees would also have to pay a 100 percent tax, since the team that signs Ibanez will be subject to international bonus pool restrictions, and the Yankees have already exceeded theirs. In addition to the Yankees, the Dodgers and Padres have been most strongly connected to Ibanez. Here’s more on baseball throughout the world.

  • Global Sporting Integration has a summary of how foreign players are doing in the Korea Baseball Organization so far this season. Many of these players will, of course, be familiar due to their histories in the Majors. Former Dodgers and Phillies reliever Josh Lindblom has pitched well as a starter for the Lotte Giants, posting a 2.81 ERA in six outings, and former big-league infielder Yamaico Navarro is hitting .224/.361/.612 for the Samsung Lions while leading the league with 11 home runs. Eric Thames, Andy Marte, Brett Pill, Henry Sosa and Nyjer Morgan have also performed well so far.
  • Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang would love to be reunited with former Nexen Heroes teammate Byung-ho Park, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. “We communicate a lot,” says Kang through an interpreter. “I told him to challenge himself and strive to get better.” Park, a 28-year-old first baseman, hit 52 home runs for the Heroes last year and was the KBO MVP in 2012 and 2013. He is eligible to be posted after the season, and has already been connected to the Pirates (and a number of other teams). The intensity of the Bucs’ interest in Park could depend on a variety of outside factors, including Pedro Alvarez‘s performance at first base this season and the development of top prospect Josh Bell.

Korean Slugger Byung-Ho Park Hoping To Jump To MLB In 2016

After seeing former teammate Jung-ho Kang sign with the Pirates this offseason, Byung-ho Park of the Korea Baseball Organization’s Nexen Heroes is hopeful that he will have the opportunity to make his way to MLB as well, reports Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency. Park, a two-time KBO MVP, told reporters prior to the season that he’s long dreamed of playing in Major League Baseball, according to Yoo.

Park is eligible to be posted for MLB clubs following the 2015 season if the Heroes choose to allow it. Yoo reports that Park has enlisted Octagon, the same agency that negotiated Kang’s four-year deal with the Pirates, to represent him if he is indeed posted. It’s worth reminding that the KBO posting process is not the same as the new posting process with Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. Under the Korean system, which is the same as the old NPB posting system, all 30 teams would have the opportunity to submit a blind bid for Park’s services, and the team to submit the highest bid would then have a 30-day window to negotiate a contract with Park. Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the posting fee would be returned to the team that won the bid.

Six Major League clubs, including the Pirates, have asked for credentials to send scouts to watch the Heroes this week, according to Yoo. However, teams regularly scout KBO and other Asian leagues, and one Heroes official said to Yoo that he “only heard they’re here to watch the whole league.” Yoo adds that Park’s agents at Octagon had contact with the Red Sox and A’s during Spring Training when the Heroes were training in Arizona. Additionally, a scout who attended Tuesday’s Heroes game told Yoo that there is indeed interest in Park among scouts, though that shouldn’t be entirely surprising based on the 28-year-old’s numbers.

KBO is known to be an exceptionally hitter-friendly environment, but Park’s .310/.434/.645 batting line over the past two seasons is nonetheless impressive. After hitting 31 homers in 2012 and 37 in 2013, Park’s long ball total soared to 52 last season, and he’s already belted six in 103 plate appearances this season. However, with the increase in power came an uptick in strikeouts, as his strikeout rate jumped from about 17 percent in 2013 to 25 percent in 2014. His 24 punchouts in 103 PAs this season seem to suggest that the increase in whiffs could be a lasting trend.

The right-handed hitting Park is listed at 6’1″, 236 pounds and is set to turn 29 years old this July, so if he were to be posted, teams would still be potentially buying some prime years. While his placement on the low end of the defensive spectrum likely limits his value somewhat, a potential prime-aged, right-handed power bat could add an interesting wrinkle to a class of free agent first basemen that is led by Chris Davis but also features mid-30s bats such as Mike Napoli and Justin Morneau.

Heyman’s Latest: Bryant, Upton, Rays, Leake, Soriano, Polanco

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark is said to be “ready to reach out to [Kris] Bryant soon to determine his mindset” on whether or not a grievance should be filed against the Cubs for holding him in Triple-A to start the season, writes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports in his latest Inside Baseball column. Heyman notes that the union could file a grievance on Bryant’s behalf even without his consent, though that’s unlikely. The issue at hand, of course, would be whether or not Bryant was clearly one of Chicago’s 25 best players and the demotion was made purely for service time implications. (Chicago bought an extra year of control over Bryant by stashing him in the Minors for all of eight games/11 days). Heyman points out that it would be difficult to an arbitrator to rule in Bryant’s favor, as there’s no precedent for this type of grievance. Players in similar situations have historically been hesitant to file a grievance, he adds, because it would be a contentious way to begin a relationship with a team to which a player will be tied for the next six-plus years. A “Cubs connected person” called the notion of a grievance “laughable” when asked by Heyman. However, the points that Bryant was recalled on the first day the team could add him while still delaying free agency and slotted directly into the cleanup spot could make a case that the club had an understanding of his value, Heyman writes. From the union’s perspective, it’s understandable that they’d have interest in preventing this type of situation in the future, even if it’s a long shot.

More highlights from a lengthy Heyman column…

  • The Padres don’t yet view Melvin Upton Jr. as a throwaway piece and will use him as an occasional outfielder and pinch-runner, Heyman writes. He also looks back on Upton’s original five-year, $75.2MM pact and notes that it’s one of the worst contracts in recent history, particularly given the fact that the next-highest offer was believed to come from the Phillies at somewhere in the $40MMs.
  • The league’s investigation into the Rays‘ allegations of the Cubs‘ tampering in the Joe Maddon saga could come to a close as soon as next week, per Heyman. MLB was still interviewing people as recently as last week, but to this point there “is believed to have been no smoking guns found.”
  • The Reds never approached right-hander Mike Leake about a contract extension this offseason, and the free-agent-to-be is said to be a bit hurt not to have been contacted. Leake’s not a front-line starter, but he’ll hit the open market heading into his age-28 season and currently sports a 3.56 ERA in 427 1/3 innings dating back to Opening Day 2013. A third straight season of 190+ innings and an ERA in the mid-3.00s should position him for a nice contract, especially considering the fact that half of his starts have come in the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
  • Multiple teams have worked out Rafael Soriano, and while he’s on the Tigers‘ radar, there’s also been some contact with the Mariners. Heyman adds the Pirates, Indians and Dodgers as “logical suitors,” though I’d imagine the Pirates and Indians in particular would have some payroll constraints, depending on the asking price of agent Scott Boras.
  • Heyman echoes ESPN’s Buster Olney in speculating that the Dodgers could make a run at extending Howie Kendrick, noting that the Dodgers love Kendrick both on the field and in the clubhouse. He also notes that the Dodgers are impressed with Alex Guerrero‘s bat and may coming around on him as a passable option at third base or in left field, though the team is already well-stocked at each position.
  • The Pirates and Gregory Polanco may have come as close as about $1MM on agreeing to a seven-year contract, Heyman hears. The biggest holdup was over the three club options on the deal, which ranged from $11-13MM, and when the team would have been required to exercise them.
  • Though recent reports have indicated that John Lackey hopes the Cardinals will approach him about an extension, Heyman writes that it’s not a likely scenario. St. Louis likes its pitching depth and the young starters in line beyond those in the 2015 rotation.
  • The Orioles asked the Blue Jays for both of the team’s first round picks from the 2014 draft — right-hander Jeff Hoffman and catcher Max Pentecost — in exchange for the ability to hire EVP/general manager Dan Duquette as their new president, according to Heyman.