Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

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

Pirates Nearing Four-Year Deal With Jung-ho Kang

MONDAY: The Nexen Heroes, Kang’s KBO team, have announced (link in Korean, but Yonhap News Agency has the details in English) that Kang will travel to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and will take a physical later in the week. That suggests that Kang and the Pirates are, in fact, close to a deal.

FRIDAY 2:10pm: Nero tells Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he expects a deal between the two sides to be completed next week (Twitter link).

1:31pm: The Pirates and Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang are close to an agreement on a four-year deal, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Pittsburgh won the bidding for Korea’s top player last month with a $5,002,015 posting fee. Kang’s agent, Alan Nero of Octagon, recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bill Brink that he was confident the two sides would work out a deal. Terms of the deal aren’t yet clear, although it’s known that Kang was seeking about $5MM annually.

Kang, who turns 28 in April, is coming off an astounding season in the Korea Baseball Organization. Though the league is notoriously hitter-friendly, it’s tough not to marvel a bit at the .356/.459/.739 batting line and 40 home runs that Kang posted in 117 games (501 plate appearances) between the regular season and postseason.

Despite those gaudy numbers, however, some scouts simply don’t think that Kang’s skills will translate to the Major Leagues. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently penned an international profile on Kang, noting that Dan Szymborski, who created the ZiPS projection system, likened the KBO to a hitter-friendly version of Double-A. Within that profile, Charlie notes that an MLB international scouting director to whom MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes spoke opined that Kang possessed no plus tools, merely raw power that wouldn’t translate to games in the Majors.

On the other side of the coin, however, some scouts do think that Kang can be a regular in the Majors. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked Kang 15th among free agents this offseason, noting that he’d start Kang at shortstop and give him every opportunity to prove he belongs. Likewise, former MLB and KBO pitcher Ryan Sadowski, now with Global Sporting Integration, said that he feels Kang can absolutely be a regular player and hit about 20 homers per season at the big league level when he spoke with Jeff Todd on the MLBTR Podcast.

Heyman notes that it’s not clear at this time whether Kang would supplant Jordy Mercer at shortstop or if he would simply bounce around the field at a variety of positions. At the time the Pirates won the bidding, I noted that it wouldn’t be a shock to see Kang fill in a role similar to the one that Josh Harrison occupied for much of the 2014 season before unseating Pedro Alvarez as the everyday third baseman. With Harrison locked in at third and Alvarez likely seeing the bulk of playing time at first base, Kang could start several times a week by spelling regulars at second, short, third and in the corner outfield. It’ll be interesting to see if his power does indeed translate to the Majors, as his new home, PNC Park, is one of the toughest parks in all of baseball on right-handed power.


Quick Hits: Burnett, Red Sox, Yankees, Reds

On this date 42 years ago, MLB owners unanimously approved a three-year experiment for the American League to use the designated hitter. The initial vote had all NL owners vetoing the DH while the AL split 8-4 in favor with the concept’s creator, A’s owner Charlie Finley, voting against because his idea of a designated runner was nixed.

Here’s the latest from around baseball:

  • Pirates right-hander A.J. Burnett tells Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review this will be his last season. “I got one (season) left,” said Burnett. “It’s going to be one of those rides where you know it’s the end.
  • The Red Sox, with their current roster, are poised to exceed the luxury tax threshold and will set an Opening Day record of more than $193MM, writes Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal. The overage may only last one season, as MacPherson notes the club’s 2016 payroll obligations total $130MM.
  • The current Yankee roster is more intuned with GM Brian Cashman’s philosophy than previous years, according to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. “We’re just trying to improve ourselves and get better,” Cashman told Davidoff. “We’re trying to plot a new road to another championship. I think we’re more diverse and have more flexibility.
  • The Yankees are expected to hire Jeff Pentland as their hitting coach, Alan Cockrell as assistant hitting coach, and Joe Espada as their infield coach beating out Willie Randolph, reports YES Network’s Jack Curry (Twitter links).
  • Fangraphs’ David Laurila opines the Reds are spinning their wheels this offseason by trading established starting pitchers Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon for decent-but-not-great prospects and surrendering a prospect for the 37-year-old Marlon Byrd.

Minor Moves: Red Sox, Pirates, Rodriguez, Rangers

Here are some minor moves from around the league to kick off your Friday morning…

  • Among the Red Sox players signing minor league deals with spring invites, in addition to the previously-reported Mitchell Boggs, are middle infielder Jeff Bianchi and catcher Luke Montz, the club announced (via Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com, on Twitter). Bianchi is a 28-year-old who has struggled in limited MLB action over the last three years with the Brewers, but has slashed .299/.349/.428 at Triple-A over parts of three seasons. Montz, 31, has seen even more limited time in the majors but owns a solid .232/.318/.456 slash over 781 career plate appearances at Triple-A.
  • The Pirates have added righty Wilfredo Boscan and lefty Charlie Leesman to their slate of non-roster invitees to MLB camp after signing the duo to minor league deals, the team announced. Boscan, a 25-year-old out of Venezuela, has yet to appear at the MLB level and has worked as a swingman in recent years in the upper minors. The 27-year-old Leesman has seen very minimal time with the White Sox but has logged plenty of innings out of that organization’s Triple-A rotation, working to a cumulative 3.27 ERA over 291 1/3 innings.
  • Catcher Arturo Rodriguez has signed with the Marlins, per the Mexican League website (on MiLB.com). The 23-year-old slashed an impressive .379/.421/.618 and hit 15 long balls in 359 plate appearances last year in his nation’s top league.
  • The Rangers announced yesterday that they have signed first baseman Mike McDade and right-hander Mason Tobin to minor league contracts with invitations to Major League Spring Training. McDade, a 25-year-old switch-hitter, spent the first six seasons of his pro career with the Blue Jays and returned to Toronto in 2014 after spending a season with the Indians and White Sox organizations. He struggled in 326 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A, slashing .242/.298/.349.
  • As for Tobin, if he sounds familiar to Rangers fans, it’s because he broke camp with the club in 2011 and pitched 5 1/3 innings for Texas that season before requiring a second Tommy John operation. The 27-year-old hasn’t been in the bigs since. He’s spent the past two seasons with San Francisco’s Triple-A affiliate, posting a combined 4.74 ERA with a 50-to-35 K/BB ratio in 68 1/3 innings.
  • The Angels have signed right-hander Steven Hensley to a minor league contract without a Spring Training invite, tweets MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez. Hensley, who turned 28 in December, posted a 2.09 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 60 1/3 innings with the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate last year, though he was obviously quite a bit more experienced than much of his competition. Perhaps of more interest to Halos fans is that Gonzalez adds that we should look for the Angels to continue to add relievers. Anaheim added another minor league relief arm yesterday, acquiring righty Nate Hyatt along with third baseman Kyle Kubitza in a trade of minor leaguers that sent high-upside lefty Ricardo Sanchez to Atlanta.


NL Central Links: Walker, Cubs, Cardinals

We’ve already shared one set of NL Central notes earlier today, and here’s even more news out of the division…

  • The possible addition of Jung-ho Kang could be a sign that the Pirates are preparing to eventually part ways with Neil Walker, MLB.com’s Tom Singer writes.  The Bucs have discussed an extension with Walker, who will be 31 when his current deal expires after the 2016 season, though seemingly little progress had been made.  Singer notes that shortstop prospect Alen Hanson has been playing second base in Dominican Winter League action, which could simply be a developmental move, or another hint that the Pirates are covering their bases if a Walker extension can’t be worked out.  Of course, this could be a moot point if Pittsburgh doesn’t sign Kang — the team has about two more weeks to work out a contract with the Korean infielder after posting the highest bid for his services.
  • With the Cardinals rumored to be looking for a top-tier starting pitcher, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch speculates that this interest could be fueled by the Cubs‘ aggressive offseason.  “If indeed the Cardinals view the Cubs as a rising power, then that’s another reason to make a big move here to strengthen your roster for the long haul,” Miklasz writes.
  • The Cubs and WGN-TV announced a new broadcasting deal today that will see the local station air 45 Cubs games per year through the 2019 season.  No financial terms of the contract were revealed.  As Robert Channick of the Chicago Tribune notes, the Cubs’ local and cable TV rights are now both set to expire after the 2019 season, so the team could pursue creating its own regional sports network.

NL Central Notes: Kang, Cueto, Garrett, Reds, Cards

Alan Nero, the agent for Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang, is confident that his client will reach a deal with the Pirates, he tells Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Nero described the negotiation process as positive and said that GM Neal Huntington has “tried very hard to basically come to the table with an offer.” Brink notes that Kang could begin the season in a bench role, providing insurance in case Neil Walker‘s back continues to be problematic or in case Jordy Mercer struggles at short. I’d think that given the expected financial commitment, the Pirates will look to get Kang as many at-bats as possible.

More news from the NL Central…

  • There’s been no recent progress in extension talks between the Reds and Johnny Cueto, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Cueto’s agent said last month that his client loves Cincinnati and is open to staying for the right price, but they’ll only talk extension prior to the start of the regular season.
  • Reds prospect Amir Garrett has thrived after giving up basketball this past year, writes MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. Cincinnati selected Garrett in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft and allowed him to play college basketball as well, but the left-hander explained to Sheldon why he elected to give his full attention to one sport for the first time in his life. Reds player development director Jeff Graupe tells Sheldon that the shift to focus solely on baseball is a large reason behind Garrett’s 2.86 ERA over his final 14 starts. Now on the 40-man roster, Garrett will be in big league camp for the first time in 2015.
  • In a piece for Baseball America, the Cincinnati Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans spoke with Reds GM Walt Jocketty about his club’s direction for the future. Jocketty stressed the importance of stockpiling pitching talent — something the club has made an effort to do in recent drafts — as the key to sustained success. The breakthroughs of both Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier have given the Reds even more reason for optimism, Rosecrans writes, but there are still questions in the rotation and with some of the club’s injured stars.
  • Though reports have indicated that the Cardinals are toying with the idea of adding a front-line starter such as Cole Hamels, Max Scherzer or David Price, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeff Gordon feels that the Cards should trust the depth they have and make only a minor addition, if any. (Gordon suggests that flipping Peter Bourjos for a lower-caliber arm could make sense.) Any trade for Price or Hamels would likely have to include one of Stephen Piscotty or Randal Grichuk (among other players, of course), which would leave the Cardinals thin when Jason Heyward hits free agency next winter. Gordon notes that the trade of Shelby Miller in the Heyward deal suggest that GM John Mozeliak and his staff are confident in Michael Wacha‘s ability to rebound from injury, thereby lessening the need for a large addition.

Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles Sign Gaby Sanchez

The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball have announced a one-year deal with first baseman Gaby Sanchez, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). Sanchez will earn approximately $2.5MM and can achieve more through incentives, per the report.

Sanchez, 31, swings from the right side of the plate. He has been with the Pirates since a mid-season deal back in 2012. Serving in a platoon capacity in Pittsburgh, Sanchez had a solid 2013 but took a step back last year with a .229/.293/.385 slash over 290 plate appearances while enjoying the platoon advantage in over half of his trips to bat.

That recent performance did not meet the expectations set earlier in Sanchez’s career with the Marlins, when he became a steady regular at the first base position. Sanchez hit .269/.346/.437 with 38 total home runs while playing every day in 2010-11 with the Fish. After an All-Star appearance in 2011, however, Sanchez struggled in the second half and never regained his footing in Miami.

The University of Miami product was designated and non-tendered by the Pirates back in December. With just over $5MM in career earnings at the big league level, and a likely lack of an opportunity to land a significant guarantee in the big leagues, it is easy to see the appeal in the contract that Sanchez accepted. And, of course, the path back from Japan to MLB has been taken by many players who have performed in the NPB.


International Profile: Jung-ho Kang

The Pirates won the bidding for Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang last week for a little over $5MM and now are in the midst of a 30-day exclusive negotiating window. Kang is an unusual case due to his excellent numbers, the extremely hitter-friendly environment in which he produced those numbers, and the lack of precedent for a position player coming from the Korean Baseball Organization to the big leagues.

Pros/Strengths

Kang was the best overall player in the KBO this season, hitting a ridiculous .356/.459/.739 while manning shortstop for Nexen. That marked a leap forward from his previous season, but at 27, he would likely be able to maintain a very high level of performance if he remained in Korea. Kang finished second in the KBO in homers and third in the league in doubles. He also finished eighth in walks. Even in an extremely offense-heavy league, Kang stood out — his 1.198 OPS was easily better than that of his Nexen teammate Byung-ho Park, who finished second in that category at 1.119.

An international scouting director told MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes this fall, perhaps unsurprisingly, that he feels Kang has above-average raw power. The scouting director added that Kang was an intelligent player with good instincts, suggesting he should be able to make the most of his tools. Ryan Sadowski of Global Sporting Integration told Jeff Todd on the latest edition of the MLBTR Podcast that Kang could hit 20 home runs per season in the Majors.

While it’s unclear whether Kang can stick in the middle infield (more on that below), he played shortstop, indicating that he has at least some positional value. If he were to play middle infield in the big leagues while hitting for even a fraction of the power he demonstrated in Korea, he would be a useful player indeed.

Cons/Weaknesses

So why didn’t Kang attract a bid significantly above $5MM? First, it’s difficult to put his offensive numbers in context. KBO teams averaged 5.62 runs per game in 2014, and Nexen averaged 6.57, compared to 4.18 in the AL and 3.95 in the NL. The KBO contains a number of marginal former MLB players, such as Eric Thames, Felix Pie and Jorge Cantu, who have posted what appear on the surface to be star-caliber offensive numbers, strongly suggesting that the league isn’t even at the level of Triple-A baseball in the US. Dan Szymborski, who created the ZiPS projection system, tweets that the KBO plays as a hitter-friendly Double-A league, and C.J. Nitkowski of FOX Sports notes that he himself was a Game 1 starter in Korea at age 36, near the end of a career spent bouncing around Triple-A, the big leagues, and Japan. It’s possible Kang’s power won’t be enough in the big-leagues, especially in PNC Park, which suppresses homers and is particularly tough on right-handed batters. Sadowski says that Kang is a “mistake hitter,” comparing him to a No. 7 hitter in the big leagues (although Sadowski still seems to feel Kang is a likely MLB regular overall).

The international scouting director to whom Dierkes spoke said that Kang does not possess plus tools, noting that his raw power is not likely to translate well to the Majors. The director compared Kang to Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, who signed a two-year deal with the Athletics prior to the 2013 season but never reached the big leagues. Kang is the better player, the scouting director said, but the two players are similar.

There are also questions about whether Kang can stick at shortstop. He wins praise for his arm and hands, but he isn’t fast and has a relatively thick build, so perhaps third base might make more sense for him. He’ll also have to transition from playing on turf in Korea and will need to work on charging in on grounders, as Sadowski noted.

Context

Kang is an extremely difficult player to evaluate because he’s the first Korean position player to transition from a league that plays very differently from the Majors, or even from NPB in Japan, which has had a relatively large number of players make the leap to the US. Hyun-jin Ryu was the first KBO player to be posted, and Kang, if he signs, will be the first Korean position player to arrive via the posting system.

There have been Korean position players in the big leagues, of course, like Shin-Soo Choo, but Choo signed with the Mariners at 18 and honed his craft in the U.S. minor leagues, not in the KBO. There’s also Ryu, who did play in the KBO, but Ryu is an unusual player who dominated the KBO while playing a completely different position, so his MLB success might not suggest that Kang can follow a similar path. The very different posting fees for each — $25.7MM for Ryu, a bit over $5MM for Kang — suggest teams don’t believe Kang is the talent Ryu was.

Still, Kang’s dominant offensive numbers, positional value and relative youth look awfully tempting. While there’s reason to question Kang’s power numbers in the KBO, there’s also surely something to be said for the fact that he was the best player in the league this year. If he can stick in the middle infield (or maybe even if he can provide solid defense at third base), it’s possible to see him providing enough offensive value to be an asset.

Likely Contract

Kang reportedly would like a deal for $5MM-$6MM per season, perhaps for up to four years. The Pirates have until late January to negotiate with him, and their $5MM would be returned if they’re unable to reach a deal.

Likely Role

The Pirates already appear fairly set in their infield, with Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart at first base, Neil Walker at second, Jordy Mercer at shortstop and Josh Harrison at third. Still, it’s easy to see how the Pirates might be able to find at-bats for Kang if he proves he deserves them, and as Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs noted, Kang would certainly improve the Pirates’ depth. Alvarez and Hart are both coming off poor seasons, and Alvarez is playing a new position. Walker is two years from free agency and has had nagging injuries. Mercer just posted 2.0 fWAR in a good age-27 season, but he’s never been a star. And while Harrison’s playing time looks secure after a spectacular 2014 season, the Pirates could move the former super-utility player elsewhere on the diamond if they needed to clear space for Kang at third.

The Pirates haven’t even signed Kang yet and thus haven’t revealed their plans for him, but assuming he signs, they could have him begin in Triple-A, or he could start the season on the big-league bench, filling in around the infield. That the Pirates won the bidding for Kang came as a surprise, not only because they aren’t usually top bidders for big-name players from Asia, but because Kang’s potential role in Pittsburgh wasn’t immediately obvious. If he turns out to be able to help, though, they can clearly find space for him.


Quick Hits: Mariners, Holdzkom, Indians, Furcal

The Mariners have unfinished business heading into the new year, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes. They’ll need to find a platoon partner for righty Justin Ruggiano in right field, with Seth Smith of the Padres as one possibility. They could also move Brad Miller to the outfield if he loses the shortstop job to Chris Taylor. The M’s could also find a catcher in the Humberto Quintero mold to provide depth at Triple-A Tacoma. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • Signing Robinson Cano to a $240MM contract last offseason helped the Mariners press the reset button, Dutton writes. Led by Cano and their pitching staff, the Mariners improved by 16 games in 2014, although they just missed the last AL Wild Card berth.
  • The remainder of the offseason could feature plenty of trades for outfielders, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports writes. The Phillies, Reds, Rays, Padres, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Indians and Angels could all have outfielders available, with about the same number of teams looming as potential buyers. Still, it might take time for the market to resolve itself — the key to the outfield market could be the rumors about the Padres trading a package centered around Wil Myers to the Phillies for Cole Hamels, and that might not be resolved until Max Scherzer and James Shields sign.
  • Pirates reliever John Holdzkom has been released “five or six” times, he tells MLB.com’s Tom Singer. Some of those releases were no doubt even more depressing than such transactions usually might be. “I got released without the team even calling me. I looked on the Internet and saw my name next to ‘Transactions’ — five days before I was supposed to report,” says Holdzkom. “Yeah, that was bad.” And that team wasn’t even a Major League organization, but the independent Laredo Lemurs. Holdzkom emerged seemingly from out of nowhere to become a key part of the Pittsburgh bullpen down the stretch in 2014.
  • The Indians‘ signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn haven’t worked out so far, at least not from a baseball perspective. But they were still the right moves, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. The signings prevented a big drop in the Indians’ season-ticket sales and helped them increase revenues while also helping make them more relevant. Bourn’s presence also allowed Michael Brantley to move to left field.
  • Infielder Rafael Furcal has a torn hamstring and will miss Winter League playoffs in the Dominican, Dionisio Soldevila of ESPNDeportes.com tweets. Furcal had hamstring issues in the 2014 regular seasona and only made 37 plate appearances with the Marlins, so this latest injury could affect his attempt to come back next season.

Blue Jays Claim Scott Barnes, Preston Guilmet

The Blue Jays announced that they have claimed left-hander Scott Barnes off waivers from the Rangers and right-hander Preston Guilmet from the Pirates. SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo first tweeted that Guilmet had been claimed by Toronto earlier this afternoon.

Barnes, 27, joins his fourth organization of the offseason with this move. Originally with Cleveland, he’s been acquired by the Orioles and claimed off waivers by the Rangers as well, making him perhaps the most well-traveled player of the offseason. Barnes has a 5.20 ERA in a small sample size of 27 2/3 big league innings, but he has a nice track record and Triple-A and pitched well there in 2014. Last season, he notched a 3.69 ERA with 10.2 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 while holding opposing lefties to a .191/.296/.255 batting line.

Guilmet, also 27, pitched 10 1/3 innings out of the Orioles’ bullpen in 2014, allowing six runs on eight hits with 12 strikeouts against two walks. The former ninth-round pick has a nice track record at Triple-A and notched a 3.91 ERA there in 2014 with an impressive 10.1 K/9 against just 1.9 BB/9.


NL Notes: Kemp, Rockies, Reds, Cueto, Kang

The Dodgers‘ $32MM payment to the Padres in the Matt Kemp deal will include $18MM spread over 2015, the Associated Press reports (via the Boston Herald). After getting most of its salary relief up front, San Diego will receive $3.5MM annually for the rest of the deal. As Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune explains, that means that the Padres currently project to open the year with less than $90MM on the books. That could mean the team has more capacity to add, and indeed chairman Ron Fowler has indicated that there are more moves in the works while not committing to a payroll target.

Here’s more from the National League:

  • MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby takes a look at the Rockies‘ inaction to this point. “I am constantly reminding myself and other people are reminding me that when we had health last year, we had a good team,” said GM Jeff Bridich. “It is not our intention from the get-go to give the roster a radical facelift. We are going to stick to our plan.” Injuries, of course, are not the only reason that the club was unable to stay in contention into the summer last year. But Colorado certainly has more talent than its record last year would indicate, and holding pat is an intriguingly bold strategy in its own right.
  • Another team that has been quiet in terms of addition is the Reds, though of course Cincinnati was proactive in dealing away two starters. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon breaks down the remaining options for the club in left field, noting that Nori Aoki is still available and positing that the Padres could be a good match for a trade.
  • Reds ace Johnny Cueto will give the team until the start of the season to discuss an extension, agent Bryce Dixon tells Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Dixon also told Heyman that he views Jon Lester and, especially, Max Scherzer as viable comps for what Cueto will be able to land in free agency. The 28-year-old certainly has posted true-ace numbers, when healthy, dating back to 2011, though ERA estimators are not quite as enamored with his work. The Reds started a conversation with Cueto’s camp at the Winter Meetings, but have expressed a lack of confidence in getting something done.
  • Alan Nero, the agent for Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang, said yesterday that his client is excited that the Pirates won the rights to negotiate with him — even if the club does not have a direct route to a starting shortstop job. (Via Jon Morosi of FOX Sports, in a series of tweets.) Of course, Kang has little choice in the matter, since the high bidder gets exclusive bargaining. While he may have hoped that a team would add him with intentions of installing him directly into its regular lineup, Kang will certainly have at least some chance to unseat Jordy Mercer and should have other avenues to playing time for an adaptable Pittsburgh organization.