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Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors
The Pirates have designated right-handed-hitting outfielder Jose Tabata for assignment, according to the MLB.com transactions page. Tabata’s struggles led to him being outrighted earlier in the year, though he made his way back to the big league roster and ultimately played in the Wild Card game.
Tabata, 26, has not lived up to the expectations that led the team to sign him to a six-year, $15MM extension in August of 2011. Over the 2012-14 seasons, he has logged only 901 plate appearances, slashing .266/.325/.375. Tabata also saw his promising early numbers on the basepaths (35 steals; 14 times caught in 2010-11) wither away (12 bags stolen, 15 times caught since).
Though Tabata’s .771 OPS in part-time duty last year raised some hope that Pittsburgh would recoup some production from its investment, he again faltered this year. Over just 186 plate appearances, he posted a meager .282/.314/.333 line.
In the end, the Pirates remain on the hook for $8.75MM over the next two years. That includes a $250K buyout for the successive club options that come with his contract. ($6.5MM for 2017, escalating by $1MM thereafter.) Though the early-career extension did not work out, neither does it constitute too serious an impediment, even to a small-payroll club like the Bucs.
Tabata’s contract has already passed through waivers once, but it is not clear that he has much of a future in Pittsburgh at this point. As things stand, the Pirates seem likely to allow Travis Snider a chance this spring to hold off youngster Gregory Polanco for the regular role, perhaps deploying a righty bat to complement those left-handed swingers. Snider, who slashed .264/.338/.438 and hit 13 home runs through 359 plate appearances, has two more seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining.
The Pirates have acquired minor league righty Preston Guilmet from the Orioles in exchange for cash considerations, Baltimore announced. Guilmet was recently designated for assignment by the O’s.
The 27-year-old had mixed results with Baltimore this year at the big league level. Over 10 1/3 innings, he struck out 12 against just two walks, but he also yielded six earned. The former Indians farmhand also had a cup of coffee with Cleveland. Though his earned run mark rose at Triple-A Norfolk this year, Guilmet continued to post appealing K/BB figures, striking out 10.1 and walking only 1.9 batters per nine.
As of yet, those solid minor league numbers have not yet resulted in much of a chance at the big league level. As MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth noted upon Guilmet’s DFA, that could be due to the fact that he tops out in the low 90s and is not a groundball producer.
OCT. 1: Pirates owner Bob Nutting has now also voiced a willingness to stretch the payroll to retain Martin, writes Sawchik’s colleague Rob Biertempfel. He quotes Nutting:
“As we’ve made priorities, we’ve found opportunities to stretch. He’s an example of a player we’re going to need to do what we can. We’re going to need to stretch. We’re probably going to go beyond what a rational deal is. He’s a player who we love and respect and we hope he’s back.”
SEPT. 24: While the Pirates have previously had a philosophy of not allocating more than 18 percent of the team’s payroll to one player, the team is rethinking that strategy in anticipation of Russell Martin‘s free agency, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. General manager Neal Huntington tells Sawchik that the Pirates are prepared to “stretch beyond our normal comfort zone” in order to retain their standout catcher.
Martin’s potential departure from the Pirates has become an increasingly large story, particularly in the Pittsburgh media, given Martin’s dynamic impact on the game and importance to the Pirates’ success. Martin is enjoying a career year at the plate, as he entered play Wednesday with a brilliant .294/.405/.437 batting line. Martin is one of just four players in the Majors with at least 400 plate appearances and an OBP north of .400 (the others being Jose Bautista, Victor Martinez and Martin’s teammate, Andrew McCutchen). Beyond that, he’s regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game; he’s caught 39 percent of opposing base-stealers and rates as one of baseball’s best catchers in terms of pitch-framing via both Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner.com.
The 18 percent benchmark was a factor last offseason in determining whether or not the team could retain A.J. Burnett last offseason, Sawchik notes, and it stems from a study to which Huntington contributed when working with the Indians. The study found that no team that has committed 18 percent of its payroll to a single player had won a World Series. That study was done a decade ago, however, and Huntington conceded that it could be outdated.
The Pirates do maintain that they can only pay for a player’s future performance, rather than their past merits, and Martin will be 32 in February. Huntington said that Martin’s offensive performance has even exceeded the Pirates’ highest expectations, and the GM acknowledged that other clubs may be able to one-up the Pirates in the end: “There are other clubs in other markets don’t have to worry about the extra years, or the extra two or four or six million dollars to get a deal done. … That’s the realities of the market and the market size. It’s not the first time we’ve faced, and it is not the last time we will face it.”
Nonetheless, while Huntington has previously noted that the team would “do everything it can” to keep Martin, this is the likely the most encouraging report for Pirates fans to date, as it’s the first that the team has publicly stated a willingness to stretch payroll. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently speculated (on Twitter) on the possibility of Martin topping $50MM. While I personally thought that was aggressive at first, it does seem like an increasingly likely possibility.
With the regular season in the books, it’s worth assessing how things ultimately shook out from last winter’s Rule 5 draft. Only nine players were taken in this year’s draft. Here’s where things stand:
Remember, players are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if they aren’t on the 40-man roster four or five years after signing, depending on the age at which they signed. If a team makes a selection, it pays the former team $50K and must keep that player on the Major League roster all season or offer him back to his original team for $25K. (Note that Rule 5 selections can change hands like any other player, with an acquiring team stepping into the shoes of the original selecting club. Click here for more details.)
- Patrick Schuster, LHP (taken first overall by the Astros from the Diamondbacks): Returned to Arizona. But not before a somewhat eventful tour. He was first dealt to the Padres, then placed on waivers and claimed by the Royals before finally being sent back. He never ended up throwing a big league inning, and ultimately struggled to 4.50 ERA in 18 frames at Triple-A once back with the D’backs.
- Adrian Nieto, C (taken third overall by the White Sox from the Nationals): Retained by Chicago. The switch-hitting, 24-year-old backstop hung on all year, posting a .236/.296/.340 line in his first 118 MLB plate appearances. He is now White Sox property.
- Kevin Munson, RHP (taken fourth overall by the Phillies from the Diamondbacks): Returned to Arizona. Munson never made it onto the active roster, and was sent back in mid-March. Though he never saw MLB action this year, he did post a rather dominant campaign at Triple-A: 2.60 ERA, 11.8 K/9, 3.2 BB/9.
- Tommy Kahnle, RHP (taken eighth overall by the Rockies from the Yankees): Retained by Colorado. The 25-year-old was an oft-used bullpen piece for the Rockies, posting a 4.19 ERA in 68 2/3 frames with 8.3 K/9 against 4.1 BB/9. Colorado owns his rights moving forward.
- Brian Moran, LHP (taken ninth overall by the Blue Jays from the Mariners): Still in limbo after season-ending surgery. Moran was dealt by Toronto to the Angels on the day of the draft, and opened the season DL’ed on the active roster. But his left elbow ultimately required Tommy John surgery, meaning that he ended up on the 60-day DL. The Halos do not yet own Moran’s rights permanently: to keep him, the club will need to carry him on the active roster without a DL stay for at least 90 days.
- Seth Rosin, RHP (taken tenth overall by the Mets from the Phillies): Returned to Philadelphia. Dealt immediately after the draft to the Dodgers, Rosin was claimed by the Rangers late in the spring and made three appearances before his roster spot was needed and he was returned. Back at Triple-A with the Phillies, he worked to a 3.86 ERA over 58 1/3 rames.
- Wei-Chung Wang, LHP (taken eleventh overall by the Brewers from the Pirates): Retained by Milwaukee. It took some doing, but a contending Brewers club was able to hold onto Wang for the entirety of the season. Though he did miss 45 games with a DL stint, Wang ultimately made only 14 appearances for the club. The 22-year-old will presumably be stretched out as a starter again as he returns to his development track in the lower minors.
- Marcos Mateo, RHP (taken fifteenth overall by the Diamondbacks from the Cubs): Returned to Chicago. Mateo was the first player to be returned, heading back in mid-March. The 30-year-old threw to a 3.86 ERA in 37 1/3 innings upon his return to Triple-A with his original team.
- Michael Almanzar, 3B (taken sixteenth overall by the Orioles from the Red Sox): Returned to Boston … but ultimately traded back to Baltimore. Shelved with injury for much of the year, Almanzar was returned to the Red Sox in the middle of the summer after a rehab stint. But the O’s obviously wanted him back, and added him as part of the Kelly Johnson deal. Over 233 minor league plate appearances on the year, Almanzar posted a .245/.322/.389 slash.
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Rickie Weeks doesn’t think that he’ll be back with the Brewers next season, he tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Weeks, who has an $11.5MM club option that won’t be exercised, didn’t request a final appearance with the team in the season’s last game. “I told the manager if the time permitted itself during the game to put me out there, OK. If not, so be it,” he said. “Life still goes on. It’s not like this is the end of all (things). I’m the type of person that I move on. That’s the way it is. I don’t think I’m going to be here next year. It’s just for me to go out there and move forward with my life.”
Some more NL Central items as the playoffs loom…
- Francisco Rodriguez also spoke to Haudricourt about his future, and unlike Weeks, who seems resigned to being elsewhere, K-Rod hopes to return to the Brewers in 2015. “I definitely know where I want to be,” he said. “I want to be here. But it is not my decision.” As Haudricourt points out, Milwaukee’s trade for Jonathan Broxton and his $9MM salary next season could give Broxton the inside track for the closer’s gig and push K-Rod out of the picture. The team additionally saw a breakout performance from Jeremy Jeffress and expects to have Jim Henderson returning to health.
- MLB.com’s Tom Singer spoke with Pirates general manager Neal Huntington about the team’s lack of an impact trade this summer in a recent Q&A. Huntington wasn’t sure whether it was more satisfying to get to the postseason on the back of some well-executed trades (such as last year’s acquisition of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau) or to get there by trusting his internal options. “This July 31 (non-waiver Trade Deadline) we wanted to, we were willing to, give up prospects as we did last August. We worked hard to find the right deal, large and small, and we couldn’t find the right impact coming in the door to match the impact that would’ve been going out the door.”
- Huntington also touched on the timeline of Gregory Polanco‘s promotion to the Majors, noting that he wishes Neil Walker wouldn’t have gotten hurt. Had Walker remained healthy, Josh Harrison wouldn’t have had to shift to second base — a move that necessitated the promotion of Polanco, according to Huntington. “I hated [promoting Polanco]. I really did,” said Huntington. As the GM explained, the team thought Polanco was “borderline ready,” but he also stated: “There’s a reason why that Triple-A level exists, why most guys who have had success at the Major League level have experienced Triple-A beyond 250 at-bats.” Polanco got off to a blistering start in his first two weeks but has batted just .204/.275/.324 since and started just three games in September.
Here’s the latest out of the NL Central …
- The Brewers have decided to exercise a $13MM option over starter Yovani Gallardo, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. As MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy recently explained, that move was widely expected with the 28-year-old righty coming off of 192 1/3 frames of 3.51 ERA ball. Gallardo would have presented an interesting free agent case; though he would have faced a lot of competition in the mid-tier starter’s market, his age remains intriguing.
- Pirates starter Charlie Morton has undergone surgery on a torn right hip labrum, the club announced today. That procedure is expected to sideline him for between six and eight months, meaning that he may not be counted on to start the year in the rotation. The 30-year-old righty has posted a 3.72 ERA over 157 1/3 innings this year, after signing a three-year, $21MM extension before the season.
- As the Morton situation serves to illustrate, things never slow down for Pirates GM Neal Huntington, as Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. Regarding the team’s slate of pending free agents, Huntington indicated that he hopes to retain at least some of its players but, if not, will work hard to find the next bunch of undervalued open market assets. Looking back, Huntington said he has continued to wonder what the team missed in not pushing harder to bring back Justin Morneau. “What did we miss in that process that he would go out and have such a great year?” Huntington asked. “That’s been a challenging one, absolutely, especially given our continued challenges at first base and what that production would have looked like in the middle of our lineup.”
- As he looks ahead to the offseason, Huntington says that he believes Pedro Alvarez will return to being an important part of the club. The struggling third baseman has taken a step back after two productive seasons, but is still just 27 and comes with two more years of control through arbitration.
With the regular season coming to a close, we can see with MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker that there were dozens of waiver claims made this season. While many of the players involved in these transactions didn’t crack a big league roster or didn’t stick following their claim, a handful provided legitimate value to their new clubs. Let’s take a look at some of the better pulls…
- Sam Fuld (Claimed by Twins from A’s on April 20): Fuld was acquired by the Twins simply because they needed depth in center field, but he provided quite a bit more than depth. Fuld batted a very solid .274/.370/.354 in 195 PA with the Twins and provided value both on the bases and in the outfield. He was traded back to Oakland on July 31, netting the Twins Tommy Milone. The 27-year-old Milone has struggled so far in Minnesota, but the team gained four years of control of a potential back-end starter in the deal.
- Hector Noesi (Claimed by White Sox from Rangers on April 25): Few expected Noesi to hold down a rotation spot in Chicago for the whole season, but he’s done just that. The 27-year-old, who was a castoff from the Mariners after struggling to a 6.13 ERA in parts of three seasons, made just three appearances with the Rangers before being DFAed there also. In Chicago, he’s turned in a 4.39 ERA with 6.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 37.7 percent ground-ball rate in 160 innings. He may not be an elite arm or even a long-term piece, but he’s provided some stability and soaked up innings, and there’s value to that for any club. Noesi is controlled through 2017 if the Sox are so inclined.
- Moises Sierra (Claimed by White Sox from Blue Jays on May 3): Chicago’s outfield depth took a hit with the injury to Avisail Garcia, and Sierra has helped fill some of the void in a part-time role. He hasn’t been an elite bat, but he’s provided above-average offense with a .280/.316/.423 and also played solid defense in right field. He’s yet to reach arbitration eligibility, and he remains under control through 2019, so he could serve as a bench piece in future seasons.
- Esmil Rogers (Claimed by Yankees from Blue Jays on July 31): Rogers’ struggles in Toronto were long bemoaned by Blue Jays fans, particularly because he was acquired in a deal that sent Yan Gomes to the Indians. The Yankees claimed him with little fanfare, but he’s given them five solid innings in a spot start and 19 2/3 innings of solid relief. The end result is a 3.28 ERA and a strong 22-to-8 K/BB ratio in 24 2/3 frames for the Yankees. While he might not be a long-term piece (he’s a non-tender candidate after earning $1.85MM this year), he did provide a positive contribution to a Yankee pitching staff that was still hoping to make a run at the time of his acquisition.
- Jordan Schafer (Claimed by Twins from Braves on Aug. 3): Once a top Braves prospect, Schafer’s second tenure with the club that drafted him didn’t go all that well, but the Twins again claimed him in need of outfield depth. Schafer has faredwell in Minnesota, slashing .285/.345/.362 with 15 steals in 20 attempts. He can be controlled through 2016 if the Twins wish to retain him as a fourth outfielder, which seems likely, as he earned a modest $1.09MM in 2014.
- Matt Thornton (Claimed by Nationals from Yankees on Aug. 5): Thornton pitched well in the Bronx after signing a two-year, $7MM deal with the Yankees, but his salary made him expendable to the Bombers, who let him go to the Nats on this waiver claim. The veteran lefty has rattled off 11 1/3 scoreless innings over 18 appearances with the Nats and is controlled through next season at $3.5MM.
- Jerome Williams (Claimed by the Phillies from the Rangers on Aug. 10): Williams struggled mightily with both Texas clubs after finding success as a swingman with the Angels from 2011-13, but he rediscovered himself in Philadelphia. He’s given the Phillies eight starts and 51 1/3 innings of 2.45 ERA ball with 6.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 45.7 percent ground-ball rate. With the Phillies toiling at the bottom of the NL East and Williams set to hit free agency at season’s end, the overall benefit may seem trivial, but he’s provided stable innings for the Phils and rebuilt some of the stock that his struggles in Houston and Arlington tarnished.
- John Axford (Claimed by Pirates from Indians on Aug. 14): Axford’s bid to reestablish himself with the Indians fell short, as he quickly lost the closer’s gig and walked 30 batters in 43 2/3 innings with Cleveland. The Bucs claimed him in hopes of lowering that walk rate, and they’ve succeeded. Axford has given the playoff-bound Bucs 10 2/3 innings of a 1.69 ERA in relief, and perhaps more importantly, he’s turned in a tidy 12-to-4 K/BB ratio in that time. He appears to have manager Clint Hurdle’s trust, as he’s worked the seventh inning three times, the eighth inning six times and the ninth inning three times in his 12 appearances as a Pirate. They’ll have the option to retain him via arbitration this offseason, though a raise on his $4.5MM salary may be too steep.
While these waiver claims vary in nature — some provide a long-term bench piece while others have provided short-term boosts — each has been of some benefit to their current club. That brings me to the question…
The Pirates have claimed right-hander Chaz Roe off waivers from the Yankees, according to the MLB.com transactions page. The 27-year-old Roe was designated for assignment by New York last week. Charlie Morton was placed on the 60-day DL in order to make room for Roe on the 40-man roster.
The Yankees acquired Roe from the Marlins on Aug. 31 this season, and the righty went on to make three appearances in pinstripes, yielding three runs (two earned) with four strikeouts against three walks in a two innings. Roe split the 2013 season between the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A affiliate and big league club last year, with a 4.03 ERA in 22 1/3 innings.
This season, Roe enjoyed a strong campaign at Triple-A New Orleans in the Marlins organization, posting a 3.66 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 64 innings of relief.
The Pirates had scouts in attendance at Yasmany Tomas‘ weekend showcase, writes MLB.com’s Tom Singer, but GM Neal Huntington didn’t sound overly optimistic about the team’s chances. “We like the player,” Huntington told Singer. “We will participate in the process. As it has with most Cuban players, the market may take it above a place where we feel comfortable.”
Here’s more from the NL Central…
- Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes that while Pirates owner Bob Nutting is the one who ultimately determines payroll, Huntington is the one who distributes the funds. And while Huntington doesn’t like the idea of allocating more than 18 percent of a team’s payroll to one player, Sawchik opines that Russell Martin is the rare case in which an exemption should be made. He notes that it’s unlikely for teams to go beyond four years for Martin, and they’re also unlikely to go as high as Brian McCann‘s $17MM average annual value. The Pirates can get by offering Martin something close to $60MM over four years, Sawchik writes, and given the lack of alternative options, he feels they’d be wise to do so.
- It’s best for both the Cubs and Edwin Jackson if Chicago can orchestrate a change of scenery for the beleaguered right-hander next season, writes Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. Jackson, owed $22MM from 2015-16, has been a good citizen through his significant struggles in Chicago and remains positive, but both sides need to move on from a bad situation, Rogers continues. The Cubs’s best chance at moving Jackson is likely to swap him for another bad contract or to pay a large portion of his remaining salary, though as Rogers notes, it may be best to move on “no matter how they get rid of him.”
- While many Reds fans are convinced that the team needs to add a power bat to play left field, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that the team should instead prioritize on-base percentage in a left field upgrade. Cincinnati’s team OBP dropped from .327 in 2013 to .298 in 2014. Shin-Soo Choo, who reached base 300 times last year, was replaced by Billy Hamilton, who is on pace to reach 184 times. Joey Votto, who reached 316 times in 2013, spent most of this season on the DL, and the team’s No. 3 hitters have combined to reach just 206 times as a result. Pointing to the team’s struggles in one-run games (22-38), Fay notes how important a healthy Votto and an OBP-focused left fielder could be to the team.
Pirates starter Edinson Volquez is interested in re-signing with the Pirates as a free agent, reports Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The 31-year-old righty is also interested in achieving a multi-year deal in the coming offseason.
Certainly, Volquez has made good on the one-year, $5MM deal he signed with the Pirates before the season. He has worked to a 3.15 ERA over 185 2/3 frames, easily his most productive output since his emergent 2008 season. That is a factor in Volquez’s desire to return to Pittsburgh. “I think I signed in the right place with the right coaches,” said Volquez. “They made me a better pitcher this year. So, I’d like to stay here.”
On the other hand, Volquez made clear that he hopes to parlay those numbers into a multi-year commitment. “You always want to sign for more than one year,” he said. “Especially now that I’m 31 years old, I’d like to sign with someone for two or three years and stay a little bit longer.”
It remains to be seen what level of interest the Pirates have in a reunion. Ultimately, if Volquez finds other clubs willing to plunk down a significant guarantee over two or three years, it is hard to see the Bucs beating the market. As stellar as Volquez’s bottom line has been in 2014, he has succeeded despite a middling K/BB rate of 6.3 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9. With a .263 BABIP also playing a role in the outcomes, ERA estimators see little difference in Volquez’s performance as against recent years, when his earned run numbers came out less favorably.