Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

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

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.

Scott Boras On Gerrit Cole, Pedro Alvarez

Scott Boras was on-hand in Pittsburgh yesterday to watch the Major League debut of client Addison Russell and one of Kris Bryant‘s earliest games, but the agent also discussed a pair of other clients — Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole — with local media. Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes that Boras feels more confident these days that Pirates ownership has a strong desire to compete, and he’ll give the Bucs “an opportunity” to secure his clients as core members going forward.

Boras added that there have been no serious talks of a long-term deal with either player yet, and he also strongly refuted the notion that he discourages all of his clients from signing extensions before reaching free agency. “I always let players make their decisions,” said Boras. “People say I always go to free agency. I can give you 15 players that did not go to free agency.” While he’s correct in stating that his clients don’t all reach free agency as early as possible, the vast majority of them do. Nonetheless, notable examples (via MLBTR’s Extension Tracker) such as Jered Weaver, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Pena and Ryan Madson each signed contracts that gave up free agent years in the guaranteed portion of their contracts.

It remains to be seen whether or not the team will express interest in long-term deals. Alvarez, in particular, may not be viewed as a long-term piece, as he’s seen his role reduced over the past year. The 2013 NL home run leader opened last year as the team’s everyday third baseman — a role he filled in both 2012 and 2013 — but he eventually lost playing time to Josh Harrison. Alvarez developed a serious issue in throwing over to first, making 25 errors in just 99 games at third last year, and he eventually slid over to first base. This year, he’s been platooned with Corey Hart at first base, batting .227/.277/.523 with all but three plate appearances coming against right-handed pitching.

Despite those defensive shortcomings, Boras unsurprisingly voiced a confidence that Alvarez could still be a serviceable third baseman at the Major League level. That, as Sawchik notes, may serve as a rift if the two sides do ultimately try to assess Alvarez’s long-term value. Alvarez would have more value as a third baseman, but the Pirates don’t seem to believe that he can handle that role, or, at the very least, recognize that they have a vastly superior defensive option in Harrison. Alvarez is slated to hit the open market following the 2016 season.

As for Cole, the budding ace can be controlled through the 2019 season, so the Pirates probably don’t feel a strong sense of urgency to complete a contract extension in the near future. Nonetheless, I’d imagine that Cole, along with Gregory Polanco, would be at the top of their list of players they hope to extend. The 24-year-old is off to an excellent start to his 2015 campaign, having worked to a 3.18 ERA with even more encouraging peripheral stats in an admittedly small sample. However, he’s worked to a 3.44 ERA with 8.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 50.1 percent ground-ball rate since debuting as a 22-year-old back in 2012.

Madison Bumgarner currently holds the record for largest extension among starting pitchers with between one and two years of service time (Extension Tracker link) thanks to his five-year, $35MM contract in San Francisco. The record for pitchers with two to three years of service (Ext. Tracker link) remains Gio Gonzalez‘s five-year, $42MM pact with the Nationals. I’d expect Boras to set his sights significantly higher if he were to have serious extension talks either during this season or next winter, as he’d surely look to obtain a premium price on any free agent years sacrificed by Cole.

Whether or not the two sides ever have serious discussions regarding either player seems to be largely up to the Pirates, based on Boras’ comments to Sawchik. “I don’t sign checks,” said Boras. “I’m in the back of the bus. … I get the message when the driver pulls over and says, ‘I need to talk to you.'”

NL Central Notes: Brewers, Cubs, Castro, Pirates

Here’s the latest from the NL Central…

  • The Brewers are off to a terrible start, and Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello opines that the club might not be able to turn things around given injuries, a lack of starting pitching depth and the few players who are performing well are due for regression.  Petriello suggests the team erred by taking one last run at a playoff berth and now they’ll have a tough time rebuilding immediately due to a lack of both quality prospects and obviously tradeable veterans.
  • The Cubs have been drastically overhauled by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, as Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper illustrates just how starkly different the team’s roster is today than it was just four seasons ago.
  • Addison Russell‘s promotion to the Cubs‘ Major League roster could lead to even more whispers that Starlin Castro could (or even should) be traded, yet Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times disagrees.  Castro is off to a strong start in 2015 and seems to be ever-improving, not to mention his youth (he’s still just 25) and team-friendly contract.
  • Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer underwent tests yesterday to confirm that he suffered nothing more severe than a bruise after being struck in the chest by a Matt Garza fastball when squaring to bunt, writes MLB.com’s Tom Singer. Jung-ho Kang will again start for the Bucs at shortstop today, and GM Neal Huntington again defended the decision to keep Kang on the roster despite a lack of consistent at-bats. “Ten plate appearances, on top of 30 in Spring Training, is an awfully quick rush to judgment in our mind,” said Huntington. “…There would be nothing gained by having him play in the Minor Leagues. The best way for him to get used to hitting Major League pitching is to hit Major League pitching, albeit in a limited role.

Huntington On Kang, Taillon, Morton

Pirates GM Neal Huntington met with the media today prior to the team completing its three-game sweep of the Brewers. Here are some excerpts courtesy of Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

  • Echoing manager Clint Hurdle’s comments yesterday about how it is best for Jung-ho Kang to develop in the Majors rather than play everyday at Triple-A, Huntington said, “We believe Kang has earned opportunity to be on this club & is one of our best 25.” Huntington added, “The variables that would be added by dropping him now into Triple-A, in our minds, don’t make sense.
  • Top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon is making progress in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and Huntington is lookingforward to getting him against an opposition uniform sooner than later.
  • Huntington noted Taillon, the second overall selection in the 2010 amateur draft, is “continuing to make progress and continuing to check box after box,” but was mum on whether the right-hander has pitched in extended Spring Training and where he will begin his rehab assignment.
  • Huntington was more forthcoming about Charlie Morton, who threw 55 pitches in a simulated game Friday. Huntington admitted Morton’s “body just didn’t function the way the body functioned before the surgery” he underwent this past offseason to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, butwe’re getting closer to where Charlie feels like he can just go compete and doesn’t have to work through making sure that he feels right.

Quick Hits: Hamilton, Ichiro, Kang

The Angels are reportedly discussing a potential resolution to their standoff with Josh Hamilton, and Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register examines some possible forms that resolution could take. Releasing or trading Hamilton are two possibilities, but not ones Fletcher thinks would be very attractive to the Angels — if they released Hamilton, they’d have to eat the entire rest of his contract, except a prorated portion of the league minimum once he signed elsewhere. And it’s very unlikely trading Hamilton would result in much salary relief for the Angels, since he hasn’t played yet this season (and, presumably, since the Angels’ issues with him are so well known). They could also, of course, settle with Hamilton for some portion of his remaining contract. Fletcher also suggests the possibility, though, of the Angels simply bringing Hamilton back and letting him play for awhile, which would allow him to build value, or at least give the Angels clarity by having Hamilton demonstrate how much value he has. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • The Marlins were mostly unknown to Ichiro Suzuki before he signed with them, the veteran outfielder tells Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “I didn’t have that much information about the city or the team in general,” Ichiro says through an interpreter. “The Marlins are new, and they’re still trying to find that identity of what the Miami Marlins are all about.” Ichiro had played his whole big-league career in the American League, and at 41, he’s older than any MLB player except LaTroy Hawkins and Bartolo Colon. Kepner notes that Ichiro does not seem to intimidate the Marlins’ mostly young group of players, however.
  • Jung-ho Kang has played only sparingly since the start of the season, but the Pirates are not considering sending him to Triple-A, Clint Hurdle tells Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (on Twitter). Before the season, the Bucs signed the 28-year-old Kang to a four-year deal with an option for a fifth, but there’s currently nowhere for him to start, and he has one hit in nine plate appearances so far. As a position player signed out of Korean pro baseball, Kang is in a unique position both on the field and off it, but it appears the Pirates will allow him to adjust at the big-league level rather than giving him regular playing time in the minors.

Bullpen Notes: Stammen, Ramirez, Martin

The Nationals relief corps took another blow yesterday when righty Craig Stammen was placed on the 15-day DL with stiffness in his right forearm.  Stammen will undergo an MRI soon and he told reporters (including CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman) that he is at least somewhat worried that it could be a more serious elbow injury.  Nats GM Mike Rizzo also told the media, including Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, that the club is going with internal bullpen options for the time being.  Rafael Martin and Taylor Jordan were called up to replace Stammen and the recently-designated Xavier Cedeno, and Martin made an impressive MLB debut Wednesday, recording five strikeouts over two innings of work against the Red Sox.

Here are some more bullpen items from around baseball…

  • Cubs righty Neil Ramirez could also be facing some bad injury news, as he left Wednesday’s outing after just three pitches with a shoulder problem.  Ramirez will undergo an MRI today, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers reports.  The reliever’s status has a bigger-picture impact on the rumored promotion of top prospect Kris Bryant on Friday.  If Ramirez needs some DL time, the Cubs could promote a reliever and continue with a 13-man pitching staff rather than call up Bryant and thin out an already heavily-worked bullpen.
  • Right-hander Cody Martin is off to a strong start, and the Braves rookie reliever tells MLB.com’s Mark Bowman that he is partially motivated by the fact that Atlanta didn’t protect him in the Rule 5 Draft last winter.  “That was tough, but I knew I belonged [on the roster] and belonged in the big leagues….I took it as a challenge to prove them all wrong, especially all the teams that didn’t pick me in the Rule 5 Draft,” Martin said.  “It all worked out pretty good. I’m where I need to be right now.”
  • Arquimedes Caminero enjoyed a strong Spring Training and earned a spot in the Pirates bullpen.  As Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan writes, the hard-throwing Caminero might be another reclamation success story for Bucs pitching coach Ray Searage, who encouraged the righty to simplify his delivery.  The result has been the fastest average fastball in the game this season, as Caminero is averaging 98.9 mph according to Fangraphs’ measurements.

NL Central Links: Mesoraco, Bryant, Cubs, Harrison

The Reds received some favorable results on Devin Mesoraco‘s MRI, reports MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. The MRI showed no serious issue in Mesoraco’s sore right hip, and the catcher is expected to avoid a trip to the disabled list, per manager Bryan Pr ice. Mesoraco is rehabbing at the facility of Reds medical director Dr. Timothy Kremchek but could be available at some point during the current series with the Cubs or the next series against the Cardinals.

Some more NL Central items as Cincinnati and Chicago square off…

  • The Cubs placed Tommy La Stella on the disabled list today and recalled lefty Zac Rosscup from Triple-A in his place. But, as Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago details, the situation is particularly intriguing because of what it could mean for a potential call-up of Kris Bryant. Cubs president Theo Epstein sidestepped a question on how the situation pertains to Bryant, stating that his call-up depends on what’s happening with the Cubs’ roster and with Bryant’s development. Rogers points out that both La Stella and Mike Olt are dealing with injuries now, however, and Friday marks the point at which promoting Bryant will not cost the team a year of club control. The Cubs have made a habit of promoting prospects on the road, Rogers points out, but he wonders if La Stella’s injury will change their thinking in this instance.
  • Maddon is pleased with the information and scouting reports he’s receiving from the Cubs‘ baseball operations department, he tells MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. “Our geeks are good,” Maddon joked. Maddon also voiced a comfort in rostering three catchers, referring to David Ross, Miguel Montero and Welington Castillo as the team’s “three-headed catcher.”
  • In an infographic piece for FOX Sports, David Golebiewski outlines the reasons that fans should buy into Josh Harrison‘s late emergence as a star. In particular, Golebiewski notes a drastic change in Harrison’s ability to handle inside fastballs and his ability to use the entire field. While Golebiewski points out that Harrison likely won’t maintain last year’s .353 BABIP, his new approach at the dish and defensive prowess make it very likely that he can remain a key component of the Pirates‘ roster.