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Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors
After covering some Cubs Notes earlier today, let’s take a look around the rest of the NL Central…
- The Blue Jays haven’t shown any interest in Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks since they’re looking to land a better defender at the keystone, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports. (Similar defensive concerns were also the reason for Toronto’s lack of interest in Daniel Murphy, as Heyman reported over the weekend.) Weeks is hitting .263/.344/.463 in 90 PA against left-handed pitching this season, and would make sense on paper for a Jays team that is need of both second base help and a right-handed bat.
- The Cardinals are open to acquiring a second or third baseman and have also considered adding a “complement upgrade” for their lineup, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Padres outfielder Seth Smith is cited by Goold as an example of the type of complementary player the Cards are discussing, though Smith himself isn’t necessarily being targeted by the team. If the Cardinals do add a 2B or 3B, Matt Carpenter would play the other position.
- The Pirates‘ trade for Ike Davis is over two months old, and Tim Rohan of the New York Times checks in to see how both the Bucs and Mets have progressed since the deal. The Mets have been very pleased by how Lucas Duda is hitting as the new regular first baseman, and while Davis hasn’t been hitting quite as well (.250/.359/.364 in 217 PA as a Pirate), he mentioned in a recent WFAN interview that he enjoys playing for a team that expects to contend.
Newly-signed Royals first round draft pick Brandon Finnegan will start his pro career at Class A+ Wilmington, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes. The Royals project Finnegan will only pitch about 45 or 50 pro innings after pitching for TCU this season, but the start at Class A+ could indicate that the Royals hope Finnegan will be in the big leagues in a relatively short period of time. “I just have confidence in myself,” says Finnegan. “Now, I’m not 6-4. I’m only 5-11. But I feel like I’ve got the stuff that’s good enough to pitch in the pros right now.” Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- The Indians need to add a good starting pitcher more than they need a good hitter, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. Corey Kluber has excelled, but the rest of Cleveland’s rotation hasn’t been nearly so helpful — three pitchers who started the year in the rotation are now either in the bullpen or Triple-A.
- New Pirates pitcher Ernesto Frieri looks forward to playing in a new league and division, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. “Maybe this is going to be good for me because it was a little bit of a struggle for me in the American League West,” Frieri said. “When you’re in one league for a while, hitters get to know you, and they make adjustments. I’m pretty confident everything is going to change over here.” The Pirates acquired Frieri on Friday for another struggling reliever, Jason Grilli.
- Bucs GM Neal Huntington tells SiriusXM’s Jim Bowden (via Twitter) that the Pirates don’t have “glaring holes” but will still try to upgrade where possible. The Pirates’ offense has been about average and just added Gregory Polanco to fix its hole in right field. The Bucs’ pitching is perhaps questionable, but the Pirates have had a recent series of strong performances from starters like Jeff Locke and Vance Worley to aid what had been a weak rotation.
Here’s the latest from the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo:
- With David Price of the Rays on the trading block, Cafardo asks Brewers GM Doug Melvin about the process of trading, or trading for, a top starting pitching. Melvin has been on both sides of that process, having traded Zack Greinke and having acquired Greinke and C.C. Sabathia. Melvin says he would have been willing to trade Greinke within the NL Central, but for an extra charge. “I had teams within the division asking for him, and my approach to that is this: I had no problem doing it, but I had to get a little extra if I was going to do it. And that’s what I told them,” he says. Even assuming that’s the Rays’ policy too, though, it isn’t clear there’s a great matchup between them and any other AL East team. The Blue Jays are one possibility, but Cafardo writes that they seem to be more interested on a lower-tier starter like Jason Hammel of the Cubs.
- A source tells Cafardo, “You could argue that Hammel is the most sought-after player, positional or pitcher, in the trade market right now.”
- This season, the Pirates are likely to pursue a starting pitcher and a reliever, but not an offensive player.
- Victor Martinez wants to stay with the Tigers. One potential hitch as he heads toward free agency, though, is that the Tigers will have to figure out how long Miguel Cabrera will be able to play defense until Detroit needs to move him to DH.
- Angels GM Jerry Dipoto would like Grilli to establish himself as the Angels’ closer, but that will depend on Grilli’s performance, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports. “Whether Jason Grilli returns to the ninth inning will have to be determined by Jason Grilli,” says Dipoto.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington says that Frieri will provide the Pirates with a “high leverage option that may pitch in the middle innings,” reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Travis Sawchik. “Ernesto is a guy we have pursued for a couple of years and haven’t been able to get him,” says Huntington. “He’s been going through a rough stretch but there’s a lot of things our scouts like, that our analysts like. We feel like we’ve had some success with guys like this in the past.”
- While many outside analysts were unimpressed with the deal for both sides, Sawchik notes that the Grilli trade has similarities to the Pirates’ December 2012 trade of closer Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt for Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel and two other players. Like Melancon, who was coming off an ugly 6.20 ERA season in Boston, Frieri’s peripherals (11.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9) are significantly better than his ERA. The Pirates have had great success with Melancon in the late innings.
- Catcher Russell Martin, who along with Grilli was a key part of the Pirates’ excellent 2013 season, says he’ll fondly remember Grilli’s tenure with the Bucs, reports Bucs Dugout’s David Manel. “To look back on it can motivate you, it can give you confidence, it can make you believe that what we have here is good,” Martin says. He adds, however, that Grilli struggled after being demoted from the closer’s role. “[J]ust like any athlete, when you’re not doing well and the team’s heading into a different direction, it can leave some sourness,” says Martin “I think Grilli still wanted to be the closer. To have that taken away can be a little frustrating.”
FRIDAY: Pittsburgh and Polanco appear to be at a stalemate in their negotiations, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The sides have exchanged several proposals, says Heyman, but remain far apart.
Several offers were made in the run-up to Polanco’s promotion. One offer from the Pirates would have given the team control over Polanco through the 2024 season, with Polanco able to earn up to $75MM, most of it through option years at the tail end of the deal. Though Polanco did make counter-proposals, though apparently there has not been enough movement in either direction to bring a deal within sight.
Generally, says Heyman, the continued discussions would not have delivered much more value than the club’s original efforts back in the spring. In part, Heyman says this could relate to the fact that the club had already waited out the Super Two deadline. It also appears that the Bucs looked at the recent Starling Marte extension (which was signed after a full season as a productive regular) as a rough ceiling on the deal’s annual value.
WEDNESDAY: The Pirates and recently called-up top prospect Gregory Polanco are still discussing a long-term extension, reports Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com (Spanish language link). The sides reportedly had serious negotiations about a deal before the season started, at a point at which Polanco had yet to receive his first promotion.
For his part, Polanco disputed characterizations that he had rejected an earlier extension offer, seemingly indicating that discussions were fluid and ongoing. “We’re still talking,” he said (translation from Spanish is my own). “I have not refused anything. … We’re negotiating, one never takes the first offer.”
Looking ahead, Polanco says that he is trusting matters to his representatives at Beverly Hills Sports Council. He gave no indication that any agreement was imminent, and instead emphasized that he is unsure how talks will ultimately proceed. “I have no idea, I do not know how [negotiations] will continue,” he said. “… I don’t know how much time this could take, it could take one month, five months, until next year, one never knows.” Ultimately, Polanco indicated that he is looking to earn a rate that is comparable to players of similar ability.
On its face, the deal is a swap of change-of-scenery candidates, and indeed both general managers have described it as such. But context is everything, as always. Frieri is still just shy of 29 years old, and agreed to a $3.8MM salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Meanwhile, Grilli — who is already 37 — is playing out the final year of his two-year pact, under which he is owed $4MM for this season. In sum, while the current salary obligations are a virtual push, the Pirates will also gain the right to control Frieri through arbitration until 2016, if they so choose.
Grilli had served as the Pirates’ primary closing option for most of the past two seasons before being removed from the role recently. The veteran had put together three straight seasons of outstanding pitching in Pittsburgh, tossing a combined 141 1/3 frames of 2.74 ERA ball with 12.8 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9. But 2014 was a different story, as he is allowing 4.87 earned runs per regulation game, with his strikeouts falling and walks rising (9.3 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9). Some of Grilli’s difficulties can probably be attributed to a susceptibility to the long ball (1.77 HR/9 and 14.3% HR/FB) that may be due for some regression.
Meanwhile, Frieri emerged with the Angels in 2012 after being acquired from the Padres in a rare early-season trade. He went on to put up two good seasons as the Halos’ 9th-inning man, notching a stellar 2.31 ERA in 66 total innings in 2012 before working to a 3.80 mark over 68 2/3 frames last year. As with Grilli, things have gone south quickly: Frieri now sports a 6.39 ERA through 31 innings in 2014. On the other hand, his peripherals (11.0 K/9 vs. 2.6 BB/9 and a 35.3% ground-ball rate that is an improvement over past seasons) suggest at least some hope for a turnaround. Indeed, both xFIP (3.20) and SIERA (2.56) could indicate that Frieri has been somewhat better than his results.
It remains to be seen precisely how the two players will be incorporated into their respective bullpen mixes. Angels manager Mike Scioscia indicated that Grilli will not jump straight into the closer’s role, reports Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (via Twitter), who notes that the club almost certainly intends to move him there in time. “We’ll see where he fits in,” said Scioscia. Of course, subsequent moves could alter things further, as Los Angeles GM Jerry Dipoto indicated in a quote (via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, on Twitter): “This is a step toward addressing those [bullpen] needs, but I’d be surprised if it’s the only step.”
On the other side of things, Pittsburgh has deployed Mark Melancon as its closer since moving Grilli out of the role (and, earlier in the season, while Grilli was rehabbing). It would seem more likely that Frieri ends up working in a set-up capacity, unless Melancon falters. Pirates GM Neal Huntington said that Melancon will indeed be the closer, though he also made mention of Frieri’s experience in that role, reports Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (via Twitter).
The latest from ESPN’s Jayson Stark…
- Phillies ace Cliff Lee threw a bullpen session yesterday and is slated to return around the All-Star break, Stark writes for ESPN.com. Lee’s next step is to throw a simulated game this weekend before heading out on a minor league rehab assignment and returning either just before or just after the All-Star break. Rival teams tell Stark that they expect the Phillies to aggressively shop Lee, and they believe that Philadelphia would eat a significant amount of the remaining $50MM guarantee on Lee’s deal in order to net the right pieces.
- The Tigers, Pirates, Blue Jays and Angels are scouting the Phillies this week, Stark tweets. The Phillies are telling other teams around the league that this week could determine their status as buyer or sellers next month.
- Stark also tweets that he asked an unnamed club official if any teams other than the Cubs are aggressively selling at this point and was told him that in addition to Chicago, the Rays are “definitely open for business.” Stark’s colleague, Buster Olney, reported yesterday that the Rays would deal David Price “right now” if the right offer came along.
We’ll keep track of today’s minor moves from around the league right here…
- Cubs backstop Eli Whiteside has cleared outright waivers and been assigned to Triple-A, reports Carrie Muskat of MLB.com (via Twitter). The 34-year-old, who saw only minimal action with the Cubs, was designated for assignment on Sunday.
- The Braves have inked righty Kanekoa Texeira to a minor league deal, according to the MLB transactions page. The 28-year-old, who last threw in the bigs in 2011 with the Royals, threw effectively over each of the last two seasons at Triple-A with the Reds. He had been pitching for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish in 2014 before joining Atlanta.
- Righty Kevin Slowey has been released by the Marlins, reports MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (via Twitter). Slowey owned a 5.30 ERA through 37 1/3 innings this year, most of which came in relief. He had been a starter for much of his prior time as a big leaguer, and owns a 4.62 ERA over 662 career MLB frames.
- The Yankees have released reliever Heath Bell, reports MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch (via Twitter). Bell, who recently signed a minor league deal, had a 7.50 ERA in five appearances at Triple-A Scranton. In 17 1/3 frames at the major league level with the Rays this year, Bell threw to a 7.27 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9.
- The Tigers have acquired southpaw Daniel Schlereth from the Pirates, reports John Wagner of the Toledo Blade. James Schmel of MLive.com tweets that the Pirates will receive cash considerations. This will be Schlereth’s second stint with the Tigers, as he spent the 2010-12 seasons in Detroit’s bullpen after coming over in the three-team Max Scherzer/Curtis Granderson/Ian Kennedy/Austin Jackson blockbuster. Schlereth’s long-standing control problems have been very apparent this season at Triple-A; he’s walked 18 batters and surrendered 18 hits in 18 2/3 innings en route to a 7.23 ERA. On the plus side, he’s also fanned 18 hitters in that time.
Clearly, this is a disappointing outcome for both team and player, as Tabata was once viewed as a building block for the Pirates as they were re-tooling in 2011. Tabata inked a six-year, $15MM extension with the Bucs at the time that contains a trio of club options which can boost the deal to a total of $37.5MM. At the time of the extension, he had backed up a .299/.346/.400 rookie campaign with a .264/.351/.362 batting line and was just a nine days removed from his 23rd birthday.
Tabata, also a threat on the basepaths and a solid defensive left fielder, seemed to have quite a bit of upside, but his bat never progressed much after signing the deal. He hit .243/.315/.348 the following season and has batted .267/.328/.377 in 869 plate appearances since the contract was signed. With Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and now Gregory Polanco occupying the regular outfield spots, Tabata doesn’t have a route to everyday at-bats, though it’s somewhat surprising, given his solid glove in left and decent numbers against lefties, that he wasn’t kept on the roster in a reserve capacity.
Tabata is owed roughly $1.59MM over the remainder of the current season, $4MM in 2015 and $4.5MM in 2016. The buyout on his first option is $250K, meaning he’s guaranteed roughly $10.34MM through the end of 2016. As a player with more than three years of Major League service time that was outrighted, Tabata has the option to reject the assignment in favor of free agency, though in doing so he would forfeit the remaining guarantee on his contract, making the option more or less a moot point.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington reportedly shopped Tabata throughout Spring Training this season but was unable to find a taker.
Here’s the latest out of the NL Central:
- If the Cubs trade Jason Hammel as expected, the 31-year-old says that he would be open to returning to Chicago in the winter. “I would assume they are pretty happy with my body of work so far and if a trade happens it happens,” Hammel said, according to Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com. “But I guarantee, say I was to go to another team, I love it here. I guarantee you they wouldn’t be opposed to bringing me back next year.“
- The Cubs‘ roster moves on Sunday will have long and short-term implications for the club, writes Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald. The Cubs designated catcher Eli Whiteside for assignment and filled his spot on the roster with Tsuyoshi Wada. Wada, who had an opt-out clause in his deal, could be a replacement in the rotation when and if they trade Jeff Samardzija and/or Hammel.
- Don’t look now, but the Cardinals are about to promote another promising young arm in 2013 first-rounder Marco Gonzales. As Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently wrote, the lefty (whose best offering is said to be the change-up) had been following the track of the man whose rotation spot he will occupy. Of course, that also means concern for St. Louis fans, as Michael Wacha will hit the DL (along with fellow starter Jaime Garcia). As Goold reports, Wacha is dealing with a “stress reaction” to his scapula, which GM John Mozeliak says the club will handle carefully since the injury “is not a very common injury to pitchers and one that we don’t have a ton of experience on how to deal with it.”
- The Pirates may soon be looking at some roster challenges as players filter back from injury, writes Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While the club can wait to settle on its rotation until after Francisco Liriano returns, which is still expected to be a few weeks off, the pending activation of Neil Walker could create a more immediate pinch. With Josh Harrison carrying a 131 wRC+ and offering immense versatility, Cook suggests that veteran Clint Barmes may be expendable for Pittsburgh.
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.