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Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors
It was 100 years ago today that the Boston Braves finished off their sweep of the heavily-favored Philadelphia A’s to win the 1914 World Series. The “Miracle Braves” were in last place on July 18 and didn’t even hit the .500 mark until August 1, yet they rocketed to the NL pennant with a 61-16 record over their final 77 games. The Braves’ championship was even more stunning since they hadn’t even had a winning season since 1902. Let’s see, a team with a lack of recent success going on an incredible late-season run….a century after the Miracle Braves, could the Miracle Royals be next?
Here’s some news from around baseball…
- “If the Tigers want me back, we will work that out hopefully. Other than that, I’m still thinking about my situation,” Torii Hunter wrote in a text message to MLB.com’s Jason Beck. Hunter hinted at retirement following the Tigers’ elimination in the ALDS, and it seems that he might more inclined to hang up his cleats if he can’t return to Detroit in 2015.
- If the Pirates can’t re-sign Russell Martin, backup Chris Stewart wouldn’t be a bad option to take over the regular catching job next season, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opines. Stewart can serve as a bridge to the Bucs’ young catching prospects, and while the 32-year-old isn’t much of a hitter, he is an excellent defensive catcher and pitch-framer. Since the Pirates would have to choose between a lot of flawed catching options on the open market, Sawchik reasons that the team could stick with a known commodity at a low cost.
- Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis is a contender to be the team’s new bench coach, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. With the Yankees, Red Sox and possibly the Cubs all interested in Davis as a hitting coach, the A’s could offer him a promotion to stay in the fold. The rest of the A’s coaching staff and (as Slusser previously reported) Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete are also candidates for the bench coach job, while Kirk Gibson and Ron Washington are unlikely to be considered since recently-fired managers usually aren’t so quick to accept bench coach gigs.
- On paper, the Nationals don’t have any great need for any bullpen additions this offseason, yet CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman wouldn’t be surprised to see the club add another notable relief arm.
- Six pitchers seem like candidates to receive qualifying offers this offseason, Fangraphs’ Mike Petriello writes. Max Scherzer and James Shields are locks to receive and reject the one-year, $15.3MM offers, while Petriello thinks Francisco Liriano and Hiroki Kuroda will also reject the QO — Liriano in favor of a multiyear deal and Kuroda since he could retire, pitch in Japan or re-sign with the Yankees for slightly more than the qualifying offer (as he did last year). Petriello also tentatively thinks Ervin Santana could reject a QO from the Braves while David Robertson could actually accept the qualifying offer, since his market could be hurt by draft pick compensation.
- The Yankees will address the closer’s job, the rotation, third base and shortstop as their main offseason focuses, George A. King III of the New York Post writes. King notes that the Yankees like Alcides Escobar, though he obviously isn’t a trade candidate this offseason since he’s such a key part of the Royals’ success.
Pirates catcher Russell Martin rejected an extension offer made by the team at some point during the season, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Terms of the offer (or its precise timing) are not known. There are no indications that the sides are close on a late-breaking deal to keep Martin off the market, Heyman adds.
Pittsburgh reportedly has continued interest in bringing back Martin, and this reported mid-season effort lends credence to the idea that they will be serious in pursuit. On the other hand, of course, Martin stands alone among free agent backstops, and plenty of other clubs figure to make a run at him.
The Bucs had preliminary discussions with Martin in the spring, but held off on making an offer. That may have cost the team its window to reach a deal. Martin has delivered plenty of value on the two-year, $17MM deal he signed with Pittsburgh before the 2013 season, and his .290/.402/.430 line in 2014 brought him into a new performance tier. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth profiled Martin’s rising standing in August.
After being designated for assignment last week, Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata has been outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis and accepted the assignment, reports MLB.com’s Tom Singer. The move is not a surprise, as had Tabata rejected the assignment he would have forfeited the remaining $8.5MM on his contract.
Here are some more outright-related moves from around the league…
- Both John Buck and Brennan Boesch have rejected outright assignments from the Angels in lieu of free agency, Angels director of communications Eric Kay announced (on Twitter). Buck, 34, picked up five plate appearances with the Halos this season after spending much of the season with the Mariners. The veteran batted .225/.289/.281 in 97 plate appearances overall on the year. Boesch, 29, hit .187/.203/.293 with a pair of home runs in 79 PA for the Angels. The duo was designated for assignment earlier this week when the Angels claimed Alfredo Marte and Roger Kieschnick on waivers.
Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller has resigned after one year on the job, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers reported yesterday (via Twitter). Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com tweets that the Cubs have confirmed Mueller’s decision and added that he resigned after learning that assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley was reassigned by the team. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford speculates (Twitter link) that the Red Sox might have interest in adding Mueller to their coaching staff. For those who would have some fun and speculate, Rogers also tweets that Manny Ramirez is not a candidate to become the club’s new hitting coach, as he’s yet to even officially retire as a player.
Here’s more from the NL Central…
- John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that too much focus is being placed on what the Reds should do with their quartet of starters that are free agents following the 2015 season, and not enough is being placed on the fact that the team should try to extend breakout stars Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco. While the future of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon is indeed a big part of the Reds’ offseason, Fay notes that the team can position itself for sustained success by controlling the salaries of Frazier and Mesoraco and keeping them in place beyond their arbitration seasons.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington tells Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he expects his entire coaching staff back in 2015, unless one of them unexpectedly departs. Price notes how much the offense improved under first-year hitting coach Jeff Branson and first-year assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey. She also points out that pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas also played a key role, helping to facilitate the turnarounds of Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley.
- The Cardinals view the draft as “a mechanism to save money,” scouting director Dan Kantrovitz tells David Laurila of Fangraphs in a fascinating interview. Whether it’s landing a solid starter or a future bench piece, the draft can open flexibility down the line, says Kantrovitz, who explains that savings from drafted players represents “money that our GM can allocate to another area, or a more abundant, cheaper position.” Kantrovitz says that the team is focused on adapting and finding value, rather than “stick[ing] to a rigid strategy that is not data-driven.” Ultimately, the team takes all the information it can acquire, then attempts to combine them and apply discount rates to reach a present value for the amateurs under consideration. There’s plenty more to glean from this interview, and you’ll want to give it a full read.
The Rangers top priority is finding a manager. Their other top priority is building a rotation, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The Rangers aren’t expected to “play in the top end of free agency,” according to GM Jon Daniels, but they will need to locate some external rotation help. Even if staff ace Yu Darvish is pronounced healthy and ready to resume throwing in November, the club needs a mid-rotation pitcher to slot after Derek Holland. Grant assumes Colby Lewis will be re-signed (I agree) and the final spot will likely fall to Nick Tepesch or Nick Martinez. Martin Perez is a mid-season option as he works back from Tommy John surgery, and Matt Harrison could potentially slot into the rotation if he recovers from spinal fusion surgery. My own two cents: in order to avoid a repeat of 2014, the Rangers need at least one more viable major league starter than Grant suggests.
- The Pirates would like to re-sign catcher Russell Martin, says Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The issue – he’s arguably outperformed peers like Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero, and Brian McCann in the seasons leading up to a new contract. Molina signed for $75MM, Montero for $60MM and McCann for $85MM. Martin’s combination of defensive value and stealthy offensive prowess makes one wonder if Molina’s five-year, $75MM deal could be in play. If so, it would be hard for Pittsburgh to flex the muscles necessary to retain him.
- We haven’t heard much from newly minted Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart, but he seems to be a fan of Mark Trumbo, according to Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona. With Paul Goldschmidt set to return to first base in 2015, Trumbo will either slot in left or right field. Arizona brought in Trumbo to provide a double threat with Goldschmidt in the middle of the order. While some have looked to him as a trade candidate, it sounds like Stewart is inclined to see what he can do when healthy.
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak tackled a variety of topics in a two-part interview with MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch. Looking back to the last offseason, he said that the team identified Pat Neshek as an option because he offered a different look from the club’s other relievers, and said that the David Freese-for-Peter Bourjos trade would not have been made without the inclusion of prospect Randal Grichuk.
Here’s the latest out of the National League …
- The Mets have, as expected, decided not to bring back hitting coach Lamar Johnson and assistant Luis Natera in those roles, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Johnson stepped in mid-season after his predecessor, Dave Hudgen, was fired. Meanwhile, Triple-A skipper Wally Backman will not be elevated to the big league staff, but will be offered the chance to keep his position.
- As the Braves continue to make their own staff changes, scouting director Tony DeMacio has been re-assigned, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Atlanta is still waiting to hear whether interim GM John Hart will take the job full-time, Nightengale adds.
- If the Pirates are unable to bring back catcher Russell Martin, another impactful transaction that could have PR benefits would be a Neil Walker extension, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. With a $5.75MM arbitration salary to build off of over his next two seasons of eligibility, and coming off of a .271/.342/.467 slash with 23 home runs, he will not be cheap.
- The Padres had a private workout today with Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Tomas officially hit the open market yesterday.
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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