Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

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

Central Links: McCutchen, Zito, Albers, Herndon

The expensive costs of youth travel leagues are an obstacle to attracting young talent to baseball, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen writes in a piece for The Players Tribune.  The full scholarships provided by college basketball or football make them more appealing sports than the long, usually financially-unrewarding path to the majors that the vast majority of prospects face — McCutchen himself admits that, were it not for an ACL tear when he was 15, he would’ve likely pursued NCAA football and not been a big league star today.  He argues that kids from low-income families need more entry points into the game, with one possible solution being a new system similar to the academy program for international prospects.

Here’s the latest from around the NL and AL Central divisions…

International Notes: Balfour, Moncada, Olivera, Alvarez, Kang

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tells the emotional story of Rays reliever Grant Balfour and his father David, who is battling pancreatic cancer. Baseball Australia’s Hall of Fame will induct the younger Balfour even before his playing career is over so that his father — a notable figure in the Australian game — can be there to participate. The piece is well worth your time.

Here are the latest reports on the international scene:

  • The Diamondbacks are among the teams expected to watch touted young Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada later this week, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports. Arizona has already gone well over its international bonus pool and has been one of the most active teams on the international market. The Cubs, too, will take a look at him (as have many other, previously-reported teams), though they would be unable to offer him more than a $250K bonus unless he waits until after July 2 to sign.
  • Hector Olivera drew hundreds of scouts to his final public showcase, as Ben Badler of Baseball America reports on Twitter, and seemingly did not disappoint. Per Badler, the Dodgers, Giants, Athletics, and Padres were well-represented in attendance. You’ll want to read through Badler’s Twitter feed (some earlier portion of which was compiled here by Baseball America) for more information on Olivera’s impressive display as well as some other notes from the international showcase.
  • Right-hander Yadier Alvarez, just 18, is the latest Cuban citizen drawing buzz. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted recently that he is pushing a high-90s fastball, and today Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs reports (Twitter links) that his buzz “checks out.” Not only does the young righty work in the mid-90s and touch even higher, he has a “more than usable” change to go with it. That will likely result in a big payday, per McDaniel, who also notes in a tweet that it may take a month or two for him to be cleared to sign.
  • Former KBO superstar and current Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang might just be capable of putting up huge numbers in the big leagues, according to the analysis of Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs. Farnsworth breaks down Kang’s “upper-echelon swing” and compares it to some notable MLB power bats, concluding that the Korean ballplayer could break out with a .280+ batting average and 25 or more home runs in his first MLB season.

Vance Worley Wins Arbitration Case Against Pirates

Right-hander Vance Worley has won his arbitration case against the Pirates, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports on Twitter. That means Worley will earn his filing amount of $2.45MM, rather than Pittsburgh’s submission of $2MM.

The 27-year-old was eligible for arbitration for the first time as a Super Two. That means that Pittsburgh can control him for three more seasons if it so chooses.

Worley represents the latest turnaround story out of Pittsburgh. He tossed 110 2/3 innings of 2.85 ERA ball in 2014 after joining the organization on a cash swap last spring. With 6.4 K/9 against 1.8 BB/9 and a 49.4% groundball rate, Worley’s peripherals backed his success, though obviously not quite to the outstanding run prevention level he achieved.

Notwithstanding a rough 2013 season — both in terms of performance and results — Worley has consistently generated ERA estimations in the mid-3 to low-4 earned run per nine range. That makes for a useful asset, particularly given his youth and contract status.

With his victory, Worley pushed his earnings closer to, but still shy of, the $2.9MM that MLBTR/Matt Swartz had projected. As always, you can keep up to date on arbitration news by clicking on MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker.

Pirates Win Arbitration Hearing Against Neil Walker

The Pirates have won an arbitration hearing against second baseman Neil Walker, reports MLB.com’s Tom Singer (on Twitter). Walker, who had filed at $9MM as opposed to the club’s $8MM figure (as shown in MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker), will earn that $8MM sum in 2015. He’d been projected to earn $8.6MM in arbitration by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz — a figure he may have approached had team and player been able to find a middle ground.

The 29-year-old Walker has now gone through the arbitration process three times, and the Super Two player will be eligible once more next winter before hitting free agency in the 2016-17 offseason. Walker had a breakout season in terms of power in 2014 but missed time due to both an appendectomy and lower back pain. He batted .271/.342/.467 with a career-high 23 homers, however, despite appearing in just 137 games.

Durability has long been an issue for the Excel Sports Management client, as Walker went through two turns on the 15-day DL in 2013 (though one was for a lacerated hand upon being spiked) and missed significant time in 2012 due to a herniated disc in his lower back. However, there’s been little question about his productivity when on the field; since establishing himself as Pittsburgh’s everyday second baseman in 2010, the hometown hero has batted .274/.341/.435, averaging 15 homers per season and an adjusted OPS of 116+ (indicating that he’s been 16 percent better than a league-average hitter when adjusting for league and park).

With Walker’s case out of the way, the Pirates have to remaining situations to settle, as both Pedro Alvarez and Vance Worley have unresolved cases.

Minor Moves: Salcedo, Trepagnier, Constanza, Figueroa

Before diving into the latest minor league transactions, check out Steve Adams’ piece about how much work can go into negotiating these seemingly “minor” contracts. Here are today’s moves, with the newest transactions at the top of the post…

  • The Braves traded infielder Edward Salcedo to the Pirates in exchange for right-hander Bryton Trepagnier, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link).  Atlanta signed Salcedo to a $1.6MM bonus in 2010 and he entered the season as the 12th-ranked prospect in the Braves’ system according to Baseball America.  He has yet to find much success at the plate, hitting .230/.297/.375 over 2447 minor league PA and posting only a .651 OPS over 413 PA at the Triple-A level last season.  Trepagnier, a 41st-round pick in the 2010 draft, has pitched mostly as a reliever in his five-year pro career, posting a 4.19 ERA, 1.59 K/BB rate and 7.1 K/9 over 204 innings, none above the high-A ball level.
  • The Braves outrighted outfielder Jose Constanza to Triple-A Gwinnett, according to the International League’s transactions page. Atlanta designated Constanza for assignment last week. The 31-year-old has spent the last four seasons in the Braves organization, including 240 plate appearances at the Major League level.
  • The Yankees have signed Cole Figueroa to a minor league contract with an invitation to their Spring Training camp. The team announced the move as part of its full list of spring invitees. Figueroa owns a .288/.377/.388 slash line over 2944 career plate appearances in the minors, and he made his Major League debut last season, posting a .611 OPS over 49 PA for the Rays. Figueroa was released by Tampa Bay in November.

Pirates Acquire Arquimedes Caminero From Marlins

The Pirates have acquired right-handed reliever Arquimedes Caminero from the Marlins in exchange for cash, Pittsburgh announced. Caminero had been designated for assignment by Miami.

Caminero has an enticing arm that has delivered an average of 11.0 K/9 (against 4.5 BB/9) in his nine years of minor league action. He has seen only limited action at the big league level, posting 19 2/3 frames of 5.49 ERA pitching (albeit with many of the credited runs coming in one rough outing last year).

As he was added to the 40-man roster in advance of the 2011 season, it would appear that Caminero has exhausted his optional assignment seasons. Pittsburgh will take a flier on his mid-90s heater, but it seems he will need to break camp with the big league club or face the waiver wire.

Pirates Acquire Steve Lombardozzi From Orioles

The Pirates have acquired switch-hitting infielder Steve Lombardozzi from the Orioles in exchange for cash considerations, Baltimore announced. The 26-year-old has now been traded for the third time, all dating back to last winter.

Lombardozzi cracked the big leagues with the Nationals, serving as a regular utility piece for the club in 2012 and 2013. He was shipped to the Tigers and then on to the Orioles before the 2014 campaign, which he spent primarily at Triple-A. All said, Lombo owns a .266/.297/.341 line over 829 trips to the plate at the big league level.

The swap is unrelated to the clubs’ earlier Travis Snider deal, which includes a still-unnamed player heading to Baltimore, according to a tweet from Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Minor Moves: Jake Elmore, Robert Zarate

Here are the day’s minor moves:

  • After his recent outright, infielder Jake Elmore has elected free agency rather than accepting an assignment with the Pirates, according to the International League transactions page. The 27-year-old utilityman will be on the move yet again, this time after losing his 40-man spot to Jung-ho Kang.
  • In addition to confirming the previously-reported signings of Ronald Belisario and Alexi Casilla, the Rays announced today that lefty Robert Zarate has been signed to a minor league deal with a big league camp invite. (Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune has the full story on the team’s spring non-roster invites.) The 28-year-old worked to a 5.11 ERA with 12 strikeouts and ten walks in 24 2/3 inings this winter in his native Venezuela. He has traveled a difficult-to-interpret path, having fallen out of the Blue Jays system after 2008 despite solid numbers and surfaced briefly with the NPB’s Hanshin Tigers over 2012-13.

Minor Moves: Wall, Castillo, Volstad, Burgos, Flores

Let’s run down the day’s minor moves:

  • The Pirates announced the signing of righty Josh Wall and catcher Wilkin Castillo to minor league deals with spring invites. And the club also added righty Chris Volstad, per Matt Eddy of Baseball America (via Twitter). Wall, 28, logged just one unsightly inning last year with the Angels but threw 44 1/3 productive innings at Triple-A. Oddly enough, Castillo has spent most of his time in the minors as a backstop but played only left field and second base in brief big league time back in 2008-09. The true utility man has been playing in Mexico since 2012. Volstad, of course, was a fixture in the Marlins rotation from 2008-11, but has seen minimal action since an unsuccessful 2012 run with the Cubs.
  • Right-hander Hiram Burgos is heading back to the Brewers, Eddy tweets. Burgos was a 40-man casualty in September, but will remain in the only professional organization he has known. The 27-year-old made one brief, unsuccessful stint in the bigs. He missed significant time last year due to shoulder surgery.
  • One additional catcher is joining the Braves organization, Eddy tweets, with Jesus Flores signing a minor league deal. A five-year veteran of the division-rival Nationals, the 31-year-old has bounced around in the upper minors the last two years and will look to extend his career in Atlanta.

Pirates Outright Jake Elmore

JAN 29th: The Pirates have outrighted Elmore to Triple-A Indianapolis, according to MLB.com’s transactions page.

JAN 20th: The Pirates have designated infielder Jake Elmore for assignment, the club announced. The move creates 40-man roster space for the addition of Jung-ho Kang.

Most recently, Elmore was claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh from the Reds, but he has also bounced around with the Athletics and White Sox in recent memory. The 27-year-old obviously holds appeal as a utility option, though clubs are wary of holding a roster spot for him when the need arises. Over 221 career MLB plate appearances, Elmore owns a .221/.288/.291 slash.