Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors


NL Notes: Hamels, Morse, Diamondbacks, Walker

There was some great news out of New Jersey today, as venerable Hinchliffe Stadium was designated a National Historic Landmark. As MLB.com's Mark Newman reports, the Art Deco structure is one of just a few still standing to have hosted Negro League action. 

Here are some notes out of the National League:

  • The Phillies are close to welcoming back Cole Hamels from the DL, reports CSNPhilly.com's Reuben Frank. Assistant GM Scott Proefrock said that the lefty may return as soon as next week. Needless to say, a healthy Hamels is absolutely critical if Philly has any hope of contending -- and avoiding the need for a possible sell-off of veteran pieces -- in 2014.
  • Michael Morse has looked to be an excellent addition for the Giants in the early part of the season, writes Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News. The hot start for Morse has answered the question whether he could return to health, and validated manager Bruce Bochy's internal push for the slugger. For his part, Morse says he was guided to San Francisco by former Giant Mark DeRosa and 49er running back Frank Gore. While Morse is never going to look good in the outfield or on the basepaths, Bochy has managed that issue by frequently replacing the lumbering 32-year-old late in games. Morse will re-enter the open market after playing out his one-year, $6MM deal, and should be an interesting player to watch as the season goes on.
  • Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall says it is too early to throw around blame for the team's rough start, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Hall said that "it's far too early to say" that either GM Kevin Towers or manager Kirk Gibson are in danger of losing their jobs. "I wouldn't say anybody's in trouble at this point." The tandem was extended over the offseason, but nevertheless could face hot seats if Arizona cannot turn around a 4-14 start that has left them already 7 games back in the division.
  • Pirates second baseman Neil Walker has seen promising returns on his offseason work to revamp his swing from the right-handed side of the plate, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Though he has just a few regular season plate appearances so far, the switch-hitting 28-year-old has continued the solid work he did off of southpaws during Spring Training. For his career, Walker has touched righties for a .799 OPS, but has only notched a .665 mark against lefties. Set to reach free agency after the 2016 season, Walker could significantly increase his utility, value, and potentially his extension candidacy if he can up his production from the right side.



Extension Candidate: Pedro Alvarez

USATSI_7848313In May 2013, Pedro Alvarez's agent, Scott Boras, declared that he and his client would be "open" to the possibility of a long-term contract with the Pirates. Since then, and particularly since the Bucs inked Starling Marte to a long-term deal last month, the Pittsburgh media has chattered about the Pirates' chances of signing Alvarez.

That Boras was open to an Alvarez extension wasn't that surprising. Boras' antipathy to pre-free agent deals, or perhaps the impact of his antipathy to pre-free agent deals upon actual negotiations, is sometimes overstated -- a number of Boras clients, including Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Pena, Elvis Andrus, Jered Weaver and Ryan Madson, have signed them. (Besides, Alvarez was hitting just .200/.257/.406 at the time of Boras' comments.)

Nonetheless, that Boras is Alvarez's agent is still an issue. Alvarez himself would probably have to be strongly in favor of a deal for Boras to sign off on it. The squabbles between Boras and the Pirates after the Bucs drafted Alvarez in 2008 might be anecdotal evidence that neither Boras nor Alvarez will cede much ground on an extension (although 2008 was also long enough ago that it might not matter). And Boras recently criticized "donut contracts" for pre-free agency players that feature options at the end. It probably would not be easy at all for the Pirates to work out a long-term deal for Alvarez.

Alvarez is set to make $4.25MM this year, his first year of arbitration eligibility, and to become eligible for free agency following the 2016 season. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review beat writer Travis Sawchik has frequently compared Alvarez's career to that of Chris Davis, and if Alvarez's age-27 season were to go as well as Davis' did, Alvarez would get enormous raises in his last two arbitration seasons -- Davis, for example, got a raise from $3.3MM to $10.35MM after hitting 53 home runs last year. Still, a 50-homer season isn't likely for Alvarez, and arbitration salaries are broadly predictable, so let's guess that Alvarez will make about $22-25MM from 2014 through 2016 if the Pirates don't sign him long-term. (A $22MM-$25MM projection suggests he will still get fairly steep raises, given that power tends to be rewarded in arbitration.)

A long-term deal for Alvarez would likely start there. Where it would end up is another matter, and Freddie Freeman's enormous eight-year, $135MM contract with the Braves would be a very tough precedent for the Pirates to get around, given that both Freeman and Alvarez are both corner sluggers with between three and four years of service time. The Pirates might argue that Freeman is two-and-a-half years younger than Alvarez, and has a much better track record hitting for average. But even if we lop the last two years off Freeman's contract to address the age difference, we're left with six years and $91MM, which would be a lot for the Pirates to pay Alvarez, given that his next three seasons will be relatively cheap. Dropping that $91MM total somewhat to reflect Freeman's broader base of offensive skills would only help so much.

And even that might concede too much for Boras' taste. While Freeman is a better player than Alvarez, Boras might not see it that way, perhaps arguing that Alvarez's superior power ought to make him every bit as valuable to the Pirates as Freeman was for the Braves.

At this point, we're left with the question of just what a pre-free agency extension for Alvarez would be for. Alvarez is already 27, and the Pirates control him through his age-29 season. The only point in signing Alvarez long-term would be to control seasons beyond that, and Alvarez and Boras would surely want to be paid quite well to give up those seasons.

The problem is that it's not clear how valuable Alvarez will be in his thirties. His raw power is outstanding, on par with Davis', but only so much of Alvarez's raw power is usable, because of his struggles with strikeouts (he whiffed at least 180 times in both 2012 and 2013) and hitting for average. The track records of sluggers with serious strikeout issues are spotty -- Mark Reynolds, for example, was productive while striking out prodigiously in his mid-twenties, but he hasn't had a truly strong offensive season since age 27. Ryan Howard's career and contract provide more cautionary tales. Alvarez's low averages (he's only hit above .244 once in his career) are already a concern. His plate appearances so far in 2014 have looked much better than in years past, so perhaps there's a faint possibility that Alvarez can master his strikeout issues. Unless he can prove himself over a longer time frame, however, it makes little sense to bet on that.

Then there are Alvarez's other skills. He's become an average third baseman and baserunner, but it's questionable whether he'll be able to maintain his current defensive and baserunning abilities as he heads into his thirties, given his bulky physique and lack of raw speed.

Given the likelihood that Alvarez won't age well, then, the Pirates' best course of action may simply be to enjoy the three years of him they have left. Signing a big, strikeout-prone slugger into his thirties doesn't make sense, even accounting for the slim possibility that he'll break out and become the next Chris Davis. Long-term contracts are calculated risks, and other things being equal, it's better to take the risk on a younger, more athletic player like Marte.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



NL Central Notes: Cubs, Pirates

Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Gordon Wittenmyer opines that the Cardinals should be the model for the Cubs as they work to establish a player development pipeline. The reigning NL champs haven't drafted in the single digits in 16 years, but have continued to find major league contributors in later rounds, including 2013 All-Star Allen Craig. "Anybody can pick out a No. 1 selection and think that’s a great deal," former Cubs GM Dallas Green commented. "But you make 30 or 40 selections [in a draft], and three or four of those guys have gotta play." Here are two more NL Central links:

  • Cubs scouts and crosscheckers convened last week to discuss the team's strategy for this year's draft, but the front office isn't ready to narrow its draft board down to a final 25 players, according to GM Jed Hoyer (via a report from MLB.com's Carrie Muskat). Club executives have reportedly been in attendance at recent starts by high school right-hander Tyler Kolek, who has shot up draft prospect lists this spring.
  • Bob Cohn of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review profiled Pirates prospect Stetson Allie, who was drafted as a pitcher but is now a first baseman. In just 26 2/3 innings across low- and high-A, Allie compiled a 7.76 ERA and walked 37 batters. He dominated low-A in 2013 as an infielder, however, hitting .324/.414/.607.



Rosenthal's Latest: Sandoval, Pirates, Cubs, Abreu

Here are a few tidbits from Ken Rosenthal's latest video from FOX Sports:

  • There aren't many good third base options available this offseason (Chase Headley is available, and Aramis Ramirez has a mutual option), so retaining Pablo Sandoval makes sense for the Giants.
  • Rosenthal wonders if the Pirates could sign either Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales after the draft in June, at which point they wouldn't have to worry about the draft-pick forfeiture attached to each of them. After a quiet offseason, the Pirates should have the financial wherewithal to pursue a bigger-name player. In a tiny sample size, Jordy Mercer has not hit well so far this year as the Pirates' starting shortstop. The team is currently platooning Travis Ishikawa and Gaby Sanchez at first base.
  • Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are off to good starts with the Cubs, who could trade either player by the end of July. The Cubs dealt Matt Garza and Scott Feldman in-season last year, and Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm the previous season.
  • Tyler Thornburg is off to an excellent start out of the Brewers' bullpen, which makes clear why they were unwilling to trade him to the Mets this offseason.
  • In a separate video, Rosenthal says that five teams bid upwards of $60MM for Jose Abreu: the White Sox, Astros, Rockies, Brewers and Red Sox. The Red Sox still wanted to keep Mike Napoli, however, which would have meant that Abreu might have started the season in the minors if he had signed with them. Abreu is currently hitting .273/.365/.659 in his first couple weeks with the White Sox.



Minor Moves: Ciriaco, Mazzaro, Bixler, Accardo

The day's minor moves:

  • The Royals have assigned infielder Pedro Ciriaco to Triple-A after he cleared outright waivers, tweets Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star. Ciriaco, 28, will have to wait in the minors for another big league opportunity to open with Kansas City's middle infield. The club just called up Johnny Giavotella to fill in for injured second baseman Omar Infante, who is expected to return to action soon without a DL trip.
  • Pirates reliever Vin Mazzaro has accepted an outright assignment from the team to Triple-A, reports Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune (via Twitter). That is a good result for a Pittsburgh club that had expected to lose the 27-year-old righty, who was an effective piece for them last year.
  • Utility man Brian Bixler has been released by the Phillies, according to the International League transactions page. Bixler, 31, had been playing with the Phils' Triple-A affiliate. He last appeared in the bigs in 2012 with the Astros.
  • The independent ball Atlantic League has made two notable additions today, according to Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (Twitter links). Right-hander Jeremy Accardo, an eight-year MLB veteran, has inked with the Long Island Ducks. And shortly after being released by the Red Sox, 29-year-old outfielder Scott Cousins has joined the Camden Riversharks.
  • The Dodgers have outrighted Mike Baxter, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to Triple-A, according to the PCL transactions page. The outfielder was designated for assignment to create 40-man space for another DFA'd player in Colt Hynes. Baxter, 29, struggled at the MLB level last year, but had a strong 2012 campaign (.263/.365/.413 in 211 plate appearances).
  • With this move, only four players are left in DFA limbo: Seth Rosin (Rangers, Rule 5), Pedro Ciriaco (Royals), Hector Noesi (Mariners), and Jeremy Jeffress (Blue Jays). As always, you can track DFA situations past and present using MLBTR's DFA Tracker.



Olney On Mazzaro, Drew, Morales, Huntington, Perkins

ESPN.com's Buster Olney touched on a number of interesting topics today in his Insider blog and podcast. Among them:

  • One reason that Pirates reliever Vin Mazzaro may have cleared waivers is simply that he stood to be paid nearly twice the league minimum salary. "Once you go to spring training, you’ve spent almost all the money you’re going to spend," a general manager told Olney. "There aren’t many teams with a lot of extra money lying around." 
  • That same fact has a bearing on the situations of compensation free agents Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. Olney polled executives around the league, finding that none were willing to pay either player at the qualifying offer rate of $14.1MM. The highest figure he heard was $10MM to $12MM AAV for Drew and a $8MM to $10MM rate for Morales on a multi-year deal, with most respondents landing well shy of those amounts. There were many other concerns raised as well, ranging from those players' injury histories to questions about their commitment to a new team (e.g., would they play through a late-season injury?) and worry about "the layoff and need for a modified spring training."
  • Turning to the podcast, Olney spoke with Pirates GM Neal Huntington, who said that the team left its playoff run determined to return with focus. Instead, Huntington said that his concern entering the spring was how to keep positive energy flowing after the front office was criticized for its quiet offseason. Huntington said that the team wanted to do more, but that there "wasn't the right move out there" and he felt the organization needed to continue to "stretch when it's appropriate, stay disciplined when it's appropriate." Looking ahead, the GM said that, "if need be we can go outside because of the depth of our player development system."
  • Huntington also discussed his team's well-publicized use of defensive shifts, saying that it is all about "maximizing our chances to put balls in play and turn them into outs" and indicating that much of the work is in shading out of the standard alignment. The approach for each situation is developed through what he calls a "multi-tiered process" within the organization. 
  • Olney also chatted with newly extended Twins closer Glen Perkins, who is under team control through 2018. Perkins said that he made clear to his agent as far back as his first extension that he was happy to take a deal and stay in town rather than "pric[ing] myself out" of the organization. The lefty says that maximizing money is not the most important thing, and saw value in the possibility of a World Series run with his hometown club while providing for his family's future when he had the chance. He kicked things off by suggesting a new deal to his agent, with a deal coming together quickly thereafter. 
  • Asked for his opinion on the idea of players accepting so-called team-friendly deals, Perkins said that the chances of upside are met (and often exceeded) by the possibility of "blowing your arm out." It becomes somewhat easier to take on risk as a player's earnings rise throughout their career, Perkins noted, but looking for "a little more" is tough when "you're always one pitch away." His ultimate advice to players is hard to disagree with: "get yours while you can."



Vin Mazzaro Clears Outright Waivers

Pirates right-hander Vin Mazzaro has cleared outright waivers and has three days to accept his assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis or reject the assignment in favor of free agency, the team announced (via Twitter).

That the 27-year-old Mazzaro would clear waivers seems highly surprising given his strong 2013 campaign. Mazzaro posted a 2.81 ERA with 5.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 52.2 percent ground-ball rate. His ERA, BB/9 rate and ground-ball rate were all career bests, and he also averaged a career-high 93.1 mph on his fastball in 73 2/3 innings as a key member of a strong Pirates bullpen.

That promising season from Mazzaro came along with just a $950K salary on a one-year deal agreed to this offseason in his first year of arbitration eligibility, meaning any team to acquire or claim him would have had control of Mazzaro for three seasons.



Pitcher Notes: Taillon, Parnell

The Pirates have announced that Jameson Taillon will undergo Tommy John surgery. Taillon's ulnar collateral ligament was "compromised," GM Neal Huntington told reporters, including the Tribune-Review's Karen Price. "As we walked through the process with Jameson, educated him, he's a smart young man and we walked through it with his family and representatives," said Huntington. "He felt this was the best course of action to get back to full health and stay healthy a long time." Taillon, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, typically ranked second on lists of the Pirates' top prospects, behind outfielder Gregory Polanco. Taillon had been expected to contribute down the stretch this season, and his absence will take a toll on the Pirates' pitching depth behind starters Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez. Here are more notes on injured pitchers.

  • The Pirates aren't the only team to lose a pitcher to Tommy John. The Mets have announced that Bobby Parnell will undergo the surgery as well. Parnell's surgery will be performed Tuesday. Parnell was among the Mets' top relievers in 2013, posting a 2.16 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 and serving as their closer for part of the season.
  • If the Mets look outside the organization for relief help, they could turn to Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Madson or Kevin Gregg, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets. Hanrahan and Madson, of course, are coming off injuries of their own -- Hanrahan had surgery last May to repair a torn flexor tendon, and Madson has missed the last two seasons with arm trouble.



Quick Hits: Kipnis, Morales, Volquez, Contreras

The third time for the Indians and Jason Kipnis proved to be the charm, writes Zack Meisel of the Plain Dealer.  Kipnis and the Tribe got together for long-term contract discussions in the previous two springs, but it was the third try that resulted in a six-year, $52.5MM deal.  Things couldn't have worked out better for Kipnis since his price rose after he put up his best big-league season in 2013.  Kipnis, who turned 27 this month, made his first All-Star team and finished 11th in the American League MVP voting on the heels of a stellar campaign in which he batted .284/.366/.452 with 17 homers and 30 stolen bases in 658 plate appearances.  Here's more from around baseball..

  • ESPN analyst Eric Wedge, who managed Kendrys Morales in Seattle, is shocked he’s still on the market. “He’s an impact, middle-of-the-order bat from both sides of the plate, a great teammate,” the former Mariners skipper told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. “Anyone would love to have him on their team and in their clubhouse. I understand the issues involved, but it makes no sense to me that he’s not with a team. There are a lot of teams who could use that quality bat."
  • The Pirates have an impressive track record of helping pitchers who have fallen on hard times back on the right track, writes ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick.  The Bucs are hoping that Edinson Volquez, who is now in the fold on a one-year, $5MM deal, will be the latest example of a positive reclamation project.  Francisco Liriano, who returned to prominence in Pittsburgh, helped to recruit Volquez to the organization.
  • Jose Contreras is not retiring following his release from the Rangers, a source tells Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish (on Twitter).  The veteran is currently pitching in Mexico and looking for opportunities in Japan.  Contreras, 42, signed a minor league deal with Texas after tossing just five big league innings in 2013. The Cuban veteran was solid in 29 minor league innings last year though, posting a 2.79 ERA with the Triple-A affiliates for the Pirates and Red Sox. However, things didn't go quite as well during Spring Training.



Quick Hits: Rangers, Braves, Pirates, Giants, Nats

Rangers amateur scout Jay Heafner is on hand for Nick Martinez's major league debut against the Rays tonight, and discussed scouting him as an amateur with MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. Heafner liked "the way the ball came out of his hand, the way his delivery worked and his presence" when watching Martinez, then an infielder, work out of the bullpen. Texas ultimately selected him in the 18th round of the 2011 draft. Recognizing the right-hander's potential from limited looks as a reliever has to be considered a major win for the Rangers' scouting corps. Here's more from around the majors:

  • Braves righty Cory Gearrin will seek a second opinion before submitting to Tommy John surgery, reports MLB.com's Mark Bowman. Both team doctors and Dr. James Andrews have recommended that Gearrin undergo the procedure.
  • David Golebiewski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review examined what allows Pirates reliever Mark Melancon to avoid home runs. Since joining the Pirates, the right-hander has increased his use of the cutter to 56.1 percent of all pitches thrown, which helped boost his ground ball rate to an amazing 60.3 percent in 2013.
  • In addition to slimming down this winter, the Giants' Pablo Sandoval got instruction from Miguel Cabrera on his right-handed swing, CSNBayArea.com's Andrew Baggarly reports. "See if they can command the fastball in, because that tells you a lot," Sandoval said when asked what advice he received. "And early in the count, get a pitch to drive."
  • Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman discussed his throwing problems with Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, commenting, "it’s hard to explain to people that have never played baseball." The early-season cold weather isn't helping matters, but Zimmerman hasn't felt right since 2012 shoulder surgery, which affected his mechanics. "I don’t like really saying things about [the issue] ... everyone who plays baseball has something like that," Zimmerman said.









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