Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors


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.



Pirates Extend Neal Huntington, Clint Hurdle

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The Pirates have announced that they've extended the contracts of general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle for three years each through 2017, with club options for 2018. Huntington and Hurdle had both been under contract through 2014, with team options for 2015. With Huntington and Hurdle's deals done, the Pirates are currently working on contracts for assistant GMs and coaches, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tweets.

"Neal and Clint have led a team of baseball professionals, in the front office and on the field, that has transformed the Pittsburgh Pirates into a club that again must be reckoned with in the National League," says team president Frank Coonelly. "We are extremely pleased that they will continue to lead this team in Pittsburgh."

Prior to 2013, the Pirates had five straight losing seasons under Huntington and two straight under Hurdle, who was hired prior to the 2011 season. (Huntington inherited a poor big-league team and farm system upon taking the Pirates' GM job in 2007, so the losing in the first several seasons was not primarily his fault.) The team endured second-half collapses in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

In 2013, however, Huntington and Hurdle led the Pirates to their first winning season and playoff berth since 1992, as the team won 94 games and beat the Reds in the NL Wild Card game before falling to the Cardinals in the NLCS. Huntington's offseason acquisitions of Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano and Mark Melancon were crucial to the Pirates' success. Hurdle led a shift-heavy defensive strategy that was a key component of the Pirates' surprising season, and he took the 2013 National League Manager of the Year award for his efforts.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Quick Hits: Pirates, Colvin, Free Agents, Dunand

The Pirates hold the top spot in Baseball America's ranking of every organization's minor league system (BA subscription required).  This list has some updates from the original ranking in the 2014 BA Prospect Handbook, as while the top dozen teams remain the same, some clubs have moved up and down the list due to subsequent offseason moves.  The Yankees, for instance, rise to the #13 spot due to their signing of Masahiro Tanaka, as he is technically a "prospect" as an MLB rookie.

Here are some items from around the baseball world...

  • Tyler Colvin has accepted his assignment to the Giants' Triple-A affiliate and will report tomorrow, CSNBayArea.com's Andrew Baggarly reports (via Twitter).  Colvin signed a minor league deal with San Francisco in February that contained an opt-out clause if he wasn't added to the team's Opening Day roster.
  • While fans may worry that their teams will be hamstrung in the future by massive contracts, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci notes that the financial costs aren't as great as they seem given how much revenue Major League Baseball is generating and passing down to all 30 teams.  These big deals also tend to create extra revenue for teams -- Verducci cites how the Mariners' huge deal with Robinson Cano helped "a brand that needed polishing," and Cano's presence will help ticket sales and TV ratings.
  • High schooler Joe Dunand's streak of eight home runs in as many at-bats has raised the youngster's profile, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman writes.  Dunand, 18, was considered by some scouting directors to be "a fringe pro prospect," but his homer streak attracted scouts from the Mariners, Angels, Royals, Orioles, Mets, Braves and Giants (among other teams) to his game on Wednesday.  Dunand has committed to North Carolina State but could turn pro depending on his draft prospects.  There's also the matter of Dunand's impressive bloodlines; his uncle is Alex Rodriguez.
  • The Nationals announced that right-hander Erik Davis underwent Tommy John surgery today and will miss the entire 2014 season.  Davis made his Major League debut last season and posted a 3.12 ERA and a 12.00 K/BB rate in 8 2/3 IP for Washington.



Pirates Outright Andy Oliver

The Pirates have outrighted Andy Oliver off of the club's 40-man roster, the team announced via press release. Oliver is a 26-year-old southpaw.

Oliver has not seen MLB action with the Pirates, and only made brief appearances with the Tigers in 2010-11. In 124 1/3 Triple-A innings last year, Oliver posted a 4.05 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 8.1 BB/9. Obviously, he'll need to solve those control issues before having a chance at making an impact at the MLB level.



Pirates Designate Vin Mazzaro For Assignment

The PIrates have designated reliever Vin Mazzaro for assignment, reports Travis Sawchik of the PIttsburgh Tribune (via Twitter). A 40-man roster spot was needed for first baseman Travis Ishikawa.

Mazzaro lost out on a spot in a deep Bucs bullpen despite posting a 2.81 ERA in 71 2/3 innings last year. It appears that fellow out-of-options relievers Bryan Morris, Stolmy Pimentel, and Jeanmar Gomez will fill out the back of the Pittsburgh relief corps. 



Minor Moves: Armstrong, Vitek, Keck, Arroyo, Broxton

We'll keep track of the day's minor moves here:

  • Jack Armstrong, a 2011 third-round choice of the Astros, has hung up his spikes, reports Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter links). Selected as a pitcher and given a $750K signing bonus, Armstrong never even got on the hill professionally due to a series of arm injuries. He had been hoping to switch to first base. 
  • 2010 Red Sox first-rounder Kolbrin Vitek has retired, reports Alex Speier of WEEI.com. Injuries slowed the toolsy player, who never managed to translate his raw abilities into production. As Speier notes, however, several other players taken in that draft have panned out quite nicely.
  • Reliever Jon Keck has signed on with the Rockies on a minor league pact, according to the MLB transactions page. The 25-year-old southpaw had spent his entire career in the Royals organization, and threw 52 relief innings of 3.81 ERA ball at the Double-A level last year. It would appear that he had some significant control issues, however, as he walked 6.8 batters (striking out 8.7) for every nine innings.
  • The Diamondbacks have acquired lefty Spencer Arroyo from the White Sox for cash, according to the MLB transactions page. The 25-year-old spent most of his time as a starter in Double-A last year, putting up a 3.50 ERA in 149 1/3 innings while posting 5.8 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. 
  • The Pirates have acquired outfielder Keon Broxton from the Diamondbacks in exchange for a player to be named later, Pittsburgh announced via press release. Selected 95th overall in the 2009 draft, Broxton was outrighted off of the Arizona 40-man roster back in October. Broxton has struggled to translate his athleticism -- he was the D'backs most athletic prospect last year, per Baseball America -- into consistent production. Playing at Double-A last year, Broxton was unable to follow up on a strong 2012 campaign in his repeat of the HIgh-A level, and hit just .231/.296/.359 with eight home runs and five steals in 372 plate appearances.
  • At the start of the day, two players -- Carlos Peguero of the Royals and Johnny Monell of the Orioles -- were in limbo in the MLBTR DFA Tracker. They have since been joined by Bobby LaFromboise of the Mariners and Raul Valdes of the Astros.









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