Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

NL Central Notes: Burnett, Sveum, Aoki

Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett could be making his last career start when he takes the hill tonight against the Reds. The Pirates have clinched a playoff spot, of course, but they're extremely likely to end up in a one-game playoff, also against Cincinnati. Francisco Liriano figures to start that game, and if the Pirates lose it, their season would be over. Burnett recently told the press he was "50-50" about whether he would play in 2014, although the Pirates have shown strong interest in bringing him back. Here are more notes from the NL Central.

  • Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs are likely to make a decision about manager Dale Sveum and his coaching staff by Monday, Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com reports (via Twitter). Sveum's status has been uncertain for weeks now, with rumblings that the Cubs always considered him a placeholder until they were ready to compete. A strong year for the Cubs' top prospects may have convinced Epstein and Hoyer to be more aggressive in finding a manager for next season. The Cubs have gone 66-93 while rebuilding in 2013.
  • The Brewers will exercise outfielder Norichika Aoki's option, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports (via Twitter). Aoki's option is only for $1.5MM (with a $250K buyout) and so, as McCalvy notes, the decision was likely an easy one for Milwaukee. Aoki has produced a combined 4.2 WAR in his two seasons with the Brewers, including 1.7 in a 2013 season in which he's hit .287/.357/.368.

Central Rumors: Girardi, Dunn, Perkins, Pirates

Could Joe Girardi leave the Yankees to become the next manager of the Cubs?  It's all speculative right now, but Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com sizes up both jobs and the challenges that each one figures to bring over the next few years.  Here's tonight's look at the Central divisions after Michael Wacha came ever so close to a no-hitter..

  • Adam Dunn's $15MM salary for 2014 almost assures his return to the White Sox in 2014 and talk of him being platooned next season sounds premature, writes Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. "I don't think we're at that point yet," GM Rick Hahn said. "I think we need to see what the roster looks like, see how he comes back, how he looks and see what the options are for Robin. Ultimately the lineup is his call, so especially given that we aren't sure what the roster is going to look like, it's premature to pigeonhole anyone into a lesser role than they have right now."
  • Twins closer Glen Perkins' outstanding season has boosted his 2013 salary from $2.5MM to $2.975MM and boosted his 2014 salary from $3.75MM to $3.9875MM, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter links).
  • Dave Cameron of Fangraphs looks at five components of the Pirates' construction of a playoff team. Among Cameron's components are the fact that the Pirates bought into the predictive power of stats like xFIP, adopted aggressive defensive shifts and ignored positional stereotypes with players like Neil Walker and Starling Marte.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.

Pirates To Make Strong Push To Keep A.J. Burnett

Pirates GM Neal Huntington says his team will do "everything in our power" to keep starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, provided Burnett determines he does not want to retire, Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review tweets. Burnett, who is a free agent after the season, recently said he was "50-50" about the possibility of pitching in 2014, and that he wanted to retire as a Pirate.

Since coming to Pittsburgh via a trade with the Yankees before the 2012 season, Burnett has been the most consistent pitcher in the Pirates' rotation, and with 10.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, a 3.39 ERA, and a devastating curveball, he appears to have more left in the tank. After a 12-strikeout performance against the Reds Saturday night, Burnett has 203 strikeouts for the year, becoming the first Pirate to clear 200 strikeouts in a season since Oliver Perez did it in 2004.

Quick Hits: Gregg, Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, Kendrick

Kevin Gregg blasted the Cubs after misunderstanding comments from manager Dale Sveum and president Theo Epstein said it was possible that he would release the veteran.  However, the Cubs decided over the weekend to accept Gregg's apology for the incident and will hang on to him, writes Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune.  Here's more from around baseball..

  • The Rockies are not shopping all-stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, sources with direct knowledge of the club's plans told Troy Renck of the Denver Post.  There's still a very small possibility that one will be dealt to address multiple needs, but there is zero likelihood that both will be moved. Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that Rockies ownership doesn't have much interest in moving either player.
  • Also from Renck, he expects the Cardinals to pursue a trade for Tulowitzki this offseason.
  • After being shut down for the season, Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick is now shifting his focus towards 2014 and thinking about where he could be pitching next season, writes Kevin Roberts for MLB.com.  Kendrick, who made $4.5MM this season, will be eligible for salary arbitration this offseason.  
  • Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review puts the spotlight on Dan Fox, the man who built the Pirates' analytical department.

A.J. Burnett Still Considering Retirement

SEPT. 21: Burnett says he remains "50-50" on whether or not he'll play next year, reports Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He reiterated that, if he does not hang up his spikes, he wants to stay in Pittsburgh. "I do want to go out with a bang," said Burnett, "and I do want to go out a Pirate." 

After logging a 3.51 ERA in 202 1/3 innings in 2012, Burnett has followed up with 176 innings of 3.43 ERA pitching this year, including a career-best 9.8 K/9. Bucs GM Neil Huntington said that the team "certainly ha[s] interest in A.J. returning." Though it sounds as if he won't test the market, Burnett ranks fifth among all free agent starters on the list compiled by MLBTR's Tim Dierkes.

MAR. 27: A.J. Burnett is mulling whether to retire after the 2013 season, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  However, if the 36-year-old decides to keep playing, he might only consider an offer from the Pirates for next season.

I enjoy it here and I enjoy these guys,” Burnett said. “If I was to keep playing, I wouldn't want it to be anywhere else but Pittsburgh. My wife and I talk about it now and then. But it's something I've got to put on the back burner. I'm just going to concentrate on this season, one start at a time.

While Burnett is fond of Pittsburgh, he says that he is not currently talking with the club about a new deal.  Last year, Burnett posted a 3.51 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 31 starts.

The right-hander is in the final year of a five-year, $82.5MM contract that he initally signed with the Yankees, so he won't be hurting for cash if he decides to walk away.  For his career, Burnett owns a 4.05 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 across 14 seasons with the Marlins, Blue Jays, Yankees, and Bucs.

Jeff Todd contributed to this post.

NL Central Notes: Liriano, Choo, Gregg

MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince offers up a list of what he considers to be the Top 10 acquisitions of this past offseason, headlined by the Pirates' signing of Francisco Liriano. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has also tabbed Liriano as the best open-market pick-up of 2013. Recently, MLBTR's Steve Adams got GM Neal Huntington's take on that signing as well as some other recent offseason acquisitions. Here are a few more notes from the National League's Central division:

  • Reds player told John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer (Twitter link) that pending free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo "loves it" in Cincinnati and that teammates have been "working on him"to stay in town. Of course, with several big contracts already on the books, and with Billy Hamilton potentially ready to help at the MLB level, it has been fairly questioned whether the Reds would be in the mix for Choo. 
  • Cinci GM Walt Jocketty says the team is in fact interested in bringing back Choo, fellow Enquirer newsman C. Trent Rosecrans reports"We feel we have a good fit for him," Jocketty explained. "We have a winning team that is built to win." The GM implied that the team had hoped to talk extension with Choo's agent, Scott Boras, earlier this year. "We've expressed to him all year [sic] our interest in re-signing him," said Jocketty. "He's wanted to wait or maybe Scott wants to wait until the year is over. We have interest in re-signing. We'll do everything we can to make that happen." Now set to hit the market after an outstanding season, Choo's price tag figures to be higher than it would have been in a mid-year extension scenario. He currently occupies the fifth slot on the 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings of MLBTR's Tim Dierkes.
  • After apparently misunderstanding comments from manager Dale Sveum regarding save opportunities down the stretch, Cubs closer Kevin Gregg blasted the organization in the media. As detailed by ESPNChicago.com's Bruce Levine and Jesse Rogers, GM Theo Epstein says that he could release Gregg, and will consider the decision overnight. Epstein explained that the team had no intentions of removing Gregg from his role, but instead wanted to allow recent acquisition Pedro Strop to finish a few games. 
  • Even if Gregg holds on with Chicago for the rest of the year, the incident -- along with Strop's audition -- could impact whether the team has any interest in bringing him back next year. Though he has cooled down considerably after a remarkable comeback in the season's earlygoing, Gregg has notched 32 saves on the year. Either way, as Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com notes, Gregg recently triggered a $500k bonus by finishing his 50th game of the year.

NL Notes: Pirates, Phillies, Jimenez, Torres

We'll round out the evening with a few notes from around the National League:

  • The success of the Pirates was not just about developing youngsters and gem-in-the-rough free agents, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Out of ideas on how to improve the club without extra cash to spend, the Pirates concocted what Sawchik calls "perhaps the most aggressive, systematic approach to run prevention -- from alignment to pitching strategy -- in baseball history." The plan was in the works for years in the organization's lower levels, and developed in the bigs as a combined front office, coaching staff, and player effort. I dare not attempt to encapsulate this interesting piece here, and will instead simply recommend that you give it a full read.
  • The Phillies want to add a right-handed, outfielding power hitter to the lineup in 2014, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. While they are hardly unique in this pursuit -- the Diamondbacks and Giants are reportedly among the many teams keen to improve their pop -- the Phils' needs are somewhat more specific. With Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, and Cody Asche presumably penciled in as regulars, and righty-swinging Darin Ruf and Maikel Franco already in the infield mix, the club is definitely shopping for a right-handed, corner outfielder, says Zolecki.
  • Philadelphia's interim manager Ryne Sandberg says that the team's bullpen has had some questions answered over the last few weeks, reports Zolecki. Sandberg says that "solidify[ing] the starting rotation" is a top priority, along with "figur[ing] out the catching situation and better defense in the outfield." With youngsters like B.J. Rosenberg, Jake Diekman, and Justin De Fratus staking their claim to a spot in the big league pen, Sandberg  says the club may have "a better feel [for] what they really need to concentrate on -- as far as the front office -- as far as the necessary pieces that either aren't here or that they need to go and get."
  • Wondering where top international amateurs rank now that they've signed? Baseball America's Ben Badler, via J.J. Cooper, says that the Cubs' Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres -- the top two July 2nd prospects per BA -- would likely fall within the top-30 organizational list but outside the top ten. Both should skip the Dominican Summer League and head straght to rookie ball, according to the piece.

Central Notes: Grimm, Rodriguez, McDonald

Since picking up Justin Grimm from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal, the Cubs have liked what they've seen from him in a relief role, writes Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Pitching coach Chris Bosio explains that the club is "presenting different roles for him," and Gonzales says that Grimm could stay in the pen going into spring training. On to more links from the AL and NL Central...

  • The Pirates have shut down Wandy Rodriguez because of persistent pain and discomfort in his left forearm, according to a statement from GM Neal Huntington. The move will provide more time for the flexor tendon in Rodriguez's forearm to heal and sets him up to be ready for Opening Day 2014, Huntington said.
  • Rodriguez says he hasn't considered whether he'll trigger his $13MM player option for next year, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tweets. However, it's unlikely that he doesn't do so, Biertempfel says. The Pirates are on the hook for $7.5MM of the option.
  • The Twins don't plan to sign James McDonald, who elected free agency today after being outrighted to Triple-A by the Pirates, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com says. Minnesota will re-evaluate McDonald and take a look at his medicals over the offseason, however.

Jeff Todd contributed to this post.

James McDonald Elects Free Agency

SEPT 14: McDonald has refused his outright assignment and elected free agency, according to the Pirates' transactions page.

SEPT. 13: McDonald cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis, according to the International League transactions page. As a player that has been outrighted off his 40-man roster but has three or more years of Major League service time, baseball's collective bargaining agreement allows McDonald to elect free agency following the season.

SEPT. 7: The Pirates announced that they have designated James McDonald for assignment.  The move will allow the Bucs to promote Brandon Cumpton from Triple-A Indianapolis.

McDonald, 28, was just reinstated from the disabled list after being out of action since April 30th due to issues with his throwing shoulder.  The right-hander wasn't terribly sharp in six starts this season, posting a 5.76 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 6.1 BB/9.  McDonald was once considered to be a high-upside prospect when he started out with L.A. and was rated No. 56 nationally by Baseball America before the '09 season.  For his career, McDonald owns a 4.20 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9.

McDonald spent the entirety of the 2011-12 seasons in Pittsburgh's rotation, hurling 171 innings of 4.21 ERA each year with a combined 7.7 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9.  His fastball velocity has declined in each of the past two years, though, falling from an average of 92.7 mph in 2011 to 91.8 in 2012 and 90.5 in 2013's small sample of 29 2/3 innings.

To keep track of McDonald and everyone else in DFA limbo, check out the MLBTR DFA Tracker.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.

Quick Hits: GMs, Comp Picks, 2013 Free Agents

On this day in 2007, Terry Ryan announced that he would step aside from his post as the Twins general manager at the end of the season. As MLBTR's Tim Dierkes noted, Ryan's history was checkered at best at the time. Of course, as a read through this site's most recent post would indicate, Ryan is now back at the helm. Though the team has yet to post more than seventy wins in a season since Ryan returned in November of 2011, Minnesota stands at 15th in ESPN's latest future power rankings on the strength of its minor league system. While Ryan has long been said to have his job as long as he wants to keep it, some other GMs may not be so lucky ...

  • There are four general managers around the league who could soon be replaced, writes Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com. According to Gammons, two of those -- Jerry Dipoto of the Angels and Larry Beinfest of the Marlins -- have arguably been undone by meddling owners. (Gammons cites Arte Moreno's $365MM investment in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and Jeffrey Loria's propensity for "whimsically run[ning] everything.") Meanwhile, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik may not survive to see whether the team's top young pitching talent can drive a winner. And Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd -- the game's fourth-longest tenured GM -- has yet to figure out how to craft a squad that can win away from Coors field. (For what it's worth, O'Dowd was in charge for the franchise's lone season with a winning road record, when it posted a 41-40 mark in 2009.)
  • It would be ridiculous to consider Rangers GM Jon Daniels among those at risk, writes Baseball Nation's Grant Brisbee. While he surely could have sacrificed future value to win at all costs this season, says Brisbee, Daniels was prudent not to and still delivered a team that should qualify for the post-season.
  • Teams must determine whether to make outgoing free agents a qualifying offer just five days after the conclusion of this year's World Series, and those decisions will play a major role in setting the stage for the 2014 free agent market. For non-obvious candidates, writes Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, an important part of the equation lies in valuing the compensation pick that the team would receive if the player declines the offer and then signs with another club. Working off of a rough valuation of international signing slot dollars, Cameron opines that teams could value the dollars spent on a comp pick as much as three-to-four times higher than money the team could spend outside the draft. As he explains, this would imply that there is substantial excess value in obtaining non-marketable draft picks, which could move the needle in favor of making qualifying offers in marginal situations.
  • As we prepare to weigh a new class of free agents, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman ranks the best signings of 2013. His top three are a collection of veterans whose contributions have vastly outweighed the relatively meager financial commitments that they received: Pirates starter Francisco Liriano, Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara, and Athletics starter Bartolo Colon. Next on his list is Boston's David Ortiz, who as Heyman notes was the only player to accept a qualifying offer in the first year of the system.

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