Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors
Starling Marte has arguably been the biggest key to the Pirates' 21-16 start, and at 24, the outfielder looks like an emerging star. This weekend on Twitter, Pirates bloggers and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Travis Sawchik discussed the merits of a possible contract extension for Marte. Given Marte's skimpy big-league track record -- he has just 341 career plate appearances -- a long-term deal might seem a bit ambitious right now. But if Marte's productivity continues, the Pirates will surely consider offering an extension at some point, and there may be a case for offering one sooner rather than later.
According to MLBTR's Extension Tracker, there have been only three recent extensions for players with less than one year of service time: the Royals' 2012 pact with Salvador Perez, and the Rays' deals with Matt Moore in 2011 and Evan Longoria in 2008. All three contracts included three team options, and all gave their teams the rights to multiple free agent years.
There would be little point to the Pirates signing Marte to an extension without such team-friendly terms, since a good portion of Marte's value will likely come from his superior defense and baserunning, which aren't likely to win him huge arbitration salaries. Whether he'll continue to post gaudy offensive numbers is less certain. Marte could still be very productive without big counting stats, but without them, he isn't likely to make huge sums in arbitration.
Therefore, from the Pirates' perspective, the point of an extension would be to buy the rights to some of Marte's free agent years while ensuring that the prices of his arbitration-eligible seasons remain low. Any multi-year contract would set Marte for life, and Marte only received an $85K bonus as an amateur, so there would be reason for the Legacy Agency client to consider a deal, even at terms somewhat favorable to the Pirates.
Projecting what Marte might make in arbitration is just about impossible this early in his career. His current line of .336/.399/.517 is likely unsustainable, due to a .422 BABIP. But his speed and minor-league history (he batted .312 in his minor-league career) make him a good bet to continue hitting for average. Scouts also like his power potential. His Achilles heel, if he has one, will likely be his lack of plate discipline -- he has just 15 walks in 341 career plate appearances. Even if he struggles as National League pitchers begin to adjust to his tendency to swing at pitches outside the zone, he should provide plenty of value with his defense, but his career could still range anywhere from "superstar" to "Jeff Francoeur."
Nonetheless, an extension is a risk that the Pirates probably ought to consider. A speculative extension for a largely-unproven player has downside, as the Bucs are finding with their six-year, $15MM deal for now-fourth outfielder Jose Tabata. But it's difficult for the Pirates to find stars through other means, so it behooves them to lock up their best young players early and cheaply. It's no accident that the Royals and Rays, whose payrolls are typically somewhat similar to those of the Pirates, are the teams experimenting with early-career contracts for Perez, Longoria and Moore.
Perhaps the best precedent for a Marte extension, though, would be the Twins' five-year, $16.5MM deal with Denard Span. Span doesn't have Marte's power, but like Marte, he generates plenty of value through defense and baserunning. The Twins signed Span before the 2010 season, when he had one year and 111 days of service time. A five-year deal that begins in 2014, when Marte himself will be between one and two years of service time, would put Marte on a similar track. Marte's potential for big arbitration payouts might actually be somewhat higher than Span's, due to Marte's power, so a slightly higher dollar figure might be in order. Span's contract has one option year; the Pirates could attempt to wrangle at least one additional option year from Marte to help compensate for the risk of signing him so early in his career.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here's the latest news and notes from the National League:
- Matt Garza, number seven on MLBTR's 2014 Free Agent Rankings, is slated for one or two additional minor league rehab starts after an abbreviated outing yesterday, reports MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. Garza threw 66 pitches (40 for strikes) over 3 1/3 innings for Double-A Tennessee allowing three hits and two walks. "He felt great and everything, but not real efficient," Cubs mangager Dale Sveum said. "Right now, we have to get him built up to get to the fourth, fifth and hopefully sixth inning." Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times tweets Garza is expected to throw 85-95 pitches in his next rehab start, which will come next week for Triple-A Iowa.
- Pirates second baseman Neil Walker is set to return from the disabled list tomorrow and Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review doesn't expect utilityman John McDonald to be designated for assignment to create space on the 25-man roster. McDonald, hitting only .067/.176/.100 in 34 plate appearances this year, would have to clear waivers while infielder Jordy Mercer still has minor league options available. "I think the term general managers use is you want to maintain all of your assets," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You don't want to release somebody if another guy has options. We're mindful of that."
- Despite a slow start offensively, the Diamondbacks are already seeing dividends from their four-year, $40MM investment in Martin Prado, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Steve Hummer.
- The Padres, who have the 13th overall pick in next month's amateur draft, aren't concerned that the perceived top players will be off the board when it comes their turn, according to Corey Brock of MLB.com. "There's probably more balance [in the Draft] than people give it credit for," said Chad MacDonald, vice president and general manager of player personnel, who will preside over the Padres' draft. "There are a lot of high school hitters out there. I think people are quick to grade a Draft." In addition to their area scouts and cross-checkers, the Padres have had GM Josh Byrnes, vice president/assistant GM AJ Hinch, and senior vice president Omar Minaya in the field scouting players.
Here's a look at the latest out of the National League Central, where the Cardinals currently are in the lead..
- It looks like the Pirates made the right move in trading Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox this winter, as new closer Jason Grilli is thriving in the ninth inning, writes CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler. Grilli has adjusted nicely to the closer role, as the 36-year-old right-hander owns a 1.26 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks through 14 and 1/3 innings.
- Meanwhile, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports has the story on Reds leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo and his upcoming free agency. Morosi argues that Choo is in line for a major contract this winter as he is raking in Cincinnati. So far, the outfielder has a .323/.453/.569 slash line with seven homers.
- In a separate piece, Knobler compares Pirate outfielders Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen. While Marte lacks the notoriety of McCutchen and other top young players, that could soon change in Knobler's view. Marte is off to an early .321/.385/.515 line with ten stolen bases so far this season.
Max Fogle contributed to this post.
Jonathan Sanchez has cleared waivers and been released by the Pirates, according to Michael Sanserino of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter). The Pirates had designated Sanchez for assignment on April 30.
Sanchez, 30, was a staple in the Giants rotation from 2009-11 when he totaled 458 innings of 3.75 ERA ball and averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. He's always struggled with his command, and it's really gotten away from him since the beginning of last season. In his past 78 1/3 innings, Sanchez has walked 69 batters and fanned 68. His ERA in that time is a sky-high 8.73.
The Pirates added Sanchez on a minor league deal this offseason, and injuries to Francisco Liriano and Jeff Karstens earned him a brief chance in Pittsburgh's rotation. Prior to his DFA, Sanchez was suspended six games for throwing at Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig.
Pirates right-hander Jeff Karstens has left Moye Sports Associates and is now represented by Damon Lapa and Scott Leventhal's All Bases Covered Sports Management, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reports (on Twitter).
Karstens was non-tendered by the Pirates last offseason despite a 3.59 ERA and a pristine 1.7 BB/9 rate in 253 innings from 2011-12. He re-signed with Pittsburgh on a one-year deal worth $2.5MM -- a notable decrease from the $3.8MM salary that MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected he would have earned via arbitration. Durability issues seemed to be GM Neal Huntington's primary concerns, and sure enough, Karstens opened the season on the DL. He has yet to throw a pitch for the Pirates in 2013.
As shown in MLBTR's Agency Database, Lapa and Leventhal represent big leaguers such as Kevin Correia, Eric Chavez and David Robertson. Karstens is the second big league pitcher to change agents in as many days. Wei-Yin Chen left Octagon for the Boras Corporation last night.
We're a little more than a month away from the 2013 Amateur Draft, which kicks off June 6. (Here's the full draft order.) Here's the latest:
- The Pirates, who pick at No. 9 (a compensation pick for failing to sign Mark Appel last year) and No. 14 (their regular first-round pick) could take UNC third baseman Colin Moran, Conor Glassey of Baseball America suggests in his preview for National League teams. That's about as definitive as anyone can get, at this early stage -- it's unclear what will happen after the Cubs select either Appel or Jonathan Gray with the No. 2 overall pick.
- The Astros, who pick first in the draft, are scouting eight prospects, Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle reports (on Twitter). GM Jeff Luhnow tells Ortiz he has personally scouted seven players.
- While Appel and Gray stand out in this year's draft class, the next tier of college pitching talent is still establishing itself, ESPN.com's Jason Churchill writes (Insider-only). That includes Ryne Stanek of Arkansas, Ryan Eades of LSU and Sean Manaea of Indiana State. Manaea could be the first to be drafted, Churchill notes, possibly going to the Rockies at No. 3, the Indians at No. 5 or the Red Sox at No. 7.
- Churchill also writes that at least some teams in this draft would prefer to pick position players, and might draft them a bit earlier than their talent might suggest.
- There is a wide range of opinions about high school catcher Reese McGuire, who might go anywhere from No. 4 to No. 21, Churchill writes. The Pirates have scouted McGuire heavily and have two picks in that range.
The Prospect Rumor Roundup returns for a second week with a look back at the biggest trade of the offseason...
With Toronto almost 10 games out of first place at the beginning of May, and with the bandwagon already set ablaze by fickle fans, it's safe to say that this is not the type of start to the year that the Blue Jays front office was expecting. The organization orchestrated two key trades during the 2012-13 offseason, which brought a number of high-profile veterans north of the border, including R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio. A month into the season, those five players have accumulated a combined 0.3 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement).
With arguably a top five minor league system prior to the deals, Toronto mortgaged a good deal of its future for a chance to win now. While the veterans are struggling, the majority of the prospects -- no longer under the Jays' control -- are thriving in their new digs.
Catcher Travis d'Arnaud reportedly came close to winning a big league roster spot out of spring training with the Mets. He was assigned to Triple-A where six of his nine hits went for extra bases. He also added 12 walks before going down with a broken foot. He'll miss about eight weeks, but veteran catcher John Buck is holding down the fort in the Majors. D'Arnaud was added to the 40-man roster in November 2011 and is currently in his second of three option years, so he'll have to establish himself in the Majors by the end of the 2014 season to avoid being sent through waivers to be demoted to the minors.
One of three top young arms in Toronto's system prior to being dealt to the Mets, Noah Syndergaard has a 3.24 ERA in five High-A ball starts. He's been even better than it appears, though, as he allowed seven of his nine earned runs on the year in just one start. Jonathan Raymond of MiLB.com recently spoke to the prospect's A-ball pitching coach to learn more about his approach. The Texas native is eligible for the Rule 5 draft in 2014 so he'll have to be added to the 40-man roster after next season to avoid being snatched away from the Mets.
Outfielder Wuilmer Becerra suffered a scary injury last year in rookie ball when he was hit in the face during an at-bat, ending his season after just 11 games. The 18-year-old was originally signed out of Venezuela for $1.3MM and was considered one of the top Latin amateur free agents in 2011. He's currently playing in extended spring training and should be assigned to a short-season club in June.
Adeiny Hechavarria was signed out of Cuba by the Jays and has taken over the starting shortstop gig in Miami, although he's currently on the disabled list. His offense hasn't kicked in yet but he's playing steady ball in the field and is known for being a plus defender capable of providing a ton of value with his glove alone. Hechavarria's traditional three option years expired at the end of 2012 but he was granted a rare fourth option year for the 2013 season, so he can be sent down to the minors this year -- if need be -- without being exposed to waivers.
Like Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino was a member of Toronto's top pitching trio. The Florida native has enjoyed his time in the Miami Marlins organization despite an inconsistent year to date and has a 3.60 ERA in five starts in the High-A Florida State League. Nicolino's adjustment to his hometown organization was recently outlined by Guy Curtright at MiLB.com. He doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2014 season. I recently spoke with Marlins Director of Player Development Brian Chattin, who said the organization was happy with all the players they acquired. "Nicolino has shown an above-average changeup and a mature approach to his development," he added.
An injury to outfielder Jake Marisnick kept him on the sidelines until this past weekend. After spending 55 games at the Double-A level in 2013, he got his feet wet back in High-A ball before moving back to Double-A. He has plus defensive skills but a front office contact within the Jays organization told me during the offseason -- shortly before the big trade -- that he's still getting used to some adjustments made to his batting stance and swing mechanics. Chattin told MLBTR, "[Jake has] excellent makeup, he's a well-above-average athlete, impressive defender in center field and has the tools to be an impact major leaguer." Marisnick will have to be added to the 40-man roster this coming November to shield him from the Rule 5 draft.
The lesser known name of the group of prospects sent to Miami, Anthony DeSclafani arguably has had the most success of the four players. The University of Florida alum has a 0.44 ERA with 16 strikeouts and three walks in 20.2 innings pitched. A reliever with inconsistent results in college, the organization is trying to stretch him out as a starter in pro ball. "Anthony has thrown strikes and lived at the bottom of the zone in each of his starts," Chattin told MLBTR. "We are allowing him to use his curveball in addition to his slider/fastball/changeup combination. He has confidence in his curveball and is using it well as a complement to the rest of his arsenal." Like Nicolino, DeSclafani has to be added to the 40-man roster after the 2014 season.
Prospect Tidbits: With the recent success of 2012 National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, the knuckleball is enjoying renewed popularity. Orioles minor leaguer Eddie Gamboa is attempting to become the next successful big league knuckleballer. Benjamin Hill of MLB.com explained that the pitching prospect received some guidance from Hall of Famer Phil Niekro during spring training. Gamboa said that he's currently throwing his new pitch about 50 percent of the time in game situations, much to his surprise. Said Gamboa:
"I always put up okay numbers, enough to keep getting a job again but not enough to get a promotion... My game was stuck... The knuckleball was always something that I had practiced just in case, but I didn't think that just in case was going to be this year."
A talented two-way player in high school, Stetson Allie signed with the Pirates for a $2.25MM bonus in 2010 and began his career on the mound. When he was unable to harness his control (29 walks in 26 innings in 2011), the organization took a huge gamble by shifting the strong-armed prospect to first base. It took a year of struggling to find his footing but Allie is finally tapping into his plus raw power and has eight home runs in 24 A-ball games. Mike Newman of FanGraphs.com recently watched the Pirates prospect play and he also spoke with Allie, as well as Pittsburgh's assistant general manager Kyle Stark.
Sanchez, 30, signed a minor league deal with the Pirates in February. He was an Article XX(B) signing and hooked on with the big league roster thanks to injuries in the Bucs' rotation.
On the year, Sanchez owns a 11.85 ERA with 9.9 K/9 and 5.3 BB/9 through four starts and one relief appearance. The left-hander's contract called for him to earn $1.375MM this season and Pittsburgh will be on the hook if they cannot find a taker in the next ten days.
As we close in on the month of May, let's check in on the players who have vesting options for the 2014 season...
- Kurt Suzuki, Nationals: $9.25MM option vests with 113 starts in 2013. Prior to Opening Day, the Nats announced that Suzuki would be in a timeshare with Wilson Ramos behind the plate. However, Ramos' hamstring has led to Suzuki starting 16 of the club's 23 games so far in 2013. Ramos is scheduled to rejoin the club on Monday, but if he suffers another setback, Suzuki could have a realistic shot at triggering his '14 option.
- Jamey Carroll, Twins: $2MM option vests with 401 plate appearances. Carroll has surpassed that mark in each of the last three seasons with 500+ plate appearances in each of the last two years, but he has just 18 PAs as April comes to a close.
- Wilson Betemit, Orioles: $3.2MM option vests with 324 plate appearances (combined 700 between 2012 and 2013). Betemit suffered a PCL tear during the last week of Spring Training, keeping him out of action until at least mid-May. When he returns, he figures to see less action than he did last year thanks to Manny Machado.
- Lance Berkman, Rangers: $13MM option vests with 550 plate appearances. So far, Berkman has 19 games under his belt with 80 plate appearances. He'll be within reach as long as he stays healthy. In 2011, his last full season, Berkman racked up 587 PAs for the Cardinals.
- Roy Halladay, Phillies: $20MM option vests with 259 innings pitched (combined 415 innings pitched between '12 and '13). So far, Halladay has logged 28 and 1/3 innings through five April starts but the 259 mark remains a longshot. However, it's worth nothing that Halladay has come close to that figure twice in the last six years (2008, 246 IP; 2010, 250.2 IP) and surpassed it once in his career (2003, 266 IP).
- Brett Myers, Indians: $8MM option vests with 200 innings pitched in 2013 and a passed physical after the season. Myers is expected to miss most of May due to tendinitis and a mild ligament sprain in his right elbow. So far, the right-hander has 21 and 1/3 innings to his credit in 2013.
- Barry Zito, Giants: $18MM option vests with 200 innings pitched. Zito has 23 and 2/3 innings so far through the month of April and will make his fifth start of the year tonight against the Padres.
- Johan Santana, Mets: His $25MM option could have vested with 215 innings pitched or winning the 2013 Cy Young Award, but he won't have a chance at that thanks to a season-ending tear in his pitching shoulder.
It's also worth noting that Francisco Liriano has a $8MM club option for 2014 with the Pirates, but it can vest at any of three levels, $5MM, $6MM, or $8MM, based on the number of days he is not on the DL this year with a recurrence of his right arm injury. It's not known how many days the hurler must steer clear of right arm trouble in order to trigger each level of his option, however. Liriano has yet to take the hill in 2013, but he is expected to make his big league debut on May 10th vs. the Mets.
On Tuesday, Corky Miller played in his first Major League game since 2010 and he didn't have to wait long for another, starting at catcher for the Reds tonight against the Nationals. The veteran backstop was added to the Reds' 40-man roster earlier this week, as noted by Baseball America's Matt Eddy in his roundup of the week's minor league transactions.
Here are the minor moves that took place today, with the latest at the top of the page...
- The Brewers released right-hander Jim Hoey earlier this week, Eddy reports. Milwaukee signed Hoey to a minor league deal in December. Hoey last pitched in the Majors with the Twins in 2011 and he owns a 7.02 ERA in 59 career innings with the Twins and Orioles.
- The Cardinals have purchased the contract of infielder Jermaine Curtis from Triple-A, the team announced. Curtis, a fifth round pick in the 2008 draft, has a .279/.384/.360 slash line over 1861 career PA in the Cardinals' system and he has spent most of his career playing second and third base. Curtis takes the roster spot of Matt Adams, who was placed on the 15-day DL in a corresponding move.
- On Wednesday, the Braves acquired Roman Colon from the Pirates in exchange for cash considerations. SB Nation's Talking Chop blog appears to have been the first to report the move. Colon, 33, has a 5.19 ERA in 187 1/3 career big league innings. In 1080 1/3 minor league innings, he's posted a 3.92 ERA, 6.2 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. Colon, who was originally signed by the Braves in 1995, was assigned to Triple-A Gwinnett and struggled in his first outing with the club.