Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

Cafardo: Morales, Drew, Cervelli, Manny, Red Sox

Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew both share the same agent (Scott Boras), the same predicament (unsigned free agents with draft pick compensation attached), and the same frustration over their situation, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. "Nothing I can do," Morales told Cafardo. "I don’t understand, but I’m just waiting for something." Morales and Drew work out together for five hours each day, six days a week. "We don’t talk too much about what we’re going through," said Drew, who turns 31 today. "We talk about other things mostly, but he’s been a good guy to work out with and go through this with." Cafardo opines that the pair reside in baseball prison, adding that Morales makes sense for the Mariners, Brewers, and Pirates, while the Mets remain the best fit for Drew. Also from his Sunday Baseball Notes column:

  • According to Cafardo, there are scouts and front office people who feel the best fit for Drew is actually New York's other team: the Yankees.
  • The Yankees are a little cautious about dealing catcher Francisco Cervelli since they believe he's the best option to start if something should happen to Brian McCann.
  • Manny Ramirez is eyeing another MLB comeback and is working out in Miami with Miguel Tejada, but the 12-time All-Star has an image problem to overcome. "He's poison," one National League GM told Cafardo. “I know he's changed his life around and his personality has changed, but I doubt anyone would take the risk, especially with a 42-year-old player. I think a lot of teams would pardon one PED offense, but two? I doubt it, but crazier things have happened. Never take away the fact he was one of the greatest right-handed hitters ever."
  • In a separate article, Cafardo reports, with the renaissance of Grady Sizemore and the very good camps of Bryce Brentz and Corey Brown, the Red Sox's outfield depth could lead to a trade. Mike Carp is the leading candidate to be dealt because of his ability to also play the infield corners. The Tigers, Brewers, and Pirates have reportedly shown interest in the 27-year-old.

NL Notes: Niese, D'backs, Pirates, Marlins, Dodgers

Mets left-hander Jon Niese was removed from his start today after only two innings and 35 pitches with what the club calls left elbow discomfort. Niese had been wearing a neoprene sleve on his left arm the past few days, tweets Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. "It's the Spring Training from hell," Niese told reporters (as quoted by ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin). Niese also said he hyperextended the elbow, which first flared up during an intrasquad game 10 days ago, and has been taking anti-inflammatory medication and undergoing rehab since. Niese added the discomfort is in the back of the elbow, not in the ligament area (the focus of Tommy John surgery). The Mets are flying the 27-year-old to New York tonight with a MRI, his second in less than three weeks, scheduled for tomorrow, tweets Marc Carig of Newsday

Elsewhere in the National League:

Central Notes: Pirates, Cardinals, Twins

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review chronicles the rise of Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco, who signed in 2009 as a skinny 17-year-old. Polanco is now 6'5" and 230 pounds, and walked as often as he struck out in Double-A last season. The outfielder's speed, despite his tremendous size, stands out, says Pirates Latin American Scouting Director Rene Gayo. "Guys that big don't move that fast," Gayo said. "You're basically looking at a guy the size of Jim Thome running around." Here are more Central notes:

  • In an honest, open interview with ESPN's Jayson StarkCardinals manager Mike Matheny says he regrets not doing more to publicize the dangers of concussions as a player. Concussions ended his career as a big league backstop. "I did a very poor job, at the end of my career, of really telling people how weird and how tough the circumstances were for me after getting that last concussion, how that impacted my life," Matheny said. He's since been one of baseball's loudest voices in arguing for a total ban of home-plate collisions, Stark writes.
  • The Twins are aware that they're among a dwindling group of clubs that are comfortable giving long-term deals to closers, writes Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Glen Perkins' four-year, $22.175 million deal, which guarantees him two years and $14.1MM in new money, ranks him beneath only Craig Kimbrel and Jonathan Papelbon in terms of contract size for an MLB closer.

NL Notes: Mets, Phillies, Braves, Pirates

The Mets have an interesting problem in Rafael Montero, whose fast ascent through the minors has placed him on the cusp of the big leagues with limited English skills, The New York Times' Tim Rohan writes. Non-native speakers typically see their English progress as they gradually move up the minor league ranks, but by the middle of the 2013 season, Montero was already logging significant time in Triple-A, a little more than three years after signing out of the Dominican Republic. Still, the Mets figure to find a way to make the situation work: Baseball America projects Montero as a potential No. 3 starter with plus-plus command. Here's more from around the National League:

  • Reliever Mike Adams looked "close to game-ready" when throwing to hitters on Saturday, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg reports (via Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com). Adams is working back from 2013 shoulder surgery, which shortened the first season of a two-year, $12MM deal with the Phillies.
  • Injuries in the rotation have complicated the Braves' attempts to finalize their bullpen for 2014, writes Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
  • Daniel Schlereth has a shot at making the Pirates' bullpen, Tom Singer of MLB.com reports. Schlereth hasn't appeared in the majors since 2012 because of shoulder inflammation. The lefty admits that his velocity is down, but says lowering his arm slot had added movement to his fastball.
  • MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth rounded up the latest on the Mets earlier today. You can also read his review of the Cardinals' offseason here.

Quick Hits: Choo, Turner, Mets, Lambo, Santana

The seven-year, $140MM offer that the Yankees offered Shin-Soo Choo was only on the table for less than a day.  As MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince notes, New York offered Choo the contract and then pulled it back almost as quickly in order to instead sign Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $45MM deal.  "In my opinion, it takes some time to make a decision, maybe at least a couple days," Choo said. "You want to learn a city and a team. They gave me 21 hours."  The Yankees' withdrawal could've been due to Beltran simply accepting his offer first, or perhaps because Scott Boras (Choo's agent), reportedly asked the Yankees to match the $153MM the Bombers gave to Jacoby Ellsbury.  Choo didn't end up doing too badly for himself at any rate, signing a seven-year, $130MM deal with the Rangers.

Here's some news from around the baseball world...

  • CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman lists 14 players who could traded during Spring Training.  Most of these names have popped up on the pages of MLBTR over the last few weeks, though one new name is Marlins right-hander Jacob Turner.  Heyman says there's "not a great chance" Miami would deal Turner but since the Marlins have a lot of good young pitchers, "folks on other teams speculate this could be the one arm the Marlins might move in that right deal" for offensive help.
  • Ike Davis' calf injury has not only set back the Mets' first base competition, but it has also ruined any possible chance of a trade showcase for Davis during Spring Training, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes.  The Brewers, Pirates and Orioles have all been connected to Davis in trade rumors during the offseason but obviously no move will be made any time soon, as Davis is currently in a walking boot and recently had an MRI on his right calf.
  • Speaking of the Pirates' first base search, the team could end up finding its left-handed platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez already on the roster in the form of Andrew Lambo, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes.  While maturity issues and a 50-game suspension reportedly relating to marijuana use have set back Lambo's career, he is still only 25 and has posted some strong power numbers in the minors.
  • "I just don't see what we have to lose," Indians manager Terry Francona says about Carlos Santana's attempted conversion to third base.  FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal recaps the reasons behind Santana's surprising decision to try the hot corner and how it could be a boon for the Tribe if Santana could handle the position.
  • Nate Schierholtz wants to remain with the Cubs but is cognizant of the fact that could be traded, MLB.com's Carrie Muskat reports.  The veteran outfielder said he hasn't spoken to Cubs management about staying beyond his current one-year contract.  Recent rumors put Schierholtz on the trading block thanks to Ryan Kalish's progress, not to mention the fact that Kalish is playing on a minor league deal while Schierholtz is owed $5MM this season.

NL Notes: Taveras, Stutes, Flores, Cervelli

One of the keys to success for last year's Pirates ballclub was its ability both to generate ground balls and convert them into outs. It all started with a pitching staff that had far and away the highest ground-ball rate (52.5%) in the big leagues. Featuring prominently in the repertoire of several Bucs hurlers, of course, was the sinker. As Tim Williams of PiratesProspects.com found when he investigated, those sinkers come in many different varieties. He provides a fascinating breakdown of the pitch from the perspective of Pirates players and coaches (including many staff members and catcher Russell Martin). Here's more from the National League:

  • With just two weeks left in camp and top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras still working his way back, there is now little chance that he'll come north with the Cardinals for Opening Day, writes Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Of course, that was the likely outcome from the get-go, as St. Louis has a keen interest in delaying his service clock to gain another season of control and minimize the likelihood of a Super Two qualification. 
  • The Phillies outrighted righty Michael Stutes off of the club's 40-man roster to begin making room for non-roster invites, reports Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Struggling to regain velocity after a series of shoulder issues, Stutes had to clear waivers to be stashed in the minors.
  • Though it may yet be a longshot, the Mets have begun working out Wilmer Flores at short, reports Anthony DiComo of MLB.com. With continuing uncertainty as to whether Ruben Tejada can be relied on as an everyday option, DiComo says the team is "overturning every stone on their 40-man roster" to find a solution. Of course, that does not mean that Flores is a serious possibility to man the job for the coming season, but he could be a more attractive big league piece if he could spend some time at short.  
  • As I recently noted in the club's offseason review, the Diamondbacks have not conclusively addressed their backup catching situation. They are among the teams taking a hard look at Francisco Cervelli of the Yankees, reports George A. King III of the New York Post

Offseason In Review: Pittsburgh Pirates

USATSI_7736757After an inspiring playoff run in 2013, the Pirates accomplished little this winter, either on the trade market or through free agency, and instead will depend on their 2013 core to contend again in 2014.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims


Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

It's hard to address many needs with a $7MM offseason. The Pirates replaced Burnett in their rotation with Volquez, who has struggled since a strong season with the Reds all the way back in 2008. Volquez has good stuff and his recent peripherals have been better than his ERAs, however, and the Pirates have recently done well with previous reclamation projects like Francisco Liriano and Mark Melancon, so they may feel they can catch lightning in a bottle again with Volquez. The possibility that Volquez could become another Liriano likely made Volquez more attractive to the Pirates than a more reliable but lower-upside pitcher like Chris Capuano. The Pirates also re-signed Barmes, a poor hitter but a stellar defensive player, to back up Jordy Mercer at shortstop.

The Pirates also made a seemingly minor deal for Chris Stewart, a good defensive catcher with a solid pitch-framing track record. Stewart will back up Russell Martin at catcher, with the Pirates likely hoping that 2012-Yankees tandem will put their pitchers in the best possible postion to succeed. The Bucs also struck even-more-minor deals for depth pieces and semi-prospects like outfielder Jaff Decker and first baseman Chris McGuiness.

Beyond that, the Pirates will likely hope that their current core is strong enough to make another run, and that the potential midseason additions of top outfield prospect Gregory Polanco and pitcher Jameson Taillon can help augment it. Taillon (and Jeff Locke, who's currently suffering from an oblique injury and who could begin the season in the minors if both he and Wandy Rodriguez are ready by Opening Day) should provide the Pirates with other options if Volquez falters.

Questions Remaining

The Pirates have not yet found a left-handed platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez at first base. McGuiness and Travis Ishikawa probably aren't answers there. Going into the 2014 season with rookie Andrew Lambo, who hit for great power in the minors last year but had a sketchy track record before that, might not be the right move either, at least not without a better backup plan. It still wouldn't be surprising if the Pirates added another first baseman via trade, perhaps Ike Davis of the Mets or Mike Carp of the Red Sox.

Deal of Note

The Pirates signed Charlie Morton to an extension that bought out the ground-ball specialist's last year of arbitration and his first two years of free-agency eligibility. The Pirates also received a reasonable option on Morton for 2017 ($9.5MM, or a $1MM buyout). The deal creates a bridge between the Pirates' recent veteran-led rotations and a 2017 rotation that will likely feature Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, perhaps along with fellow youngsters like Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham.


The Pirates' remarkably quiet offseason following their first winning season since 1992 raises significant questions about the Bucs' willingness, or perhaps their ability, to spend. The Bucs did not extend A.J. Burnett a $14.1MM qualifying offer in the fall, even though Fangraphs pegs Burnett's 2013 value at around $20MM and a one-year deal for a pitcher of his caliber could potentially have been a boon for the Pirates. Burnett had previously said that he intended to play for the Bucs or retire, so if the Pirates took him at his word, there would have been no point in extending a qualifying offer anyway, particularly if they thought they could sign him more cheaply than the qualifying offer price. Then, however, GM Neal Huntington straightforwardly said that the Pirates were unwilling to pay market value for Burnett.

After declining to extend the qualifying offer and while waiting several months for Burnett to decide whether or not to retire, the Pirates tried a variety of other moves, most of which didn't work out. Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review describes the timeline. The Bucs tried to sign Josh Johnson to replace Burnett, but Johnson ended up heading to San Diego for one year and $8MM instead. They also tried to sign James Loney to platoon with Sanchez at first base, but Loney instead re-signed with the Rays at $7MM per year. 

The Pirates reportedly made competitive bids for both players. Sawchik suggests that if the Pirates were willing to commit around $8MM for Johnson and $7MM for Loney, plus $2MM for Barmes, their offseason budget may have been around $17MM-$19MM. Within this context, the logic for not extending the qualifying offer to Burnett becomes clear: $14.1MM for Burnett would have been too great a percentage of the Pirates' offseason budget, given that they also needed to address the first base and utility infielder positions.

"From a value you standpoint you can argue that $14 million should have been a no-brainer and we understand that," Huntington said. "But the reality is in ten to fifteen markets a qualifying offer, if accepted, becomes a large chunk of payroll and something – right or wrong -we were not comfortable in doing at that time."

The Bucs' plan of saving money on Burnett to upgrade at first base may have been a difficult one to pull off. The first-base market was thin, especially if the Pirates weren't willing to sign a big-ticket player like Jose Dariel Abreu or Mike Napoli (who are, of course, both righties, but project well enough offensively that the Pirates could have non-tendered Sanchez). The Bucs were also never seriously connected to Corey Hart, who ended up with the Mariners. When Loney re-signed with Tampa, the Pirates were left without serious first-base options to pursue. And so it looks like the Bucs' plan at first base may have amounted to Loney or a trade, which, of course, hasn't happened yet.

Homegrown players like Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Cole did, of course, play key roles in the Pirates' surprising 94-win season in 2013. But Huntington's excellent acquisitions of veteran players were also crucial. Those acquisitions began in February 2012, when Huntington acquired Burnett from the Yankees for pennies on the dollar. The following offseason, Huntington got Francisco Liriano on a bargain contract and Russell Martin on another modest deal, then acquired one of their best 2013 bullpen arms, Mark Melancon, for Joel Hanrahan

Faced with the task of building a team on a tiny budget, Huntington pulled a rabbit out of a hat. This offseason, his task was the same, only the magic trick didn't work. The plan may have depended too heavily on signing Loney, whose incentive to remain in Tampa, where he could play every day, likely was fairly strong.

After the Bucs missed on Johnson, they signed Volquez as a backup plan while they waited for Burnett to decide whether or not to retire, then reportedly increased their offer to Burnett to $12MM once it became clear that he was willing to sign elsewhere. ($12MM for Burnett plus $5MM for Volquez plus $2MM for Barmes is consistent with Sawchik's suggestion that the Bucs had about $17-19MM available to spend this offseason.) When Burnett signed with the Phillies, the Pirates were left mostly empty-handed. Signing a free agent who had declined a qualifying offer, like Kendrys Morales or Ervin Santana, to fill one of their first base or starting pitching vacancies didn't make much sense for them, either, since the Pirates surely preferred to keep the No. 24 overall pick in the draft this year.

The Pirates' future remains bright, and with a good big-league core and a very strong farm system, they likely will have more chances to augment a contending core in later seasons. They could also attempt to add in-season if the first few months of 2014 go well. The key question, though, is why Huntington only had $17-19MM to work with, despite Burnett, Barmes and Garrett Jones' contracts coming off the books.

The Pirates are finally a contending team. They've enjoyed healthy bumps in attendance in all of the last three seasons. They should have money from MLB's national TV contract coming to them. And they still chose not to spend, even on a one-year deal for Burnett that would in no way have reduced their long-term chances of contending. Burnett was one of the best pitchers in the National League last season, leading the senior circuit in K/9 and ground-ball percentage. $14.1MM for a one-year deal would have been a very reasonable price to pay.

The Pirates will likely remain one of baseball's lower-payroll teams this year, despite advantages that some other low-payroll teams like the Rays don't have, such as a beautiful stadium and a passionate fan base. If any offseason would have provided an opportunity for them to break the cycle and move into a payroll range more comparable to fellow NL Central small-market teams in Milwaukee and Cincinnati, this would have been it. But so far, they haven't taken it.

 Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Quick Hits: Red Sox, Pirates, A's

The Red Sox will pay a small MLB-mandated fine after the team fielded a lineup of minor leaguers for a game against the Marlins earlier this week, Alex Speier of WEEI.com reports, citing Major League sources. As we noted earlier tonight, the incident appears to have fostered some amount of bad blood between the two clubs. Under MLB rules, teams must feature four players who either served as regulars during the preceding season or who have a legitimate chance at doing so during the upcoming season. More Saturday night MLB links:

  • Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino, tradtionally a switch-hitter, may abandon swinging from the left side altogether after finding success in the second half last season as a predominantly right-handed batter (via Maureen Mullen of MLB.com).
  • The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Travis Sawchik examined the Pirates' strategy in recent drafts, noting the team's heavy focus on prep arms. From 2009-11, 17 of the club's first 30 selections were high school pitchers. Assistant GM Greg Smith, who headed the Pirates' drafts in those seasons, said the club aims to find pitchers in the Stephen Strasburg mold before they blossom into top draft picks.
  • Billy Beane's latest strategy for building a winner involves targeting players with flexible skillsets, Peter Gammons writes for his Gammons Daily website. Gammons notes that the Athletics' targeting of players such as outfielder Billy Burns, who has one homer in three minor league seasons, appears perplexing. However, Burns' speed, ability to switch-hit and career .420 minor league OBP make him a fit for the A's.

Quick Hits: Samardzija, Santana, Lester, Dodgers

While Jeff Samardzija has been a chief subject of trade rumors this offseason, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told Jim Bowden and Casey Stern of MLB Network Radio on SiriuxXM (via Bowden's Twitter feed) that his preference would be to sign the right-hander to a long-term extension.  Samardzija said the same during an appearance on the broadcast (audio link here), as "I've always stated this is where I wanna be...this organization stuck by me and has given me the opportunity to be a starter."  Despite the rumors, there has "obviously been a mutual interest between the two parties, for sure...[which] kinda makes everything else just talking, which is what you want it to be."

Here's some more news from around the game...

  • Johan Santana never considered retirement in the wake of his latest shoulder surgery, as the veteran southpaw told reporters (including MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli) that he didn't want to let his health dictate the end of his career.  "I don't want to go out in the game like that. I want to go out of the game on my own terms, knowing this is going to be my last game, knowing this is going to be my last year," Santana said.  The two-time Cy Young Award winner said he has "nothing to lose, [and] a lot to gain" from his incentive-heavy minor league deal with the Orioles.
  • Jon Lester's cancer diagnosis in 2006 played a big part in his acceptance of his original multiyear deal with the Red Sox, WEEI.com's Rob Bradford reports.  That contract will expire this offseason, and while Lester has no new news on the status of extension talks, he is hopeful a new deal will be settled soon.
  • The Dodgers' surplus of pitching could force the team to make a tough cut in the form of right-hander Seth Rosin, ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon writes.  Rosin has pitched well thus far in Spring Training but L.A. might not have space for him on the roster, a situation that Saxon says could backfire like the team's cut of Kevin Gregg last spring.  Rosin was selected off the Phillies' roster by the Mets in last December's Rule 5 draft and was then traded to the Dodgers, who now must keep Rosin on their Major League roster all season or else offer him back to Philadelphia for $25K.
  • In a subscription-only piece for Baseball America, Matt Eddy and J.J. Cooper look at some of the offseason's key minor league free agent signings and some of the overall trends of this winter's minor league deals.
  • Jim Leyland is happy in his position as special assistant to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski and has no interest in returning to the Pirates organization, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.  “I really don't want to come back to the organization,” Leyland said. “Not because I don't love it, but (because) they've set their tempo now and they have their own people in place. They don't need somebody like me hanging around and, really, I don't need to do that....I'll retire a Tiger.”

Out Of Options Players: NL Central

The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options.  That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so the team would be at risk of losing them in attempting to do so.  I've included players on multiyear deals.  This list was compiled through MLBTR's sources.  Today, we'll take a look at the NL Central.

Brewers: Juan FranciscoJeff Bianchi

Francisco is competing with Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay for the Brewers' first base job.  It's hard to imagine a scenario where all three make the team, wrote Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week.  Reynolds and Overbay signed minor league deals, but it seems likely at least one of them will make the team.  When Reynolds signed in January, it was said the Brewers told him he'll almost certainly make the team, so Overbay might have to beat out Francisco, who has the advantage of already being on the 40-man roster.

Back in February, Curt Hogg of Disciples of Uecker dissected the Brewers' reserve infielder situation, explaining that while they may need to carry seven infielders, Bianchi still seems needed as the only one capable of backing up Jean Segura at shortstop.

Cardinals: None

CubsGeorge KottarasWesley WrightJustin RuggianoJames McDonaldPedro StropWelington CastilloJeff SamardzijaLuis ValbuenaTravis WoodDonnie MurphyAlberto Cabrera

McDonald is competing with Chris Rusin for the Cubs' fifth starter job, at least until Jake Arrieta's shoulder is deemed ready.  Meanwhile, Cabrera is battling for the final bullpen spot with about a half-dozen others.

PiratesChris StewartJeanmar GomezMark MelanconTravis SniderJose TabataBryan MorrisAndy OliverStolmy PimentelPedro AlvarezVin Mazzaro

The Bucs' seven primary relievers last year were Jason Grilli, Melancon, Justin WilsonTony Watson, Gomez, Mazzaro, and Morris, and indeed, that was their bullpen for the NLDS.  It would be difficult for Oliver to break into that group, but surely the Pirates don't want to lose the hard-throwing Pimentel.  Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects thinks they'll find a place for him.  Some kind of trade makes sense to clear the logjam, barring injury.

RedsAlfredo Simon

Simon is in good standing as a member of the Reds' pen.

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