Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors
2:31pm: MLBTR's Tim Dierkes (via Twitter) hears that Johnson's finalists are all NL teams, some likely on the west coast.
1:45pm: Josh Johnson has narrowed his decision down to three or four teams, agent Matt Sosnick tells Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the Pirates are among the finalists. A deal could be done "in the short-term," Sawchik adds, reminding that Johnson is seeking to rebuild his value on a one-year deal (Twitter links). Last night, Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Johnson reached out to the Padres and Giants early in the offseason to inform the teams that they were his first choice.
Johnson, 30 in January, posted a bloated 6.20 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 81 1/3 innings. Sabermetric stats such as xFIP (3.58) and SIERA (3.73) feel that Johnson was victim to some bad luck, and his .356 BABIP and 18.5 percent homer-to-flyball ratio would back that line of thinking up.
Of course, the bigger issue with Johnson is his health. Johnson pitched through tendonitis in his knee all season and also hit the disabled list due to a forearm strain and triceps inflamation this season before undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow in early October. Johnson is one of the game's most talented arms but has only topped 200 innings in a season once, and in fact has only thrown more than 100 innings four times in a Major League season.
The Pirates are a logical suitor for his services as they've recently enjoyed success in buying low on talented pitchers coming off down seasons. Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Mark Melancon have all enjoyed tremendous success in a black and gold jersey. Johnson didn't receive a qualifying offer and therefore won't require his new team to surrender a draft pick.
MLB.com's Bill Ladson runs down some potential replacements for departed Nationals third base coach Trent Jewett. Two of the names (Sam Perlozzo and Mike Quade) have both served as big league managers in the past. Here's more on the various coaching vacancies from around the league...
- The Padres have promoted Dave Roberts to bench coach and Jose Valentin will take over as the club's new first base coach, MLB.com's Corey Brock reports. Roberts had served as San Diego's first base coach for the past three seasons and has been with the organization since 2010. Valentin managed the Padres' Class A affiliate in Fort Wayne for the past two seasons.
- Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times confirms multiple reports out of Venezuela that the Tigers have hired Omar Vizquel as their first base coach (Twitter link). Vizquel, 46, spent 2013 as a roving infield instructor with the Angels and last played in the bigs with Toronto in 2012. The owner of 11 Gold Gloves, Vizquel is widely regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops of all time. It's tough to imagine the Tigers finding a better mentor for Rookie of the Year runner-up Jose Iglesias.
- The Pirates announced that they have promoted Jeff Branson to hitting coach and added Jim Livesey the the Major League coaching staff. Branson, 46, has spent 12 seasons in the Pirates organization, serving five years as a minor league hitting coach and five as a minor league manager. In 2013, he worked with hitting coach Jay Bell on the Major League staff and assisted in the implementation of the team's hitting program. Livesey, 47, has 11 total years of experience in the Pirates' system. He took a five-year hiatus to coach in Japan in the middle of that stretch but has been the team's minor league hitting coordinator for the past three seasons.
Pour a tall cup of coffee and open up a Baseball Reference tab. It's time for this Saturday morning's minor moves, via the Pacific Coast League and International League transaction pages (except where otherwise noted) ...
- The White Sox have signed lefty David Purcey to a minor league deal. The 31-year-old had rejected an outright assignment from the Sox in late October to become a free agent. Purcey made 24 apperances for the Sox's major league club in 2013, posting a 2.13 ERA but walking 6 batters per nine innings.
- The Dodgers signed first baseman/outfielder Jamie Romak to a minor league deal, according to MLBTR's Tim Dierkes (on Twitter). Romak's deal includes a July 1st opt out. The 28-year-old posted a .242/.322/.461 slash line with 22 homers in 134 games for the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate last season.
- Right-handed reliever Mark Lowe, 30, has signed with the Rays, reports ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). Lowe was battered in just eleven appearances with the Angels last year, but posted a 3.60 ERA across 2009-12 and has continued to notch high strikeout totals while being stashed in the upper minors.
- The Cardinals signed third baseman Scott Moore, a thirty-year-old who has thrived at Triple-A but has yet to have a real shot in the bigs. Last year, over 485 plate appearances in the Oakland and San Diego organizations, he hit .271/.353/.448 with fourteen long balls. In his most extended MLB action, a 2012 stint with the Astros, Moore hit a more-than-respectable .259/.330/.448 with nine home runs in 228 plate appearances.
- Right-hander Jim Miller is back with the Yankees on a minor league pact after making just one MLB appearance last year, an ill-fated inning-and-a-third that resulted in three earned runs. The 31-year-old had been a solid member of the A's pen just one year prior, however, as he registered a 2.59 ERA in 48 2/3 innings for Oakland. Miller did flash a 13.1 K/9 rate during his 63 1/3 Triple-A innings last year, a somewhat intriguing mark given his manageable walk rates. Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com had the news first on Twitter.
- Lefty reliever Will Startup will stay with the Tigers after he notched a 3.41 ERA in 58 Double-A innings last year. Startup reached Triple-A as a 21-year-old back in 2006, but before joining Detroit had landed with the Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012.
- The Giants have inked two righties to minor league deals, bringing aboard Jason Berken and Daryl Maday. Berken, 29, has thrown in 110 MLB games, including 28 as a starter, and recorded a 5.36 ERA over 248 2/3 innings. He spent last year at the White Sox' Triple-A affiliate, where he managed a 3.80 ERA in 161 innings -- all as a starter -- and posted 6.5 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9. Meanwhile, at 28 years of age Maday has yet to see San Francisco, but will continue to keep the dream alive in the Giants system. He has bounced between Double-A and Triple-A since 2008, and now serves primarily as a reliever. Last year, Maday notched a cumulative 4.17 ERA in 49 2/3 innings, with 7.1 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9.
- The Pirates signed first baseman Miles Durham and catcher Francisco Diaz to minor league deals. At age thirty, Durham has spent his entire career in the Pittsburgh organization, other than a brief Independent League stint, and apparently served as a player-coach last season. Dia, 23, has all the markings of a light-hitting backstop (two career home runs in 1,115 plate appearances), though he has reached base at a productive clip in the low minors.
- Longtime Yankees farmhand Walter Ibarra has agreed to play short in the Cubs organization on a minor league pact. The 26-year-old reached Triple-A for the first time last year. Known for his defense, Ibarra failed to himpress with a cumulative .276/.308/.367 slash across 212 Double-A and Triple-A plate appearances in 2013.
- And the Nationals have reached agreement with a player by the name of Josh Johnson -- not the starting pitcher, but the middle infielder and third baseman who has been in the Nats' system since 2010. Last year, playing at both of the two highest minor league levels, the 27-year-old Johnson put up an impressive .293/.390/.458 line in 300 trips to the plate. He was especially impressive in his short time at Syracuse, where he had a .924 OPS and was a perfect six-for-six in stolen bases in just 111 plate appearances. Washington also added catcher Sean McCauley to the fold on a minor league pact. The 24-year-old was brought back to professional baseball by the Nats last year in a coaching capacity after losing his career to injury.
- The Rangers have signed righty Zach Russell away from the Cards' system. The 24-year-old reliever topped out with a brief Double-A stint last year, but struggled there.
Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera and Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen were respectively announced as the American League and National League Most Valuable Players, according to the Baseball Writers Association of America.
This is the second consecutive year that Cabrera has captured the MVP trophy, making it three years in a row that a Detroit player has won the award after Justin Verlander's MVP year in 2011. While Cabrera's 2013 season lacked the history of his 2012 Triple Crown campaign, he achieved another unique treble by leading the league in every slash line category (.348/.442/.636) and also hitting 44 homers and 137 RBI.
Cabrera captured 23 of 30 first-place votes from the writers and finished second on the other seven ballots. Angels outfielder Mike Trout was Cabrera's runner-up for the second straight year, claiming five first-place votes and 19 second-place votes. Orioles first baseman Chris Davis and Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson each received one first place vote and finished third and fourth overall on the ballot, with Yankees second baseman (and free agent) Robinson Cano finishing fifth.
McCutchen's race to the MVP Award wasn't nearly as close, as he captured a whopping 28 of 30 first-place votes. McCutchen was an all-around threat, hitting .317/.404/.508 with 21 homers, stealing 27 bases, scoring 97 runs and providing a strong (+8.4 UZR.150) glove in center field -- he generated 8.2 WAR according to both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. He becomes the first Pirate to win the MVP since Barry Bonds in 1992.
Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt finished second in the balloting despite not receiving any first-place votes. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina received those other two firsts and finished in third place, followed by teammate Matt Carpenter in fourth and Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman in fifth place.
Clint Hurdle of the Pirates and Terry Francona of the Indians have won the Manager of the Year awards in their respective leagues, MLB.com announced Tuesday night. The other finalists in the National League were the Braves' Fredi Gonzalez and the Dodgers' Don Mattingly. In the American League, the other finalists were John Farrell of the Red Sox and Bob Melvin of the Athletics.
Hurdle led the Pirates to a 94-win season, making 2013 their first winning season and first playoff berth since 1992. The team exceeded expectations in 2013 thanks to strong pitching and an aggressive approach to defensive shifts. Hurdle received 25 of 30 possible first-place votes. Francona, who led a revived Indians team to 92 wins, received 16 of 30 possible first-place votes. He narrowly beat out Farrell, who had 12 first-place votes.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington has had a lot of ups-and-downs over the course of his tenure in Pittsburgh, but his confidence never wavered, writes Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “If (Bob Nutting) made a different decision a year ago, I would have walked out the door believing this organization was much better off than when we walked in the door, and believing that they were a few good decisions away from being a playoff-caliber team,” Huntington said. “(I'm) very grateful, very thankful, that we had the opportunity to see the 2013 season to its fruition. My hope is that all it has done is reinforce that commitment and that bond, because we've got a lot of talented people doing a lot of good things.” Here's more out of the AL and NL Central..
- A.J. Burnett may prove to be too pricey for the Pirates, but Tom Singer of MLB.com suggests a creative solution to help facilitate a reunion. The veteran pitcher wants to spend as much time with his family as possible, so Singer wonders if Burnett might be willing to take a page out of Roger Clemens' book and sign with the club in the summer. That would allow the Bucs to only pay him a prorated portion of the eight-figure deal the pitcher likely seeks.
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told Jim Bowden of SiriusXM (via Twitter) that he'd like to trade a young starting pitcher for a "young controllable shortstop." The Cards have been heavily rumored to be seeking a shortstop to give them an upgrade over Pete Kozma.
- Jim Margalus of South Side Sox wonders why Paul Konerko's future with the White Sox hasn't been resolved yet. The slugger struggled through injuries in 2013 and Margalus gets the sense that beat writers are more keen on seeing him return to Chicago than fans.
In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe offers up a primer for this week's GM Meetings. Cafardo's first rule for the meetings is to never believe a GM when he says that a player will not be traded. New Marlins GM Dan Jennings has said that Giancarlo Stanton won't be moved, but everyone has a price. Cafardo also cautions not to buy into the notion that the Tigers won't find a way to enhance the team and also keep Max Scherzer after next season. Here's more from today's column..
- If the Red Sox don’t re-sign Mike Napoli, the 27-year-old Mark Trumbo will be on their list of players to pursue. Trumbo, who would come at half Napoli’s price, is under club control until after the 2016 season and boasts tremendous right-handed power. The Angels could use a third baseman and a pitcher and Cafardo wonders if Will Middlebrooks and Felix Doubront might suit them. The Pirates and Rays could also be fits for the Halos slugger.
- One or both of Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp could be dealt this offseason thanks to the Dodgers' surplus. The Mets, Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, and Blue Jays are among the clubs that could have interest.
- The Phillies are among the clubs that have shown interest in Bronson Arroyo, but no offer has been made just yet. The Giants and Twins have also been reported to have interest in the durable veteran, but none of the interested teams have put an offer on the table just yet.
- While the Blue Jays have other priorities, they’ll also dip into the outfield market if they feel Melky Cabrera can’t give them what they expected. Cabrera recently had a spinal tumor that was causing him leg pain removed.
- Despite having a glut of pitchers, the Red Sox are still high on Tim Hudson. To make room for the 38-year-old, the Red Sox could move Jake Peavy or Ryan Dempster if they have to. However, teams seem more interested in John Lackey since he'll earn the minimum salary in 2015. A clause in Lackey's contract called for him to get the minimum in '15 if he underwent Tommy.John surgery.
- The Red Sox probably won't offer more than a couple of years to retain Stephen Drew with his market rapidly expanding. The Yankees could be a fit with Derek Jeter being in the final year of his contract and likely to see more DH time.
- A few GMs are already lamenting the cost of free agent pitching with possible $80MM-$100MM price tags on the likes of Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco. That's why the Yankees' pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka, a potential No. 2 starter, makes more sense than paying big bucks for a No. 3 or 4 type.
- The Blue Jays picked up Adam Lind's option, but don't be surprised if Toronto tries to move him.
In an interview last night, Pirates GM Neal Huntington told David Todd of 970 ESPN (audio link) that the club did not make A.J. Burnett a qualifying offer because it could not afford the $14.1MM hit to its 2014 budget. (Hat tip to Bucs Dugout, where MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth discussed the impact of Huntington's words from the Pirates' perspective.)
Though the Bucs will increase payroll, said Huntington, a qualifying offer-level salary occupies a "significant chunk of your payroll" for low-budget clubs. Comparing the Pirates to teams like the Rays and A's, he explained that building a winner in a small market is more complicated than just getting players at reasonably sub-market rates:
"It's not where we value A.J. Burnett, it's how do we build a championship team in the big picture. And as we look to fill some of the other gaps that we have, or we look to upgrade some of the other spots we feel we'd like to upgrade and should upgrade if possible, we felt that $14MM in one player was a bit steep for us."
Huntington sounded less than sanguine about the odds of a return, saying only that Pittsburgh is "still kind of trying to keep that door open" while declining to answer whether discussions were active. After earning every bit of his $16.5MM salary last year, Burnett would apparently need to accept a significant salary cut to don gold and black again in 2014. (After correctly forecasting that the Bucs would not extend a QO, MLBTR's Steve Adams predicted that Burnett would ultimately take a salary cut to $12MM on a one-year deal.)
On the other hand, there are certainly strategic explanations for these comments. Burnett may have burned some leverage by saying he'd either come back to Pittsburgh or retire, perhaps leaving more room for the Buccos to try and bust down the rate. As Huntington discussed in the interview, his club's narrow margin for error makes every dollar count, and any savings on the Burnett deal could make a big difference in the club's other offseason plans.
Huntington went on to criticize the QO system, noting that the Yankees and Red Sox made six of the thirteen offers. The system "didn't really do what it was intended to do," said Huntington, offering his opinion that the Indians and Royals probably hope that their offerees -- Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana -- decline.
On the issue of national TV money, Huntington noted that, contrary to the oft-repeated line, "it's not $25MM to every team." That is an average, he said: the team does not yet have its precise distribution, and the Commissioner could hold back some dollars for league-wide initiatives.
Either way, according to Huntington, small market teams won't get any relative advantage from the new money. Todd suggested that the high payroll clubs would begin to have luxury tax issues if they spent up their new cash, resulting in a net benefit to small-market clubs. But Huntington said the luxury tax "hasn't been that big of a drag on those [teams] that have gone over it," at least when they can avoid too many years in a row above the line.
The Nationals are looking to add an "elite" starting pitcher via trade, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, and they're in luck, as both Max Scherzer and David Price have been rumored to be available this winter. Rosenthal explains his reasons behind believing that Scherzer could be a better fit, highlighted by the fact that Nats GM Mike Rizzo drafte Scherzer in the first round when he was the Diamondbacks' scouting director. Rosenthal's sources maintain that the Tigers aren't shopping Scherzer at this point but rather just listening to offers. Here's more from a jam-packed column from Rosenthal...
- The Phillies have kicked around the idea of trading for Price, but it's unlikely to happen. The Phils would likely have to include top prospect Jesse Biddle in a potential package and perhaps Domonic Brown as well. Also, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recognizes that his club has multiple needs and that he will need to make multiple additions rather than going "all-in" on one big splash like Price or free agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
- While many will argue that Tim Lincecum's deal doesn't impact the free agent markte for starting pitchers because it was the Giants paying to keep one of their own, Rosenthal points out that other starters and their agents will argue the direct opposite -- "that the Lincecum contract was merely the outgrowth of supply-and-demand economics." In particular, he feels that it hurts the Pirates in their quest to retain A.J. Burnett. Rosenthal wonders how the Bucs can possibly retain Burnett after Lincecum got $17.5MM per year when they didn't even want to offer Burnett a $14.1MM qualifying offer.
- The Rangers are once again pondering their infield logjam and whether or not to trade one of Elvis Andrus or Ian Kinsler. Kinsler could also be moved to first, though it may be less appealing that moving Kinsler and his salary ($57MM through 2017). Kinsler's contract makes him the easier of the two to trade. Figuring out the middle infield and securing some salary relief could be the key to the Rangers' offseason, he adds.
- The Mariners consider right-handed pop their biggest need, and Rosenthal wonders if they'll take a second run at Mike Napoli, who they tried to land last offseason.
Matt Swartz has developed a very accurate model that MLBTR uses to project arbitration salaries, as explained in this series of posts. We've heard from many MLB teams and agencies that reference the projections in their work. The Pirates are next in our series. Estimated service time is in parentheses, and estimated 2014 salary follows.
- Garrett Jones (4.158): $5.3MM
- Neil Walker (3.166): $4.8MM
- Pedro Alvarez (3.085): $4MM. Alvarez may void $700K club option and go to arbitration.
- Charlie Morton (5.010): $3.9MM
- Mark Melancon (3.098): $3MM
- Gaby Sanchez (4.025): $2.3MM
- Travis Snider (3.091): $1.4MM
- Michael McKenry (2.136, Super Two): $900K
- Vin Mazzaro (3.021): $800K
Though Jones faced lefties in only about five percent of his plate appearances, the left-handed hitter still compiled a dismal .233/.289/.419 line on the season. He's topped 20 home runs in three of his five years with the Bucs, and can still be a useful platoon bat. However, with arbitration likely to push Jones' salary past $5MM for 2014, I think he'll be non-tendered.
Infielders Walker, Alvarez, and Sanchez should be in good standing for 2014. Walker's production remained consistent. Despite extension talks in the past, the Pirates have yet to extend the Pittsburgh native. Howie Kendrick's four-year, $33.5MM deal could serve as a model, though Walker would probably have to top $40MM to account for being a Super Two. Alvarez made the All-Star team and hit 36 home runs with 100 RBI this year, though he also led the NL in strikeouts and posted a .296 OBP. I'd be cautious in considering an extension, but it's probably a moot point with the Boras Corporation representing Alvarez. Sanchez did what was asked of him, hitting lefties extremely well while facing them almost 40% of the time. He'll probably be retained.
Snider and McKenry are on thinner ice. Snider, a former first-round pick in '06, had a chance at running away with the Pirates' right field job but failed to produce and battled injuries. There's a decent chance he's non-tendered, especially since he's out of options. McKenry surprised with a dozen home runs in part-time duty last year behind the plate, but a knee injury that eventually required surgery ended his 2013 season in July. Even if Tony Sanchez gets the backup nod next year, McKenry seems cheap enough to retain in Triple-A for depth.
Morton had Tommy John surgery in June 2012 and made his 2013 season debut a year later. The 29-year-old groundball pitcher put together a strong 116 innings, posting a 3.26 ERA. Now he's entering his contract year, so the Pirates must decide whether to try to extend him. The Bucs might want something like two years and $12MM or three years and $20MM, plus a club option in either case, since Morton has yet to reach 175 innings in a season. If Morton plays out his contract year and approximates his 2013 success over a full season, the price will rise quite a bit and he can avoid option years.
Melancon had a breakout year in the Pirates' bullpen, making the All-Star team and posting a 1.39 ERA in 71 innings. He racked up 16 saves when closer Jason Grilli went down, plus 26 holds as Grilli's setup man. As good as he was in 2013, I don't think there's a need for the Pirates to pursue an extension unless it's very team-friendly. Mazzaro rode a 52.2% groundball rate to a strong relief season, and should also have a spot in next year's pen.
Assuming the Pirates tender contracts to Walker, Alvarez, Morton, Melancon, Sanchez, McKenry, and Mazzaro, they're looking at an estimated $19.7MM for seven arbitration eligible players.