Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

Quick Hits: Bailey, Burnett, Twins, Samardzija

Even though most of Alex Rodriguez's 2014 salary will be wiped out by his season-long PED suspension, the controversial slugger's contract is still ranked as the worst in baseball by Grantland's Jonah Keri.  Of Keri's list of the 15 worst contracts in the sport, the Dodgers have four, the Yankees, Angels and Braves each have two and the Reds, Rangers, Phillies, Blue Jays and White Sox have one each.

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

  • The Reds and Homer Bailey are "still talking" about a multiyear contract, GM Walt Jocketty tells MLB.com's Mark Sheldon.  "There has not been a lot of progress, but good conversations anyhow," Jocketty said.  Bailey's arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 20 and there is a $2.9MM gap ($11.6MM to $8.7MM) between his demands and the Reds' offer for a 2014 contract.  This is Bailey's last season under contract with Cincinnati and the two sides are reportedly far apart on a long-term deal.  Sheldon suggests that the Reds will be watching the Indians' case with Justin Masterson, as he and Bailey have posted comparable numbers over the last three years and Masterson is also scheduled to be a free agent next offseason.
  • The Pirates offered A.J. Burnett a $12MM contract for 2014, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link).  This obviously fell short of the $16MM Burnett received from the Phillies earlier today.
  • The Twins aren't one of the teams interested in Emilio Bonifacio, 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson reports (via Twitter).  Bonifacio cleared release waivers and became a free agent earlier today.  The Orioles are known to be one of at least nine teams interested in the speedy utilityman.
  • Also from Wolfson, a Twins official said that the club "had extensive talks" about Erisbel Arruebarruena but he was judged to be too expensive.  The Cuban shortstop agreed to a deal with the Dodgers today that could be worth as much as $25MM.
  • The Cubs can afford to be patient in trading Jeff Samardzija, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan argues, as teams may be more willing to meet Chicago's large asking price once the free agent pitching market thins out and teams get more desperate once the season begins.
  • Right-hander Josh Roenicke is drawing interest from a "handful of teams" and could be signed soon, a source tells MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo (Twitter link).  Roenicke posted a 4.35 ERA, 6.5 K/9 and 1.25 K/BB rate in 62 relief innings with the Twins in 2013 before being outrighted off Minnesota's roster in November.
  • Also from Cotillo, right-hander Blake Hawksworth has retired.  Hawksworth posted a 4.07 ERA and 1.85 K/BB over 124 games (eight as a starter) with the Cardinals and Dodgers from 2009-11 before elbow and shoulder injuries derailed his career.  Hawksworth has taken a job with the Boras Corporation, his former agency.
  • Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill discussed the club's recent signing of Carlos Marmol with Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
  • Luis Ayala chose to sign a minor league deal with the Nationals since they (as the Expos) were the franchise that originally signed him and he still has many friends in the organization, the veteran reliever tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.  Several teams were linked to Ayala this offseason but the bidding came down to the Nats, Tigers and Phillies.

Reactions To A.J. Burnett Signing

Today's signing of free agent starter A.J. Burnett by the Phillies (one year, $16MM, plus a mutual option) brings to an end a brief-but-interesting period of a fascinating free agent signing class. Long expected either to re-sign with the Pirates or instead retire, the 37-year-old threw a wrench into an already-straggling pitching market when it was revealed that he would not only return for another year, but would be open to alternative destinations. Having re-established himself as a top-end arm, but being available on a short-term deal, Burnett further downgraded the market outlook for draft-compensation-bound starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. But by signing with the Phils, who had not figured to be in play for Jimenez or Santana, Burnett leaves the market much as he found it -- albeit further slowed, perhaps. (Indeed, with Matt Garza going to another relatively unexpected landing spot with the Brewers, those hurlers may now be in a better position, timing notwithstanding.) Ultimately, the Phillies proved to be every bit the wild card I suggested they might be at the outset of the off-season, but in some respects functioned to restore the rest of the market to expectations.

  • Of course, that is not to say that Burnett's signing is of little moment. To the contrary, it has important implications -- in particular, for both of MLB's Pennsylvania-based franchises. As Ben Lindbegh of Baseball Prospectus writes, the Pirates may have learned a difficult lesson by failing to made Burnett a qualifying offer. Rejecting the hypotheses that the club did not want to sign him or was genuinely unable to do so financially, Lindbergh opines that the Pittsburgh likely mistakenly felt it would be readily able to get him back for less than the $14.1MM QO.
  • Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington weighed in again on the qualifying offer decision, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports (Twitter links). Huntington acknowledged that such an offer arguably made quite a bit of sense from a "value standpoint." But, he explained, "the reality is in 10-15 markets a qualifying offer, if accepted, becomes a large chunk of payroll." As Huntington has stated previously, the team did not feel that it could take a $14.1MM payroll hit for Burnett.
  • According to Huntington (links to Twitter, via Sawchik), Burnett "informed us it was family-based. The player made a decision to be closer to home." Declining to disclose whether the club made a competitive offer -- he said that question was better posed to Burnett and his agent -- Huntington said that "A.J. would have had the biggest single impact of any single move we made this off-season."
  • From the Phillies' perspective, the deal runs the club's payroll up to approximately $189MM, a new club record, says Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Twitter). Though the final tally is somewhat unclear, that means that Philadelphia could well approach or exceed MLB's $189MM luxury cap. As WEEI.com's Alex Speier has explained, the impact of going over that mark comes not just in the tax owed on overages, but in sacrificing the ability to participate in revenue-sharing refunds. Even if the Phils remain under the $189MM level on Opening Day, moreover, the cap could play a role in how the club weighs mid-season moves.
  • Burnett's substantial salary would hinder his trade value if the Phillies end up looking to move him, tweets ESPN.com's Buster Olney. The newly-reported inclusion of a limited no-trade clause, likewise, represents a barrier to such a possibility and could substantially limit Burnett's market. 
  • Several commentators have weighed in positively on the deal on the Phillies' end. CSNPhilly.com's Corey Seidman, for instance, argues that the signing makes better sense of the club's earlier moves to sign veterans like Carlos Ruiz, Marlon Byrd, and Roberto Hernandez in a bid to make a playoff push. As Seidman notes, most of those deals have the added benefit of not adding long-term money to the books. MLB.com's Richard Justice offers that Burnett joins a cast of veterans who still have plenty of talent, and could help push the team into contention.
  • On the flip side, the deal could be seen as throwing good money after bad given the club's aging roster. In the view of ESPN.com's Keith Law (Insider link), Burnett looks to represent solid value at a one-year commitment of $16MM. But, he says, Philadelphia was the wrong team to take on that big salary. Even assuming that Cole Hamels is mostly healthy -- he is reportedly dealing with shoulder and biceps discomfort and will likely not quite be ready for Opening Day -- Law argues that the club still looks like a .500 outfit. And the Phillies cannot take full advantage of Burnett's ability to induce grounders, says Law, because they field a below-average defensive infield and do not employ an analytics-based infield alignment strategy like that utilized by the Pirates.

Pirates Notes: Offseason, Morales, First Base

Pirates GM Neal Huntington says that one reason for the Bucs' relatively quiet offseason is that they didn't want to make moves that would hurt them beyond 2014, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. "We'll see if those situations come back available," says Huntington. "If not, we feel good about this club, we feel good about our core. We've got some guys that are deserving of opportunities and if they can't capitalize on those, then we begin to look elsewhere." After an extremely successful 2013 season, the Pirates' only significant moves this offseason have been signing free agent starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and trading for former Yankees catcher Chris Stewart. A.J. Burnett, one of their top starting pitchers in 2013, remains on the free agent market. Here are more notes on the Pirates.

  • Earlier today, one report suggested that, if the price were low enough, the Pirates would have interest in free agent Kendrys Morales to help them at first base. MLB.com's Tom Singer lists the pros and cons of signing Morales -- Morales would help the Pirates at designated hitter in interleague series, Singer says, but his limited ability to play first base regularly is a detriment. Also, of course, there's the fact that Morales would cost the Pirates the No. 25 overall pick in the draft this June.
  • The Pirates' current options at first base include Gaby Sanchez (who will almost certainly make the team as a strong option against lefties), Andrew Lambo and Chris McGuiness. But the Bucs will continue to search for a first baseman to start against right-handers, Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review writes. They might not acquire him until the end of spring training, when teams might be more motivated to make trades as they try to set their rosters.

Minor Moves: Cole Kimball, Omir Santos

We'll round up some minor moves from the day here:

  • The Yankees have signed righty Cole Kimball to a minor league deal, reports Matt Eddy of Baseball America. Kimball, 28, had spent his entire career with the Nationals organization, making a brief big league debut in 2011 with a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings (though he both struck out and walked 7.1 batters per nine). Since then, however, Kimball has struggled with shoulder issues. In 2012, he threw just 5 2/3 minor league innings. Last year, splitting time between Rookie ball and Triple-A, Kimball posted a 7.31 ERA in 28 1/3 innings with 8.9 K/9 against 4.8 BB/9.
  • Catcher Omir Santos has inked a minor league pact with the Pirates, the club announced today. The 32-year-old got just one plate appearance last year with the Indians, and has only one season of substantial MLB time under his belt. In 2009 with the Mets, Santos hit .260/.296/.391 in 306 plate appearances. In 222 plate appearances at the Triple-A level last year, he slashed .248/.285/.354.
  • The MLBTR DFA Tracker features four situations awaiting resolution, led by Emilio Bonifacio of the Royals, who is set to be claimed, traded, released, or outrighted by the end of the weekend. He is joined in DFA limbo by Brett Wallace (Astros), Donovan Hand (Brewers), and Jimmy Paredes (Marlins).

Minor Moves: Santos, Heath, Teaford

Here are today's minor moves and outright assignments from around the league...

  • Catcher Omir Santos has signed a minor league deal (that contains an invite to Major League Spring Training) with the Pirates, the team announced via press release. The 32-year-old spent the 2013 campaign with the Indians organization, batting .248/.285/.354 with three homers in 222 plate appearances at Triple-A Columbus. Santos, who went hitless in one at-bat with the Indians' Major League club last year, is a career .248/.280/.363 hitter in 349 big league PAs.
  • The White Sox announced that they've outrighted right-hander Deunte Heath to Triple-A in order to clear a 40-man roster spot for Mitchell Boggs, whose deal is now official. Heath, 28, has yielded 11 runs in 9 2/3 big league innings but owns a career 3.70 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 in 233 1/3 Triple-A innings.
  • The Royals announced that left-hander Everett Teaford has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Omaha. The 29-year-old southpaw was designated for assignment when the team acquired outfielder Carlos Peguero from the Mariners in late January. Teaford has a career 4.25 ERA with 5.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 43.8 percent ground-ball rate in 106 big league innings to go along with a solid track record at the Triple-A level.
  • With Teaford's outright, there are only two players that are currently in DFA limbo: Brett Wallace of the Astros and Emilio Bonifacio of the Royals.

NL Central Notes: Votto, Singh, Cards, Cubs, Yoon

Joey Votto is well known not only for his massive, ten-year contract, but also for being one of the game's most dedicated and thoughtful hitters. He is also known as a reserved presence, making his lengthy interview with Lance McAlister of Cincinnati's 700 WLW well worth a listen (hat tip to the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay.) Among other things, Votto dismissed the concept of lineup protection, but says that he did see noticeably better pitches when speedster Billy Hamilton got on base in front of him last year. His favorite stat? wRC+. Touching on roster construction and player evaluation, Votto said that he values all aspects of the game, and finds it is telling that both of last year's World Series contestants featured well-rounded rosters of well-rounded players. Here's more from the NL Central:

  • After missing all of 2013 due to arm injuries, Pirates prospect Rinku Singh tells MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom that he is working on his arm strength and still plans to reach the Major Leagues.  Singh, 25, famously won a pitching reality show in India in 2008 and subsequently signed a minor league deal with the Bucs.  The story of Singh (and Dinesh Patel, the reality show runner-up) will be told in the upcoming film Million Dollar Arm.
  • The Cardinals lost a number of notable relief arms and could be lacking some depth, Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes.  Gordon lists several minor leaguers who could emerge in Spring Training and be in the bullpen on Opening Day.
  • The Cubs are unlikely to participate in a "bidding war" for Korean hurler Suk-min Yoon, reports Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Though Chicago saw Yoon pitch along with multiple other teams, it sounds as if the club's interest is heavily conditioned on price. 
  • The Brewers are "kicking tires" on several free agent relievers, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Twitter links). Milwaukee is waiting for the asking prices to come down. Two names that Haudricourt wouldn't be surprised to see added are ex-Brewer Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Marmol, who is a good friend of Aramis Ramirez.

MLBTR's Mark Polishuk also contributed to this post

Cafardo's Latest: Arroyo, Cruz, Burnett, Middlebrooks

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe shares a few hot stove items in his latest Sunday column...

  • Bronson Arroyo has been looking for a three-year deal or at least a vesting option for a third year, which could be holding up his market.  If Arroyo was willing to settle for a flat two-year contract, Cafardo opines, he could find a deal, possibly with the Diamondbacks; Cafardo reported earlier this week that Arizona was "beginning to kick the tires" on the veteran right-hander.  Arroyo recently said that he has yet to receive a concrete offer from any team, despite a lot of interest from around the league.
  • The Dodgers are another team who "are very interested" in Arroyo but don't want to give him a guaranteed third year.
  • Nelson Cruz's market is beginning to heat up, and “there could be up to four or five teams who could take the plunge in the end," a Major League source tells Cafardo.  This interest could manifest itself into a multiyear deal for Cruz, though Cafardo notes that the slugger could still have to settle for a one-year contract.  We've recently seen the Mariners, Orioles, Rangers and Twins linked to Cruz in rumors, though Texas and Minnesota only seem interested at a greatly reduced price.
  • Cafardo thinks the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes is down to the Pirates, Phillies and Orioles, though he wouldn't be surprised if the Yankees were also exploring a reunion with the veteran right-hander.  The Rays and Blue Jays have also been connected to Burnett, though it seems more likely that Burnett will choose a team located closer to his home in Maryland.
  • The Marlins have "asked a lot" about Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks but there doesn't seem to be a trade fit.  Miami is one of several teams who have asked Boston about Middlebrooks' availability, but the Sox don't want to give up on Middlebrooks' power potential.  Even if the Red Sox re-signed Stephen Drew to play shortstop and Xander Bogaerts took over at third, Middlebrooks would still receive playing time alternating between third and first base.
  • While Jon Lester recently said he would take a hometown discount to remain with the Red Sox, Cafardo points out that it might not be a huge discount, as Lester also noted that "you never want to be the guy that takes the market backward."
  • The Red Sox will experiment with Ryan Lavarnway as a first baseman during Spring Training, GM Ben Cherington confirmed.  Since Boston is so deep at catcher at both the Triple-A and Major League levels, Lavarnway's only chance at continued playing time may be as a Triple-A first baseman.
  • "There’s a feeling that a team like the Yankees may pluck Fernando Rodney, or someone of his ilk, to ensure they have another closer in case David Robertson breaks down or isn’t up to the task," Cafardo writes.  Rodney was reportedly drawing interest from four teams, though the Yankees hadn't spoken with him since November and may not have enough remaining payroll space to add to the bullpen.

A.J. Burnett Rumors: Wednesday

The free agent pitching market was given a jolt by yesterday's news that A.J. Burnett will return in 2014 and that he's open to pitching for a team other than the Pirates.  Here's the latest batch of news and opinions about the veteran right-hander...

  • With the Phillies having checked in on Burnett earlier this offseason, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News notes that the Phillies could be aided by the fact that assistant GM Scott Proefrock is friends with Burnett and they live in the same neighborhood.  Burnett and Cliff Lee share an agent in Darek Braunecker.
  • Signing Burnett would put the Phillies over their stated payroll limit for 2014, though Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com wonders if the team would spend extra to help attract the fans back to Citizens Bank Park.  Trade protection could also be a factor; Burnett would definitely want some type of no-trade protection in his next contract since he wants to be near his Maryland home, and the Phillies only give out partial no-trade clauses. 
  • In order to fit Burnett into the Pirates' budget, MLB.com's Tom Singer proposes that the Bucs should offer Burnett a one-year, $17MM contract for 2014.  Of that sum, $10MM would be deferred, which Singer feels is a win-win for both sides --- the Pirates can keep their payroll in check, while Burnett gets to remain in a comfortable situation while still accepting a market-value contract.  
  • "Burnett might suddenly be the best free-agent starter left," writes Jeff Sullivan for Fangraphs.  Burnett has had a better WAR over the last two seasons than Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo, and teams would be more amenable to signing Burnett to a short-term deal than taking a chance on a longer-term commitment to Jimenez or Santana.

A.J. Burnett Will Pitch In 2014, Test Open Market

A.J. Burnett plans to play this year, reports Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the hurler may be open to pitching for a team other than the Pirates. This news throws a considerable wrinkle into the free agent pitching market.

Prior to today's news, the righty had been expected to pitch for the Pirates or retire, with the latter option looking increasingly likely. Now, he becomes one of the best arms available on the open market. 

Burnett, 37, is coming off of two outstanding seasons in Pittsburgh. After a 202 1/3-inning, 3.51 ERA effort in 2012, Burnett threw 191 innings of 3.30 ball last year. He led all National League starters in 2013 with 9.8 K/9 and a 56.5% ground ball rate. Among free agents, Burnett had the lowest FIP (2.80), xFIP (2.92), and SIERA (3.10).

Burnett landed in the ninth position among baseball's top fifty free agents, according to MLBTR's Tim Dierkes. For teams looking to add impact without taking on long-term obligations, Burnett makes for a tantalizing option. That is especially so since, unlike other top rotation arms that remain, he is not tied to draft-pick compensation since the Bucs felt they could not afford to make a qualifying offer. As MLBTR's Steve Adams wrote before the offseason, Burnett would fit nicely in even the game's top rotations.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington has previously indicated that the club was not in a position to pay Burnett at the top of the market, though the club has made clear recently that it remains interested in a reunion. Commenting on today's report, Huntingon told MLB.com's Tom Singer that he was not aware of any new direction from Burnett but could not rule the possibility. "I can't say he has not [decided to test the market]. I'm not aware of every discussion there might have been," said Huntington. "All I can say is, he has been very public with his intent to pitch in Pittsburgh or not pitch at all." Huntington further said that the club's "process continues with A.J." and that there was "nothing new to report," Sawchik reports on Twitter.

The Orioles have been mentioned as a possible alternative landing spot for Burnett given his reported preference to play in close proximity to his Maryland home. Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun tweets that Burnett "would be at the top of the club's list." Other Mid-Atlantic clubs could presumably also be particularly appealing to Burnett, and the Phillies have reportedly also expressed interest, Sawchik tweets.

If Burnett sets his sights further afield geographically, many other teams could conceivably be interested. The Rangers have some interest in the hurler, tweets Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas. Burnett reportedly nixed a deal that would have sent him to the Angels back in 2012 -- the Yankees instead dealt him to the Pirates -- leading MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez to peg the Halos (via Twitter) as a longshot to land him via free agency.

The entry of Burnett onto the market could be bad news for the remaining free agent starting crop and could also lead to movement in other segments of the player market. Pittsburgh reportedly will not sign a replacement pitcher if Burnett does indeed leave town, but could repurpose funds towards a first baseman. If he decides to head for another team that is in the market for starters, Burnett would have a significant impact on the balance of supply and demand. And if the Pirates look to add a bat through free agency or, perhaps more likely, via trade, an inverse effect could take result in that arena.

Heyman On Free Agents: Drew, Morales, Jimenez

CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman covered a series of free agent topics in an MLB Network appearance last night (hat tip to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca). Among them:

  • The Blue Jays are "in the mix" for shortstop Stephen Drew, presumably viewing him as a second base option. Nevertheless, the Red Sox remain the favorites to land him, as they prefer to play Xander Bogaerts at third and appear willing to give Drew multiple years. Boston could dangle an opt-out clause of some kind to sweeten things for Drew, Heyman adds. There was a competing report last night on the Yankees' interest, but Heyman says that the club "seem[s] more interested in Drew than ever" after landing Masahiro Tanaka.
  • Toronto, says Heyman, figures to be a major threat to land any of the prominent remaining free agents. As he explained further today, the Jays -- armed with two protected first-round draft picks -- may have made the strategic decision to wait out the market for players that are burdened with draft pick compensation. Likewise, as Heyman wrote today, the Mariners could still figure in on the top of the remaining free agent crop.
  • Kendrys Morales is among the players who Heyman says could land with either of those clubs. The Jays like Morales, but presumably would need to deal first baseman/DH Adam Lind to bring him on board. Likewise, the Rangers could potentially be involved, but would likely have to flip Mitch Moreland for a Morales signing to fit. If one of those clubs did land Morales, the Pirates might be a club that could swoop in on the trade market, says Heyman.
  • The market for Nelson Cruz is looking thin, Heyman says. Cruz may not want to play in Safeco Field, and other possible landing spots like the Orioles and Rangers are focused on pitching.
  • Turning to the mound, Heyman said that Ubaldo Jimenez may now be willing to drop his salary demands and could ultimately land in the three-year, $39MM range. The Blue Jays and Orioles are the most likely clubs to sign Jimenez, according to Heyman, with the O's still concerned about burning a draft pick. Meanwhile, the Indians could still get involved if the price on Jimenez falls even further.

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