- Retired closer Joel Hanrahan will serve as the pitching coach for the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate in 2020, reports Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via Twitter). Hanrahan held the same position with the Pirates’ Double-A club in 2019 and was the pitching coach with the organization’s Class-A Advanced affiliate back in 2017. It’s the latest step in a fairly swift rise through the system for Hanrahan — one that comes in spite of the offseason shakeup in the Pittsburgh front office. It stands to reason that whether it’s in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, Hanrahan’s rapidly growing resume will earn him some consideration for a big league coaching spot.
With most of the free agent action already completed, attention has shifted to some major remaining potential trade chips. We’ve seen a lot of chatter but little in the way of blockbuster swaps thus far.
Pirates outfielder Starling Marte continues to stand out as a trade candidate. He’s a significant talent and consistent performer, having contributed at least 3 fWAR in every one of his full seasons in the majors. Of course, that’d also be a true-but-misleading way of glossing over a 2017 campaign cut short by a PED suspension. That’s not likely to be much of a factor given the past market treatment of players receiving punishment and the amount of time that has elapsed.
Marte has his flaws. Beyond the PED bust, he doesn’t walk much, dipped a bit in the defensive metrics in 2019, and didn’t produce an impressive exit velocity last year. He’s also not especially youthful at 31 years of age. But Marte is a well-above-average hitter and outstanding baserunner who’s at least capable of holding down center field, even if he won’t add significant value there as he ages. His remaining contract rights — an $11.5MM salary in 2020 followed by a $12.5MM club option ($1MM buyout) — are undeniably a positive-value asset for the Bucs.
The Pirates are still said to be holding talks. Perhaps new GM Ben Cherington now has a better sense of how he’d like to proceed after a few months on the job. So, now that we’ve already seen so many players find new homes, which teams still shape up as plausible landing spots for Marte?
Mets: The New York org has been tied to Marte more than any other club. Adding Jake Marisnick took away the immediacy of the need up the middle; he’s currently slated to share time with Brandon Nimmo. With Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, and perhaps Yoenis Cespedes in the mix at the corners, there’d be a bit of an overload in the case of an addition. Of course, one or more of those players could be on the move in a Marte deal. First baseman Dominic Smith would also be a candidate to move, though the Pirates have a younger first bagger already in Josh Bell so a third team might end up in the picture.
Diamondbacks: The last Marte worked out; why not another? Ketel Marte is presently penciled in at center, but the team’s preference is to play the budding star at second base. Acquiring the Pirates’ Marte would mean a primary outfield alignment with him up the middle and Kole Calhoun and David Peralta at the corners. Moving the preexisting, more youthful Marte into the infield would force some infield reshuffling but wouldn’t cause any major problems. The Snakes have a deep farm system from which to deal.
Rangers: With Delino DeShields Jr. out of the picture, the current plan in Texas is to plug in Danny Santana in center in hopes he can sustain last year’s BABIP and home run surge. The backup plan would be to slide star slugger Joey Gallo back up the middle, though the club seems disinclined to wear him down too much. Adding Marte would bring a lot of balance to the situation, with Santana functioning in a utility role, and help make up for the Rangers’ failed pursuit of Anthony Rendon.
Padres: While the Friars continue to work to consolidate their talent pool into present MLB ability, they’ve still prioritized value and pursued upside. That explains why the team’s current big league center field mix features Trent Grisham and Manuel Margot, with Taylor Trammell on deck — if he can finish his development and transition to the game’s highest level. Marte would be a different piece entirely, one seemingly well-suited to the Padres’ claimed aspirations of near-term competitiveness. There’s certainly ample talent to draw upon in trade talks.
Braves: There’s still a lot of thump in the middle of the Braves’ lineup, but 2020 may be dry unless the club finds a new rainmaker to make up for the loss of Josh Donaldson. While the Atlanta roster features two plausible center fielders — defensive wizard Ender Inciarte and young star Ronald Acuna — it could still be improved through the addition of Marte. The Braves could utilize him in the corners at time, limiting the burden on both Marte and veteran Nick Markakis, while allowing Austin Riley to focus on his customary third base (and on adjusting to MLB pitching). Most importantly, the Atlanta lineup would add a 20/20 performer who turned in a 119 wRC+ in 2019.
Phillies: Don’t sleep on the Philadelphia organization, even if a cross-state swap might prove tough to orchestrate. With Odubel Herrera officially out of the picture, the club’s center field mix features Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn, and Nick Martini, with Scott Kingery presently slated for primary duty at third base. The Phils need to upgrade in center or at third if they’re to make a much-awaited breakout. Adding at the hot corner might be preferable in some regards, but the potentially available trade candidates all have sky-high price tags. Marte may now be the most plausible finishing move for the Phillies.
Blue Jays: It’s a bit of a surprise that the club has thus far retained closer Ken Giles. Now it has picked up a long-awaited rotation anchor in Hyun-Jin Ryu. So … could the Jays pursue a second big addition of the winter? Center field could be manned by an assortment of players — Randal Grichuk, Anthony Alford, and Teoscar Hernandez are among the existing options — but there’s plenty of room to improve. The Jays want to allow opportunities for a few younger players, but there’s a risk of being caught in the middle in 2020. With two years of control left over Marte, adding him wouldn’t be overly committing.
Division Rivals: Presumably, the Bucs won’t be overly sentimental with respect to Marte. It would sting to see him playing for a division rival, but the organization needs to maximize its resources after a brutal 2019 season. So it’s at least conceptually possible that discussions could be had with some fellow NL Central clubs — though there surely won’t be any discounts. The Cubs stand out from the perspective of need, as they’re presently set to roll out some combination of Ian Happ, Albert Almora, and Jason Heyward. But even Marte’s reasonable salary could be an impediment. The Reds and Cardinals both have loaded outfield mixes but could still improve with Marte. The Cincinnati org has aggressively pursued veterans in recent years and could perhaps envision Marte sharing time up the middle and in the corners with recent signee Shogo Akiyama. In that scenario, young players Nick Senzel, Aristides Aquino, and Jesse Winker would alternatively be trade chips (in a Marte deal or some other swap) or other key parts of an exciting outfield mix. And in St. Louis, the ever-evolving outfield picture seemingly features Harrison Bader and Lane Thomas in center. The Cards are still dabbling in the market for Marcell Ozuna, so there’s obviously some desire to add a quality right-handed bat. And the team would surely prefer it be one that could also handle the center field position defensively.
The Pirates have announced a slew of non-roster invitations to Spring Training, including some new signings. Former big leaguers Tom Koehler and Nik Turley have evidently inked new deals with the Pittsburgh organization after qualifying for minor-league free agency at the end of the 2019 season.
Koehler spent last year with the Bucs, making some strides in his effort to return from shoulder surgery but not fully turning the corner. The 33-year-old is now two full seasons removed from the majors. In 784 1/3 innings at the game’s highest level, he carries a 4.39 ERA. Koehler obviously showed enough for the club to think there’s still a shot at a rebound.
As for the left-handed Turley, he hasn’t recorded any professional stats at all in the past two seasons owing to suspension and injury. He briefly made it to the majors in 2017 with the Twins but was knocked around in 17 2/3 innings.
Among the other players now slated to participate in MLB camp are Montana DuRapau, Luis Escobar, and Williams Jerez. All three were outrighted in one fell swoop at the outset of the offseason. Having cleared waivers, they remained with the Pittsburgh organization. The same occurred a few weeks earlier for James Marvel, who also gets an invite after debuting last year with the Bucs. Also receiving camp invitations are minor-leaguer catchers Christian Kelley and Jason Delay, hurlers Nick Mears and Blake Weiman, and outfielder Jared Oliva.
It’s an interesting time for the Mets to launch into trade discussions. They’d certainly love for something with a positive tilt to share the spotlight with Carlos Beltran’s recent dismissal. Of course, to view a discussion about Marte as reactionary from the Mets perspective presumes a number of things, including that the Mets were the ones to engage the Pirates. What we know for sure, the Mets would like to add an impact centerfielder, and the Pirates have one they are willing to trade – all of which has been true for the majority of the winter.
With most impact pieces off the board by now, Marte’s name has been curiously absent from the rumor mill of late, especially given the lack of league-wide depth in center. The Diamondbacks have previously been linked to Marte, as have the Cubs, though the latter remain on ice for the time being.
On the Pirates’ side, things have been pretty quiet thus far under Ben Cherington, who no doubt is taking some time to acclimate himself to the depth of the organization. That said, moving the 31-year-old Marte would be a natural place to start moving pieces around given his talent, contract, and age.
Insofar as talent is concerned, Marte has posted back-to-back 3+ fWAR seasons and owns a career batting line of .287/.341/.452. He put up a 119 wRC+ in 2019, and for the traditionalists in the crowd, he also posted his second 20-20 season (23 HR, 25 SB).
Defensively, he may have slipped a tick, but Statcast still has him near the middle of the pack with 2 Outs Above Average. His reaction time isn’t great, but he runs good routes and still tracks enough to remain viable in center. Fangraphs’ defensive metrics, however, were less kind (-9 DRS, -7.6 UZR). He’s due just $11.5MM this year with an exceptionally reasonable $12.5MM team option for 2021, so even a team like the Cubs ought to be able to work him into the payroll should they desire. There is the potential for slippage as he approaches his age-31 season, but again, at those contract rates, the risk is negligible. The only real holdup in trade discussions should be the Pirates asking price.
The Mets might seem like a peculiar fit. They already have a pseudo-centerfielder in Brandon Nimmo who handles the position adequately but without particular aplomb (which some might say describes Marte). And they have a fair amount of outfield depth, with Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis all capable of playing in the grass, though only Conforto is a natural outfielder. At the same time, they have their defensive option for center in Jake Marisnick, so a Marte addition would give whoever ends up managing the Mets a fair amount of options with which to mix-and-match based on handedness or situation.
The Pirates have outrighted infielder/outfielder Pablo Reyes to Triple-A Indianapolis, per Nubyjas Wilborn of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The club designated Reyes for assignment on Jan. 9. Reyes hasn’t been outrighted previously, nor does he have the necessary service time to reject the assignment in favor of free agency, so he’ll stick with the Pittsburgh organization.
Now 26 years old, Reyes debuted at the major league level with the Pirates in 2018 and posted an impressive .293/.349/.483 line with three home runs in 63 plate appearances. Last year didn’t go nearly as well for Reyes, though, as he slumped to a .203/.274/.322 mark with two homers and minus-0.5 fWAR across 157 PA.
While 2019 was a rough go at the plate for Reyes, he did show off quite a bit of defensive versatility for the Bucs. Reyes lined up at every infield position but first base and saw action at all three outfield spots. And Reyes turned in his second straight productive campaign in Indianapolis, where he has slashed .288/.341/.471 with 18 HRs and 18 steals over 589 PA since 2018.
We checked in last week on what, if anything, the five lowest-scoring offenses of 2019 have done to improve themselves this winter. Let’s now take a look at whether any of the five starting rotations that posted the highest ERAs last year have gotten better this offseason. Free agency won’t offer much in the way of help at this point, so for the most part, what you see here is probably what you’ll get..
Colorado Rockies (5.87 ERA/5.31 FIP; current depth chart)
- Assembling a competent starting staff has regularly been a problem for the Rockies, who are stuck playing half their games at the unkind confines of Coors Field. It was a different story in 2018, the year the Rockies boasted a high-end starting staff, but things took a sharp turn for the worse last season. Aside from German Marquez and Jon Gray, who continued their strong production, no one from the Rockies’ rotation performed well. Kyle Freeland suffered through a disastrous campaign after posting a Cy Young-caliber 2018, while Antonio Senzatela, Peter Lambert, Jeff Hoffman, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Tim Melville, Tyler Anderson, Chad Bettis and Rico Garcia combined for woeful numbers across a combined 83 starts. So what have the Rockies done since to address their starting group? Nothing of note. It seems they’ll count on a bunch of their holdovers to turn in better showings, though their staff will take a big hit in the event they deal Gray (a potential trade candidate) before the season.
Los Angeles Angels (5.64 ERA/5.41 FIP; current depth chart)
- The Angels’ rotation suffered a terrible blow in the fall of 2018 when Shohei Ohtani underwent Tommy John surgery, costing him all of last season, and then tragedy struck last July when Tyler Skaggs passed away. Considering the circumstances, it’s not surprising the Angels’ staff reeled last season. Nevertheless, adding reinforcements was clearly in order for this winter. The problem is that the Angels still haven’t found a way to acquire a proven front-of-the-rotation type, which many expected to them to get when the winter began. Ohtani’s back, which is a major plus. Meanwhile, the acquisitions of innings-eaters Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran should help matters, but they’re not going to frighten opposing offenses. The Angels figure to keep trying to better their rotation in the coming months, though the open market has dried up and teams seemingly aren’t champing at the bit to move big-time starters via trade now.
Baltimore Orioles (5.57 ERA/5.72 FIP; current depth chart)
- Bundy, who led the O’s rotation in innings last season, is now gone. 2019 success story John Means remains in place, and Alex Cobb will be back in the wake of injuries that limited him to three starts. Those two aside, there’s little in the way of established starters for rebuilding Baltimore, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see the club try to find a cheap starter(s) in free agency before the season begins. The team did make an interesting move when it used the second pick of the Rule 5 Draft on 25-year-old righty Brandon Bailey, whom Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs calls a “spin rate monster.”
Detroit Tigers (5.51 ERA/4.66 FIP; current depth chart)
- Detroit’s rotation mix actually looks pretty promising, though it’s possible the team will weaken the mix by trading Matthew Boyd before the season. As of now, he’s back at the helm of a group that also got respectable performances from Spencer Turnbull and Daniel Norris last year. Stud prospects Casey Mize and Matt Manning are gaining on the majors, meanwhile, and Michael Fulmer should factor back in sometime this year after Tommy John surgery kept him away in 2019. Furthermore, the Tigers just signed the durable Ivan Nova to a cheap contract to serve as their resident back-end innings-eater. Jordan Zimmerman, arguably the weakest link in the chain, is also the most expensive. Mercifully for the Tigers, he’s finally entering the last season of what has been an albatross contract for the club.
Pittsburgh Pirates (5.19 ERA/4.78 FIP; current depth chart)
- The Pirates, already without staff leader Jameson Taillon for most of last season, suffered a horrid blow when he underwent a TJ procedure in August. He won’t be part of the 2020 staff as a result, leaving holdovers Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams at the helm of an uninspiring-looking bunch. Barring a trade, the hope is that the once-terrific Archer will put a nightmarish first year and a half as a Pirate behind him. Archer was markedly better as last season progressed, so there does seem to be some hope for a full-season bounce-back effort. The unit will include some speculative candidates in Tommy John rehabber Chad Kuhl and talented 23-year-old Mitch Keller, who struggled as a rookie but remains a premium pitching prospect.
The original version of this post mistakenly indicated that Kuhl underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019. His procedure occurred in September of 2018.
Catching up on some minor moves from around baseball….
- The Pirates officially announced that utilityman Jake Elmore has been re-signed to a minor league contract and has received an invitation to the team’s big league Spring Training camp. (Multiple reports initially had word on this deal between Elmore and the Bucs last month.) Elmore appeared in 20 games with Pittsburgh last season, marking his first MLB action since the 2016 season played in 59 games for Milwaukee. Elmore’s career Major League resume consists of 217 games spread over six different seasons with six different teams, and the 32-year-old has a career .215/.292/.275 slash line. Versatility has been a much bigger part of Elmore’s game than his bat, as he has appeared in at least one game at all ten positions during his career, with the majority of his playing time coming at shortstop, left field, first base, and second base.
- The Pirates have shown “at least modest interest in the third-base market,” Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. It seems adding a stopgap to help serve as a bridge to the Ke’Bryan Hayes era is possible. Speculatively, the likes of Brock Holt (a former Pirate whom new general manager Ben Cherington knows from Boston), Todd Frazier, Matt Duffy and Logan Forsythe are among the types who could interest Pittsburgh. But at least a couple of those players were no better in 2019 than incumbent starter Colin Moran, who was merely a replacement-level player across 503 plate appearances.
Entering the day, there were more than 150 players on the clock to exchange arbitration figures with their respective teams prior to a noon ET deadline. As one would expect, there’ll be an utter landslide of arbitration agreements in advance of that deadline. We already ran through some key facts and reminders on the arbitration process earlier this morning for those who are unfamiliar or simply need a refresher on one of MLB’s most complex idiosyncrasies, which will hopefully clear up many questions readers might have.
We’ll track the majority of the National League’s settlements in this post and are maintaining a separate one for American League settlements as well. Note that all projections referenced come courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz:
- The Rockies have an agreement in place with righty Jon Gray, per Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post (via Twitter). It’s a $5.6MM deal, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link).
- Outfielder Tommy Pham has struck a $7.9MM pact with the Padres, who acquired him at the outset of the offseason, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Other Friars striking deals, per an update from Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, include Zach Davies ($5.25MM) and Matt Strahm ($1.4MM).
- The Nationals announced that they’ve avoided arbitration with Trea Turner. It’s a $7.45MM agreement, per Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post (via Twitter), right in range of the $7.5MM projection.
- The Mets are in agreement with a laundry list of players. Right-handers Marcus Stroman ($12MM) and Noah Syndergaard ($9.7MM) were the top earners, per reports from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (via Twitter) and MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo (via Twitter). Both come in close to their projected values of $11.8M and $9.9MM, respectively. The Mets also have a $5.1MM deal with reliever Edwin Diaz, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports (Twitter links). He entered the offseason projected at the $7.0MM level but will fall well shy of that. Despite an outstanding overall track record, Diaz’s platform season was a dud and obviously created some risk in a hearing for his side. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo will play for $2.175MM in his first season of arb eligibility, landing well over the $1.7MM that the model projected. Southpaw Steven Matz, meanwhile, lands a $5MM deal, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (via Twitter). That’s $300K shy of his projected amount. Relievers Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo will earn $1.225MM and $2MM, respectively, per Mike Puma of the New York Post (Twitter links). Slugger Michael Conforto will earn $8.0MM, per SNY.tv’s Andy Martino (via Twitter), which is notably south of the $9.2MM that we projected. And fellow outfielder Jake Marisnick checks in a just over 10% north of his projection at $3,312,500, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets.
- Star reliever Kirby Yates receiveds a $7,062,500 salary from the Padres, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. He tops the $6.5MM that MLBTR projected by a solid margin, reflecting just how exceptional he was in 2019.
- The Marlins will pay recently acquired infielder Jonathan Villar a $8.2MM salary, per MLB.com’s Jon Heyman (via Twitter). That’s a far sight shy of the $10.4MM that the MLBTR system projected, perhaps reflecting a more difficult path to the bigger number through recent comparables. The club also had some added leverage here since Villar would likely not fare terribly well on the open market if cut loose at this stage or later. (Unless this is a guaranteed deal, Villar could still be jettisoned, with the club paying just a fraction of the settled amount.) The Fish also have also agreed to terms with lefty Adam Conley (for $1.525MM, per MLB Network Radio’s Craig Mish, via Twitter) and righty Jose Urena (for $3.75MM, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, on Twitter).
- Righty Vince Velasquez will pitch for $3.6MM this year with the Phillies, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philly (via Twitter). Fellow hurler Jose Alvarez will earn $2.95MM, per Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Twitter).
- The Rockies have an agreement with lefty Kyle Freeland, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link). He’ll earn $2.875MM. Outfielder David Dahl takes home $2.475MM, Heyman adds on Twitter. The former had projected at $2.4MM and the latter at $3.0MM.
- Pirates hurler Joe Musgrove will receive $2.8MM, per Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter links). Fellow righty Keone Kela will earn a reported $3.725MM. Both players had projected at $3.4MM, but land well to either side of that number. Infielder Adam Frazier also has a deal at $2.8MM, per Mackey (via Twitter).
- Righty Anthony DeSclafani will earn $5.9MM from the Reds, according to Robert Murray (via Twitter). He had projected at $5.2MM. Backstop Curt Casali will earn $1.4625MM, per Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer (Twitter link). And reliever Matt Bowman takes down $865K, Murray adds on Twitter.
- The Dodgers have worked out a non-typical deal with righty Ross Stripling, Heyman tweets. He’ll get an up-front signing bonus of $1.5MM, which he’ll receive in the next week, and then earn $600K for the campaign to come. Stripling had projected to earn $2.3MM on the year.
- Cardinals righty John Gant will earn $1.3MM after settling with the club. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first tweeted that a deal was in place, while Murray had the number on Twitter. That comes in just under his $1.4MM projection.
The Pirates have signed catcher John Ryan Murphy to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training, reports Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic (via Twitter). He’s represented by ISE Baseball.
Murphy, 28, spent the bulk of the 2019 season with the D-backs, although he finished out the year with a brief stint in the Braves organization. He’s a light-hitting backstop who’s generally considered to be among the game’s premier options in terms of pitch framing. Murphy was once considered a solid catching prospect with the Yankees and Twins, but to this point in his career he’s managed only a .219/.265/.357 batting line through 674 plate appearances. He hit well, particularly relative to other catchers, up through the Double-A level but owns a tepid .244/.306/.380 line through parts of five Triple-A seasons.
Pittsburgh’s catching mix is fairly open at the moment. Jacob Stallings is the favorite to handle starting duties after posting a respectable batting line and playing strong defense in 2019. Luke Maile joined the organization as a free agent and was given a 40-man roster spot, placing him in line to serve as the backup to Stallings. Murphy, though, will provide some competition for Maile (a high-end framer himself) and can otherwise serve as an experienced depth option in the upper minors if he’s unable to break camp with the team.