Financial reasons played a key role in the Nationals’ offseason decision to trade for then-White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton instead of the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (video link). With his $4MM salary this year, Eaton is much cheaper than McCutchen ($14MM), and acquiring the latter would have forced the Nationals to jettison left-hander Gio Gonzalez and his $12MM price tag in a separate deal, says Rosenthal. In addition to having concerns over how their payroll would have looked with McCutchen, the Nationals had no interest in meeting Pittsburgh’s lofty demands for the five-time All-Star. Washington bought high on Eaton, whose excellent 2016 helped convinced the club to give up high-end pitching prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning for him. McCutchen, on the other hand, had a career-worst season last year, yet the Pirates wanted an even more impressive package for him than the Nationals sent the White Sox, according to Rosenthal. Pittsburgh held out for both pitching prospects and major leaguers, leading the Nats to go in another direction.
Pirates corner infielder David Freese has battled depression throughout his life, often making his reputation as a Cardinals World Series hero (and St. Louis-area native) feel like a burden, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes. Freese’s depression and difficulty defining himself in the wake of his 2011 World Series heroics led to a downward spiral. (Freese also had a previous history of alcoholism and alcohol-related arrests.) “You could tell something was not right,” says Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said. “I don’t know the bloody details what was going on, but I knew the path he was on was going to make life difficult for him to manage.” The Cardinals noticed the problem and provided counseling, but ultimately decided that it was best for both Freese and the team if he had a change of scenery. They then traded him to the Angels, where he wouldn’t have to deal quite so much with the social demands of his popularity in St. Louis. Freese also met the woman who became his wife. Now in Pittsburgh, he feels he’s turned his life around. “I used to be so afraid what would happen to me after baseball,” he says. Now, though, “I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. You wake up, and you’re ready to face the world.” Here’s more from the NL Central.
The baseball world was collectively stunned yesterday by the announcement of an 80-game suspension for Pirates center fielder Starling Marte, who tested positive for Nandrolone — an anabolic steroid (which, as Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette details, has a long history of use in professional sports). Unsurprisingly, there have been a number of reaction pieces written, to say nothing of significant on-field ramifications for the Bucs, who will be without arguably their best player for half of the 2017 season. Some notable aftereffects and reactions…
- The Pirates have shifted Andrew McCutchen back to center field will utilize a combination of Adam Frazier, Josh Harrison, John Jaso and Jose Osuna (who was called up from Triple-A following Marte’s suspension) in right field, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry writes in an excellent breakdown on the fallout from Marte’s 80-game ban. The Bucs have no plans to shift Josh Bell back to the outfield at this time, per Berry.
- While the immediate reaction from many was that Marte’s suspension could open a window for touted outfield prospect Austin Meadows, GM Neal Huntington ruled out that possibility (also via Berry’s piece). “We’re encouraged by where Meadows will be at some point over the course of the summer,” Huntington told reporters. “He’s not ready right now, but we’re thrilled by where he can go.” It’s hard to refute Huntington’s assessment; even though Meadows clearly comes with a lofty ceiling, he’s followed up last year’s .214/.297/.460 showing in 175 Triple-A plate appearances with a mere .146/.217/.244 line through 46 PAs in Indianapolis this season. The Pirates typically wait until their top prospects have avoided Super Two status before promoting them to the Majors anyhow, but statistically speaking, Meadows has yet to demonstrate that he’s ready for more advanced competition.
- Marte first tested positive early in Spring Training, reports USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, but he was allowed to play through this point in the season as his appeal process played out. Nightengale adds that while the Pirates could theoretically make a run at Angel Pagan now with a hole in the outfield, they’ll likely pass. Huntington suggested that trades aren’t an option at this time, Nightengale adds. In Berry’s column above, Huntington indeed suggested that trades for impact players at this point of the season are “not real,” and he cast some doubt on bringing in a free agent: “We’ll always look for ways to improve the club. It would have to be someone who is a significant upgrade over our internal options.”
- Marte’s teammates, certainly, are disappointed by the news, but they also offered messages of support following the news, writes Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Gregory Polanco and Gerrit Cole were among the members of the Pirates roster quoted in Nesbitt’s column. “He’s not exiled,” Harrison told reporters. “He made a mistake.” Polanco and Cole both referred to Marte as their “brother” when speaking to the media. “When you make a mistake, you gotta pay for it,” McCutchen said to reporters before also voicing his support. “…I’m just trying to be a good friend before I am a teammate.”
- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was among the players to call for more testing throughout the league. Rizzo was doing an interview with Yahoo’s Big League Stew at the time the news of the suspension hit, and told them (Twitter link): “It kinda makes you angry as a player, because you know there are still flaws in the system, you know there are still guys getting away with it. For me, I’ve been drug tested zero times this year. Not once since the beginning-of-Spring-Training standard drug test. Guys are going to get away with it as long as they can and obviously everybody’s going to say they didn’t know they were doing it.” Many current and former players took to social media to call for more stringent testing policies and, in some cases, harsher punishment for first-time offenders.
- ESPN’s Buster Olney opines that Marte’s suspension taints his legacy in Pittsburgh to the point that he can never provide a suitable return on their long-term investment in him. Marte’s suspension comes early in a pivotal season for the Pirates that may very well be McCutchen’s last year in black and yellow, Olney notes, and Pittsburgh had very little margin for error as it sought to keep up with the Cubs and Cardinals. While it’s hard to disagree with the notion that Marte’s suspension is a poorly timed blow that that Pirates could ill afford, the suggestion that he’s “torpedoed” his value beyond repair seems excessive. Marte is earning a combined $17.5MM in 2018-19 and has a pair of reasonably priced club options for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
- Yahoo’s Jeff Passan lists a number of myths and truths about performance enhancing drugs in a reaction column, ultimately calling for transparency and regulated use of certain substances (though not necessarily Nandrolone). Passan points out that some steroids are already commonly used (e.g. cortisone injections for pain) as a reference point when citing that the term “performance enhancing drugs” is rather arbitrary in its nature. “There is a place for chemistry in baseball and all other sports, and it is in a tightly regulated, ever-evolving partnership with doctors, chemists, politicians, ethicists, management and players to develop fair rules for sport while acknowledging sport itself can benefit from the use of drugs,” writes Passan. “The rules in place now don’t work. They never have. They never will.” Passan also suggests that PEDs will never be eradicated from baseball and disagrees with any suggestion that Marte’s value has somehow been erased by the suspension, among other points.
- Marte might be the best player (at the time of his punishment) to ever receive a suspension for performance enhancing drug use, writes The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh. Lindbergh profiles the numerous reasons that Marte has flown under the radar as one of Major League Baseball’s most underrated and unheralded stars in recent years, though certainly now that view will be tainted in the eyes of many. As Lindberg adds, there’s a cascading effect of Marte’s suspension, in that the downturn in the Pirates’ expected performance will now make a trade of McCutchen and, eventually, a promotion of Meadows all the more likely.
Pirates outfielder Starling Marte has been suspended for 80 games due to a positive PED test, the league announced. Marte tested positive for Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid. As per Major League Baseball’s PED policy, Marte will receive the 80-game suspension assigned to first-time offenders, he won’t be paid during his suspension (which will cost Marte roughly $2.4MM of his $5MM salary for the season) and he’ll be ineligible for Pittsburgh’s postseason roster if the Bucs make the playoffs.
The shocking news leaves the Pirates (and MLB itself) without one of the game’s most well-rounded young stars. Marte hit .292/.349/.448 with 53 homers and 148 steals over 2273 PA from 2013-16, his first four full seasons in the big leagues, amassing 16.7 fWAR in that stretch. He made his first All-Star appearance last year and is a two-time Gold Glove winner for his outstanding left field defense. Marte displayed such excellent glovework that the Pirates moved him into the starting center field job this season, with longtime face of the franchise Andrew McCutchen shifting to right field and Gregory Polanco going from right to left field.
The Pirates clearly saw Marte as a long-term building block, signing him to a six-year, $31MM extension (with club options for 2020 and 2021) prior to the 2014 season. Beyond his remaining post-suspension dollars this season, Marte is slated to earn $17.5MM in 2018-19, with a $11.5MM salary/$2MM buyout on the 2020 club option and $12.5MM salary/$1MM buyout for 2021.
[updated Pirates depth chart at Roster Resource]
There’s no good way for the Pirates to truly replace such an important player, and their outfield depth is further limited by Polanco missing time recently due to a minor groin injury. The short-term answer would be to move McCutchen back to center, despite his declining glove, and giving more time to Adam Frazier, John Jaso, or even Josh Harrison in a corner outfield spot. The move with longer-term implications for the Pirates would be to promote Austin Meadows, one of the game’s best prospects. Meadows hasn’t hit well in Triple-A so far this season, however, and he has just 186 total PA at the Triple-A level. The Pirates might want to hold off on promoting the 21-year-old both until they’re sure he is ready, and of course service time considerations are also likely a factor for the small-market team.
Marte released the following statement (hat tip to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports) to fans and media:
“I have been informed that I have tested positive in one of the tests that are regularly done in my job. In this very difficult moment I apologize to my family, the Pittsburgh Pirates, my teammates, my fans, and baseball in general. Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much. With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much. I promise to learn the lesson that this ordeal has left me. God bless you.”
Pirates club president Frank Coonelly also made a public statement in regards to Marte’s suspension:
“The Pittsburgh Pirates fully support MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement, including the very tough penalties for violations of its prohibitions. We are disappointed that Starling put himself, his teammates and the organization in this position. We will continue to fight for the division title with the men who are here and will look forward to getting Starling back after the All-Star break.”
The Pirates have called up Jose Osuna to take Marte’s spot on the 25-man roster. Osuna, 24, is a first baseman/outfielder who is getting his first taste of the majors after eight years in Pittsburgh’s farm system. Baseball America ranks Osuna as the 26th-best prospect in the Pirates’ system and describes him as a good defensive first baseman but a below-average corner outfielder, so this could hint that Jaso or even Josh Bell could be getting some time in the corners help replace Marte.
Photo courtesy of Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports Images
- The Pirates will use the newly-acquired Johnny Barbato as a multi-inning reliever at Triple-A “and go from there,” MLB.com’s Adam Berry tweets. The Yankees stretched Barbato out as a starter during the spring, so the Bucs seem to have some flexibility in using Barbato as a depth piece for either the rotation or bullpen depending on needs during the season.
The appeals hearing for Jung Ho Kang’s DUI sentence has been set for May 25, Yonhap News’ Jeeho Yoo reports (Twitter link). Kang received an eight-month sentence that was suspended for two years, which theoretically cleared the way for the infielder to return to the Pirates this season, though Kang has yet been unable to receive a visa to return to the United States. Between the May 25 date, any further visa hurdles and some necessary minor league time to get in playing form, it seems like Kang may not appear in a Pirates uniform until the second half of the season (if at all).
The Yankees announced that they’ve traded right-hander Johnny Barbato to the Pirates in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. Barbato was designated for assignment by the Yankees last week. THe Bucs entered the day with a pair of open spots on their 40-man roster, so a corresponding move isn’t required. Pittsburgh announced that Barbato has been optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis.
[Related: Updated Pittsburgh Pirates Depth Chart]
The 24-year-old Barbato, originally acquired in the trade that sent right-hander Shawn Kelley to San Diego, struggled in his Major League debut with the Yanks last season, as he surrendered 11 runs in 13 innings of work. On the plus side, Barbato did post an impressive 15-to-5 K/BB ratio in that short time while averaging 94.6 mph on his fastball. Barbato’s numbers in Triple-A last season were solid as well: a 2.61 ERA with 9.1 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a 46.3 percent ground-ball rate in 48 1/3 frames.
There’s no immediate room in the Pittsburgh bullpen for Barbato, as manager Clint Hurdle’s relief corps is fairly well set with Tony Watson (the current closer), Daniel Hudson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Antonio Bastardo, Trevor Williams and long man Wade LeBlanc providing a nice blend of both left- and right-handed options. Bastardo has gotten off to a rough start, but his $6.5MM salary probably gives him a bit of a leash to right the ship. For now, Barbato will join relievers such as A.J. Schugel and Pat Light on a Triple-A pitching staff that is fairly well stocked with depth options for the big league pitching staff (both in the bullpen and in the rotation).
- Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang remains stuck in South Korea after his third DUI conviction resulted in his being unable to get a visa. The Bucs are hoping to get him back, but making other plans until he does, MLB.com’s Phil Rogers writes. The Pirates are hoping to send Kang a special hitting machine that delivers hard fastballs along with MLB-style breaking pitches. “We’re trying to get him a machine with velocity and spin, to help,” says Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. “He’s been more working indoors, doing everything he can to prepare. But in here, we’re moving on until he’s back.” David Freese has performed well at third in Kang’s absence, batting .344/.482/.594 thus far.
Although towering right-hander Tyler Glasnow has gotten off to a slow start this year, the Pirates aren’t considering demoting the starter to Triple-A, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. While Clint Hurdle told Biertempfel that Glasnow must earn the right to stay in the majors, the manager is “a firm believer, as I believe everybody else is, that the greatest opportunity for growth is for him to pitch at this level and meet the challenges of the game at this level — and to understand the consequences of not being able to do the things you need to do at this level. You feel a lot more here than you do at Triple-A. There are games in the minors that nobody knows about. You don’t care. Up here, there’s a different care.” Glasnow had control problems in the minors last season, but the star prospect nevertheless dominated at Triple-A. The majors have been less forgiving for the 23-year-old, whose control issues haven’t dissipated since he debuted last season. So far this year, Glasnow has allowed nine earned runs on 10 hits and seven walks in 6 2/3 innings (two starts).
A few more notes from the National League…
- Cardinals brass spent the offseason preaching defense, but Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders where the improvements are. The Redbirds rank among the majors’ bottom five in both errors (10) and Defensive Runs Saved (minus-14), and, in Ortiz’s estimation, have relied far too heavily on Matt Adams in left field (FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron echoed a similar sentiment Friday). Adams slimmed down during the winter, but he still entered the season as a first baseman with no outfield experience, which has been obvious to those who have watched the Cardinals in the early going.
- The Diamondbacks’ usage of fledgling super-reliever Archie Bradley has been suboptimal thus far, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic suggests. Bradley has been stellar out of the bullpen, having thrown 6 2/3 shutout innings and struck out 10 (against four hits and two walks), yet the Diamondbacks were on the wrong end of blowouts in two of his three appearances, as Piecoro points out. Manager Torey Lovullo has left open the possibility of Bradley becoming more of a high-leverage reliever, which makes sense for a team whose bullpen hasn’t been great. “We may change the inning based on what he’s doing,” Lovullo said. “We’re very well aware of what you’re saying. We know he’s had some quality outings and we want that to continue. It’s just going to be in any format possible to help us win a moment.”
- Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, on the shelf since suffering a hamstring injury April 8, doesn’t expect his stay on the disabled list to last beyond the 10-day mark, per Jamal Collier of MLB.com. Turner could return as early as Wednesday, though that will depend on how he fares while testing out his hamstring before then. The speedster showed progress when he ran sprints, took batting practice and fielded grounders prior to the Nats’ game against the Phillies on Sunday. He’s one of two Washington shortstops dealing with hamstring injuries – Stephen Drew is the other – which has left the position in the hands of Wilmer Difo.
- After finishing the 2016 season with a $99.9MM payroll, the Pirates opened 2017 with a payroll of about $91.5MM, per the Associated Press, and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spoke to GM Neal Huntington about the change. “It’s a product of how we chose to allocate the dollars,” says Huntington. “With Jung Ho Kang’s money, our thought is at some point in time we’ll be responsible for the dollars once he’s able to get here and return to the major league level.” Huntington also notes that the team made a late decision to move on from Jared Hughes, who would’ve otherwise accounted for another $2.8MM on the payroll. Instead, as Brink notes, the Buccos are on the hook for about $740K of that would-be salary. And, Brink points out, the payroll will organically increase over the course of the season, as additional players are brought up to the MLB level.
Tigers right fielder J.D. Martinez was able to take BP yesterday, manager Brad Ausmus tells Evan Woodberry of MLive.com (via Twitter). That puts the slugger a bit ahead of schedule in his rehab timeline from a lisfranc sprain in his right foot. The expectation had been that Martinez would not resume baseball activities until mid-April. Detroit is obviously hoping to get Martinez back quickly, while also balancing the need to ensure he doesn’t suffer a setback along the way.
Here’s more from the central divisions:
- Reds skipper Bryan Price is backing up the organization’s promise to utilize unconventional bullpen tactics, as C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. Yesterday, top setup man (and occasional closer option) Michael Lorenzen entered with the bases loaded in the third, putting out that fire and staying in to record three scoreless frames. (That’s not all; Lorenzen will also factor as a pinch-hitter.) Top baseball ops man Dick Williams has preached outside-the-box thinking for the rebuilding organization, with flexible, multi-inning relief outings representing one point of apparent focus. Top closer option Raisel Iglesias is also slated to continue throwing more than one frame from the pen at times, as he did on 17 occasions last year.
- New Brewers reliever Jared Hughes discussed his transition from the NL Central-rival Pirates with Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He wasn’t surprised when he was cut loose by Pittsburgh, the only organization he had known to this point. “They told me early in spring that if it wasn’t going to be a great spring that they might need to part ways,” said Hughes. He noted, though, that struggling in camp is mostly a byproduct of his big frame. “I’ve got long levers,” said Hughes. “I need to get the timing of my sinker. … My sinker was not sinking the way it should have been. By the end of spring I was getting groundball outs. I’d imagine the Brewers saw it, and that’s what I’m doing now in the season.” Indeed, Hughes has generated eight grounders in 4 1/3 scoreless innings, though he has also issued four walks against just one strikeout thus far.
- Another new Brewers player, first baseman/outfielder Eric Thames, took a much more circuitous route to Milwaukee. MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy details how he landed with the Brewers, identifying the statistical and scouting analysis — as well as the “old-school sit-down” — that led to the three-year, $16MM pact. Thames, who is back in the majors for the first time since 2012, is off to a fine start. He owns a .333/.429/.611 slash through 21 plate appearances, though that comes with the usual sample caveats. Thamas has also gone down on strikes eight times against three walks and has hit safely on over half the balls he put in play.