The Pirates seemingly made it through a scare today after outfielder Gregory Polanco was carted off the field following a collision with the wall. As Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review first tweeted, Polanco escaped with only a sprained ankle. Still, the severity isn’t quite clear and may not be until the joint responds overnight. As Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets, Polanco did require a walking boot after the game.
In the event left-hander David Price falters this year in his return from elbow problems, the playoff-contending Red Sox will be forced to scour the trade market to bolster their rotation, observes Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer represent high-end starters who could end up on the move prior to the trade deadline, notes Silverman, who doubts that the Red Sox would be able to put together a deal for any of the four. Even without factoring Cole into the mix, the Red Sox are bullish on the Pirates’ pitching at both the major and minor league levels, according to Silverman. If Boston and Pittsburgh don’t swing a deal, Miami right-hander Dan Straily could also be a possibility, though Silverman is skeptical that the Sox would meet the Marlins’ likely high asking price for him. Conversely, Silverman regards Royals left-hander Jason Vargas as an ideal fit for Boston and Twins righty Ervin Santana as a “perfect bridge-type acquisition.” Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported Saturday that Vargas and Santana are generating buzz as the trade deadline draws closer.
In welcome news, the Pirates have announced that right-hander Jameson Taillon will begin a rehab assignment at Double-A on Sunday, which should put him in position to return to the majors by late June. The 25-year-old Taillon underwent surgery for testicular cancer on May 8 and was cleared to resume baseball activities less than two weeks later.
Rivero, who will turn 26 this summer, can’t qualify for free agency until 2022. But he entered the season with 1.162 days of service, so he’s nearly certain to qualify for arbitration at year’s end as a Super Two player.
The Bucs will end up paying Rivero at a healthy rate, as he’s currently carrying an outstanding 0.73 ERA with 9.9 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 over 24 2/3 innings. That payday could increase qutie a bit more if Rivero ends up ascending to the team’s closer role — as has been speculated as a strong possibility if the team deals incumbent ninth-inning man Tony Watson at the deadline.
Pittsburgh has to like what it has seen thus far. The club acquired him when it shopped closer Mark Melancon last summer, making a calculated gamble that the young southpaw would continue to progress and make good on his obvious talent. Taking a major-league reliever also meant foregoing the possibility of a prospect-driven return for the veteran Melancon, but that seems a wise choice at this juncture.
Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an interesting interview with injured Braves infielder Sean Rodriguez. He’s working through his rehab in Atlanta, and says that he believes he can make it back to action before the end of the current season. Rodriguez also discussed his stint with the Pirates, saying that his former colleagues were immensely supportive following his family’s involvement in a terrifying offseason car accident.
Here’s more from the National League East:
- Things obviously haven’t gone as hoped thus far for the Marlins, though that doesn’t mean president of baseball operations Mike Hill is giving up just yet, as Tim Healey of the Sun-Sentinel reports. Time may be running short to engineer a turnaround, but “there’s no panic” in the organization, says Hill. With lapses cropping up all over the roster, says the veteran executive, “it makes it even harder” to find a solution. For the time being, then, it seems there’s little the club can do but continue to press on.
- Outfielder Christian Yelich is among the Marlins players who has not quite performed to expectations thus far. Now, he’s dealing with a new injury, as Healey reports. Yelich left last night’s game after his right hip flexor tightened up. The club is waiting to see how Yelich feels today before determining the next steps.
- Also leaving his game with a seemingly minor injury was Mets outfielder Jay Bruce, as Christian Red of the New York Daily News reports. Bruce is dealing with lower back tightness, though he says that “hopefully it’s just an isolated incident.” With the Mets still trying to scramble back into contention, the team will surely hope that’s the case. The resurgent Bruce has been one of the club’s most productive players, slashing .250/.331/.513 with 11 home runs over 181 plate appearances.
- The Phillies announced yesterday that outfielder Daniel Nava would head to the 10-day DL with a hamstring strain. That’s unfortunate timing for the 34-year-old, who was off to an excellent start after a rough 2016 season. Through 73 trips to the plate, Nava is slashing a robust .305/.425/.458 with more walks than strikeouts — potentially making him a trade candidate this summer for organizations looking at adding a bench bat.
- With the Phillies struggling to find offensive production, the club ought to consider bringing back Roman Quinn, Ryan Lawrence of the Philly Voice argues. The young outfielder has been particularly productive over the last month at Triple-A, Lawrence notes. He also showed fairly well in a brief debut last year. Though there’s not a clear path to everyday time, Lawrence suggests the Phils could cut back on the plate appearances currently going to the struggling Michael Saunders and even center fielder Odubel Herrera to fit the speedy Quinn into the lineup.
- Two Nationals relievers are showing at least some signs of progress, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports (Twitter link). Sammy Solis and Joe Blanton are at least throwing the baseball at present, though it’s still not clear whether either is yet working off a mound. Solis, in particular, has been a significant question mark given his seeming lack of progress from an inflamed nerve in his elbow. The Nats will hope that both can make it back and bolster a late-inning mix that has been questionable all year long.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington says the team plans to spend money the team recently saved from Starling Marte’s PED suspension, Jung Ho Kang’s prolonged visa issues, and the release of Jared Hughes, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. “As soon as that option becomes available, we’ll gladly pour the money back into the club,” Huntington says. Of course, as Huntington notes, early-season trades are rare. It’s also far from clear that the Pirates, who are currently just 20-24, will head toward the trade deadline as buyers in the conventional sense. If the Bucs are in contention come July, though, it sounds like they’ll have money to spend — the combined total they’ve saved from Marte, Kang and Hughes (minus the 45 days’ salary they paid Hughes as a he departed near the end of Spring Training) comes out to over $5MM. Here’s more from the National League.
- The Astros are “very interested” in Pirates righty Gerrit Cole. Houston has been checking in on top-tier starters for months, so it makes sense that the team would have an eye on Cole’s availability. Peter Gammons recently suggested that the Astros (and Yankees) may be the only contenders who could actually afford a Cole trade, given Houston’s deep farm system and the giant return that the Pirates will surely demand for their controllable young star if Cole is indeed shopped at the deadline.
- With the Pirates in last place and facing an uphill battle in the NL Central race, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com argues that the Bucs should deal Gerrit Cole while the right-hander’s trade value is at its highest. Cole is looking healthy after an injury-shortened 2016 and is pitching well, with a 2.84 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 50.3% grounder rate and 4.17 K/BB rate through 57 innings. Between this front-of-the-rotation production and Cole being under team control through 2019, the Pirates would stand to obtain a major haul if Cole was dealt. Gammons speculates that the Astros and Yankees would be the top two suitors, as they have enough minor league depth to afford the big price tag Pittsburgh would demand for Cole’s services.
Marinez, an out-of-options reliever, has scuffled early in 2017, leading to his loss of a roster spot in Milwaukee. Over 16 2/3 frames, he owns a 5.40 ERA with 14 strikeouts and 11 walks.
That said, there are obviously some things to like about the 28-year-old. He was much better last year, with a 3.18 ERA over his 62 1/3 innings. And Marinez is also currently trending northward in both average fastball velocity (sitting over 95.4 with the four-seamer and 94.5 with the two-seamer) and groundball induction (57.4%).
Pirates closer Tony Watson has changed agencies and is now a client of Scott Boras, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. The soon-to-be 32-year-old lefty will be a free agent following the 2017 campaign.
Watson stepped into the ninth-inning spotlight for the Pirates last season following their trade of Mark Melancon to the Nationals, and he’s racked up 23 saves since that time. He’s posted a 1.62 ERA through his first 16 2/3 innings this season with a career-best 50 percent ground-ball rate, though it’s also worth noting that there are some potential signs for concern. Watson’s velocity is down this year (though his 92.4 mph average fastball still has plenty of life for a lefty), and he’s also seen his K/9 and BB/9 rates trend in the wrong direction.
Those red flags notwithstanding, Watson has been among baseball’s most durable pitchers — he’s third in the Majors in appearances since 2014 — and left-handed relief help is always in demand near the trade deadline. Pittsburgh showed last season that it wasn’t afraid to deal Melancon even with a Wild Card spot still in reach, so even if the Bucs right the ship, Watson will be a similarly likely trade candidate this summer. The Pirates, after all, won’t be making a qualifying offer to the lefty, so they would stand to lose him for no compensation at season’s end if he’s not dealt this summer. Heyman notes that the Pirates view hard-throwing lefty Felipe Rivero (acquired in the aforementioned Melancon deal) as their closer of the future.
It’s obviously still quite early to be putting forth a firm contract estimate on an impending free agent, but a typical Watson season — he pitched to a 2.22 ERA with 7.9 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9 from 2013-16 — would put the southpaw in line to cash in on a three- or four-year deal this coming winter.
Watson adds to a Boras free agent class that includes the likes of Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Carlos Gonzalez and Jeremy Hellickson (among others). His switch is now reflected in MLBTR’s Agency Database, which contains agent info on more than 2,500 Major League and Minor League players. If you see any notable errors or omissions within, please let us know via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.