The Pirates and Rays have faced criticism from fans and pundits for a lack of spending, plus they were two of the four teams cited in a grievance filed by the players’ union about the quartet’s use of revenue-sharing funds. ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield, however, argues that the Bucs and Rays didn’t boast big payrolls even when they were in contention, and the larger issue that hurt Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay in 2017 was a lack of production from homegrown talent. Neither club has done a good job of drafting and developing prospects in recent years, and the lack of a strong pipeline of minor league talent is deadly for any smaller-market franchise.
It has long been suggested that the White Sox would make for an interesting match with free agent third baseman Mike Moustakas, but we’ve seen little in the way of a clear connection. But now there’s evidence at least that the sides are “staying in touch,” in the words of Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Whether that means the South Siders have real interest that would drive a significant offer, of course, is not yet clear. Presumably, the club would be intrigued mostly in a value proposition of some kind, perhaps in a multi-year scenario. While few outside observers believe the Sox roster is primed to compete in 2018, Moustakas would boost the quality in the short term and (more importantly) is young enough that he could be installed as a solid asset for future seasons. With little in the way of clear demand from contenders, this remains one of the more intriguing fits on paper.
- Cubs star Kris Bryant says this winter’s slow-moving free agent market has spurred him to take labor issues seriously, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. “I need to study up, have my voice heard, continue to learn, because this is going to affect us for years to come,” says Bryant. His own delayed promotion to start the 2015 season has obviously played a role in spurring his attention to the subject. It’s an interesting read on one of the game’s brightest young players, who says he and other players are readying to take a more proactive role. “I think with this next [CBA] things are definitely going to change, and there’ll definitely be more fight on our side just because we’re going to get the chance to experience the effects of some of the things we agreed to,” says Bryant.
- The Brewers rotation still has plenty of questions at the back end; indeed, many fans would still like to see an outside addition to provide one answer. As things stand, though, there’s a camp battle underway with quite a few participants. Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote yesterday that, while it’s still plenty early, both Wade Miley and Brent Suter have made favorable initial impressions. In Miley’s case, at least, it might even be that his showing already makes him an odds-on favorite to crack the roster. He has over a thousand MLB innings under his belt, after all, and the Brewers might well lose him through an opt-out (he’s an Article XX(B) free agent) if they don’t ultimately put him on the 40-man. Of course, there’s plenty of time yet for candidates to rise and fall in camp.
- Pirates third baseman David Freese had some salty words for the organization earlier in the winter, but he tells Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they weren’t directed at finding his way to another team. Rather, it seems, Freese was making a call for all in the organization to recommit to winning — a possibility he says he believes in, particularly with the recent acquisitions of Corey Dickerson and Kevin Siegrist. Freese also says he understands he’s not likely to command the lion’s share of the time at third base. “I’ve had a good run in the big leagues,” he said, “and I just want to go out there and win some games.”
March 1: Siegrist’s contract comes with a $1.5MM base salary if he makes the big league roster, tweets FanRag’s Jon Heyman. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweets that Siegrist can earn an additional $500K worth of incentives and has a pair of opt-out dates in the deal if he has not been added to the 25-man roster.
Feb. 24: The Pirates have inked left-hander Kevin Siegrist to a minor-league contract, the team announced today in a press release. He’s received an invitation to spring training camp as well.
Siegrist had recently pitched before a crowd of about 20 scouts in Florida, making an attempt to show teams he’s healthy and can bounce back after an injury-marred 2017 campaign with the Cardinals and Phillies. Apparently none of those teams were willing to offer Siegrist a major-league contract, but he’ll have a good chance to make a Pirates roster that features George Kontos and Michael Feliz as the top setup options behind newly-extended closer Felipe Rivero. If he does, the Bucs will have the option to control him through the 2019 season via the arbitration process.
Prior to 2017, Siegrist had enjoyed a largely successful career with the Cardinals. Across 206 1/3 frames with the club from 2013-2016, the southpaw pitched to a 2.70 ERA while racking up 243 strikeouts. He had a bit of a walk problem (4.10 BB/9), and ERA estimators suggested he outperformed his peripherals a bit (3.87 xFIP), but nonetheless he was solid for the Redbirds, racking up 72 holds and 9 saves during that span.
Things took a turn for the worst for Siegrist last year, as a forearm strain and spinal sprain forced two separate stints on the DL. When on the field, his velocity and strikeout rate were both down, while his walk rate ballooned to a problematic 5.24 per nine. His 4.98 ERA became an eyesore, and by the end of August, the Cardinals had seen enough; they activated him from the DL only to designate him for assignment immediately.
Siegrist was quickly claimed by the Phillies, for whom he pitched just five innings during the month of September. He allowed two earned runs and struck out seven. However, his showing apparently wasn’t enough to convince Philadelphia to pay him a minimal arbitration raise on his $1.6MM 2017 salary. The club opted to outright Siegrist off their 40-man roster, and he elected free agency shortly thereafter.
The towering 6′-5″ Siegrist is just 28 years old. He was drafted and developed by the Cardinals organization, who plucked him out of Palm Beach Community College in the 41st round of the 2008 draft. Though he was a starter in the lower minors, a shift to the bullpen late in his 2012 season at the Double-A level spurred a quick rise to the majors. Siegrist pitched just 7 2/3 innings with the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate before he was deemed ready to make his major-league debut on June 6th, 2013, a day on which he struck out four of the six hitters he faced while allowing no earned runs.
Outfielder Daniel Nava, who was in camp with the Pirates as a non-roster invitee, underwent back surgery yesterday, Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic was among those to report (via Twitter). The recovery process is expected to keep Nava out for ten to twelve weeks.
At the time of his signing, Nava was viewed as a likely candidate to earn a share of a corner outfield platoon. But that had already come into question with the team’s recent acquisition of Corey Dickerson, who is now expected to see near-regular duty.
With the news of the surgery added in, Nava’s outlook in Pittsburgh is decidedly unclear. That’s not to say that it’s a particularly concerning medical outlook; rather, he’s said to be slated for a microdiscectomy, a fairly common procedure that will presumably enable Nava to return without pain.
Rather, it’s increasingly difficult to see how Nava will fit on the roster. While he’s a switch-hitter, the 35-year-old has long been utilized mostly against right-handed pitching. The results support that usage, as Nava has nearly a 200-point platoon spread in his career OPS numbers.
With Dickerson and Gregory Polanco on two corners, the Bucs already have a pair of lefty outfield bats. And switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell likely won’t be asked to sit down very often. With Pittsburgh already carrying two third basemen (Colin Moran and David Freese) and two infield/outfield capable utility players (Adam Frazier and Sean Rodriguez), at most there’ll only be one more bench opening available. Of course, things could look quite a lot different once Nava is ready to return.
The Astros have shipped first baseman Yuli Gurriel to Houston so his injured hand can be evaluated, Jake Kaplan of The Athletic reports (Twitter link). At this point, the situation is more or less a mystery, with no real indication how the issue arose or just what the club is concerned about. Clearly, though, the team’s training staff has found cause to get a closer look from a specialist.
Here’s more on some injury situations from around the game:
- Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier has been diagnosed with a concussion, tweets MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch. Frazier made a leaping catch in yesterday’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates and stumbled a bit before falling backwards and hitting his head against the base of the left-field wall (video link). Manager Aaron Boone said Frazier will be down for “a few days” and acknowledged the seemingly optimistic nature of that timeline. Frazier is far from a lock to make the Opening Day roster in New York with Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Jacoby Ellsbury all on the roster, but he remains a key potential long-term piece for the Yanks.
- It seems that Orioles righty Kevin Gausman has largely shaken off a home-plate collision yesterday, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes. The young starter, who is a key factor in the team’s hopes for the coming season, says he “feel[s] pretty good” on the whole despite slamming into Tigers youngster Jeimer Candelario. For the time being, at least, Gausman is expected to take the ball for his next scheduled spring outing.
- The outlook is at least a bit more worrisome for Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman. Per MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, shoulder inflammation is holding Stroman back. Though he has already been cleared by an MRI of structural concerns, Stroman will rest up in hopes of moving past a problem that has evidently been going on for a few weeks. The key Jays hurler says he’s hoping to be fully ramped up for “the very beginning of the start of the season,” even if it’s not Opening Day, though surely the organization will proceed with caution.
- The Red Sox will welcome reliever Tyler Thornburg back to the hill for the first time since he underwent surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome, Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe reports on Twitter. A bullpen session is just one of many steps back, of course, and Thornburg still has some hurdles to clear. He has yet to pitch competitively for the Boston organization (excepting brief spring action last year) since coming over in a trade in advance of the 2017 season.
- Indications are that Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton is largely progressing well after a long layoff for a torn ACL. As Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com writes, though, Eaton has yet to appear in game action. That appears to be less a reflection of Eaton’s surgically repaired joint than it is a planned effort to build him up deliberately. “We’re going to take it and be methodical and do it right for the first time and make sure I’m overcooked, so to speak, before I go out there.” While it’s surely tempting to max out Eaton’s reps after a lost season, skipper Davey Martinez emphasized the primary goal is to have Eaton at full speed come Opening Day.
- The rival Mets are reporting shoulder and back soreness for Yoenis Cespedes and Jacob deGrom, respectively, but those don’t seem to be real concerns at this point, as MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports. However, the New York organization is likely to hold back first baseman Dominic Smith for a while after he was diagnosed with a strained quad. He already seemed to face a difficult task of cracking the Opening Day roster, so this setback is not likely to help the cause. (New reliever Anthony Swarzak just left his relief appearance with an apparent calf injury, as Mike Puma of the New York Post was among those to tweet, though details are sparse at this time.)
The Major League Baseball Player’s Association has initiated a grievance proceeding against the Athletics, Marlins, Pirates, and Rays regarding those teams’ spending of revenue sharing dollars, according to a report from Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
This general issue has been percolating for some time, even as additional concerns have arisen as to the pace of free-agent signings over the 2017-18 offseason. The MLBPA reportedly engaged with the league office over the Miami and Pittsburgh organizations’ spending earlier this year.
At the time, MLB and the teams at issue rejected the idea that there was any issue worth exploring further. Clearly, the union disagrees and also feels that two other organizations’ practices merit examination. Per Topkin, the complaint relates to spending both last year and over the present offseason.
Revenue-sharing dollars — which will be phased out for the A’s under the current Basic Agreement — are required to be spent for improving the MLB performance of recipient clubs. That doesn’t necessarily mean it all must go to player salaries, but though teams are required to report on how they use the money. And as JJ Cooper of Baseball America notes on Twitter, successive collective bargaining agreements have tightened the permissible uses.
Enforcing the provisions relating to these funds falls in the domain of commissioner Rob Manfred. He can issue penalties, require the submission of a two-year plan, and even order changes with that plan (“after consultation with the Players Association”).
As Topkin notes, it is not immediately clear what the MLBPA is seeking in relief. The collectively bargained provisions do seem to give the union an interest in ensuring the provisions are followed, though, and perhaps the situation is seen as drastic enough to merit a test of their meaning before an arbitrator.
In a statement to the Times, the league confirmed receipt of the grievance but stated that MLB “believe[s] it has no merit.” Pirates president Frank Coonelly responded with a combative tone, issuing a statement labeling the action “patently baseless” (via MLB.com’s Adam Berry, on Twitter). Rays owner Stuart Sternberg defended his own organization in less strident terms (via Topkin, on Twitter).
6:38pm: Saunders can earn $1.5MM on the MLB roster with as much as $500K in available incentives, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com tweets.
When Saunders put pen to paper with Pittsburgh, he was slated to battle with Daniel Nava and others for a spot in the outfield mix. But the Bucs’ recent acquisition of Corey Dickerson left Saunders without much of a path to the MLB roster.
Saunders’s agent, Barry Meister, says the Pirates allowed his client to pursue other opportunities after the new development, per SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter links). Meister says the team “should be commended for their player-friendly, honest and transparent behavior.”
At the end of the day, then, Saunders will enter a different but perhaps even more promising situation in Kansas City. He’ll still need to earn his way onto the roster, but there’s a solid chance he can do so with a good performance this spring. Outside of Alex Gordon, the Royals are thin in terms of lefty outfield bats; Saunders will presumably compete with non-roster invitees Cody Asche and Tyler Collins in camp for a chance at a role in the majors.
Saunders is coming off of a miserable 2017 season and has a long history of injury troubles. But he has had some quality campaigns in the majors, including a 2016 effort with the Blue Jays in which he posted a .253/.338/.478 batting line over 558 plate appearances. At his best, he has also graded well in the field and on the bases, so it could be that the 31-year-old still has some productive seasons ahead of him.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested today that he expects new acquisition Corey Dickerson to handle the bulk of the action in left field for he coming season, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry report on Twitter. No doubt the Bucs will end up giving Dickerson some time off against lefties; while he performed well against southpaws last year, he has long carried wide platoon splits. But it seems the plan is to give him an opportunity to function as something approaching an everyday player, with the Pittsburgh organization evidently willing to stomach the less-than-stellar glovework Dickerson is reputed to deliver. Perhaps the biggest question will be whether the powerful 28-year-old can overcome an interesting problem identified by Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs in a piece today: a tendency to swing and miss at four-seam fastballs.
1:17pm: The Pirates are sending the Rays $1MM as part of the trade, reports Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic (Twitter link). In essence, then, they’ll spend an additional $1.45MM to turn Hudson into Dickerson, while the Rays will add a reliever to their ’pen, a prospect to the lower levels of their farm system, and trim $1.45MM from their 2018 payroll.
Tampa Bay recently designated Dickerson, 28, for assignment in a move that came as a surprise to many. Dickerson posted solid overall numbers in 2017, hitting .282/.325/.490 with 27 homers in 629 trips to the plate. Dickerson, though, faded badly after a strong start to the season.
Though Dickerson hit .326/.369/.570 with 17 homers through the season’s first three months, that production was supported by a .374 BABIP that he didn’t seem especially likely to maintain. That number came back down to earth from July through season’s end as Dickerson’s strikeout rate rose to nearly 29 percent, and he batted just .232/.273/.397 with 10 homers and an 82-to-16 K/BB ratio in the final three months of the season.
That said, Dickerson still has an overall track record as a quality bat, as evidenced by a lifetime .280/.325/.504 slash and 119 OPS+. He’ll earn $5.95MM in 2018 and is controllable for one more year via arbitration before he can reach free agency.
The Pirates desperately needed some outfield help following this offseason’s trade of former face of the franchise Andrew McCutchen, and Dickerson should slot into the organization as the team’s new everyday left fielder. Defensive metrics aren’t exactly bullish on his glovework in the outfield, though he’s graded out as generally average or slightly above-average in left field over the past two seasons after drawing poor marks early in his career with the Rockies. He’ll be joined in the outfield by Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, each of whom is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2017 season.
[Related: Updated Pittsburgh Pirates depth chart]
Though Dickerson isn’t likely to recreate the massive performance he rode to his first career All-Star appearance in the first half last season, he should nonetheless serve as an offensive upgrade over the Pirates’ internal options in left field. Adam Frazier and Jordan Luplow were two of the main candidates for that gig on the 40-man roster, while veterans Michael Saunders and Daniel Nava are in camp as non-roster invitees to Spring Training. Certainly, the Dickerson pickup places a significant roadblock to either veteran making the roster, and it’s fair to wonder if they’ll ultimately be allowed to seek other opportunities.
In Hudson, the Rays will pick up a hard-throwing veteran reliever looking for a rebound season of his own. Hudson’s contract calls for him to earn $5.5MM this season, so the two contracts nearly cancel each other out. However, the Pirates are also sending cash to the Rays in the deal, so it appears that Tampa Bay will come out ahead, financially speaking, in the swap.
Hudson, 31 early next month, posted a 4.38 ERA with 9.6 K/9, 4.8 BB/9, 1.02 HR/9 and a 43.3 percent ground-ball rate while averaging 95.6 mph on his fastball through 61 2/3 innings last year. A converted starter that has twice undergone Tommy John surgery in his career, Hudson has a 4.59 ERA in the ’pen over the past three-plus seasons since making the switch, but secondary metrics have been considerably more optimistic based on his strikeout rates and, outside of last season, his control. In 192 1/3 frames as a reliever, Hudson has a 3.84 FIP and 3.78 SIERA.
Tampa Bay executives Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom recently downplayed the possibility of the Rays trading closer Alex Colome before the season begins, so it seems that Hudson will pair with recently re-signed Sergio Romo to give the Rays another experienced arm in their setup corps.
The addition of that pair of veteran arms will allow the Rays to lean less heavily on what had looked to be a largely inexperienced group of relievers outside of Colome and southpaw Dan Jennings. Andrew Kittredge, Chaz Roe, Austin Pruitt, Ryne Stanek, Jose Alvarado and Chih-Wei Hu wiill be among the names vying for the remaining bullpen spots with the Rays this spring now that Hudson is on board.
[Related: Updated Tampa Bay Rays depth chart]
Gray, meanwhile, was Pittsburgh’s 13th-round pick in last year’s draft and posted a .269/.329/.486 slash with seven homers and five steals in 53 games for the Pirates’ short-season Class-A affiliate last year. The second baseman was an honorable mention on Fangraphs’ list of the Pirates’ Top 25 prospects, with Eric Longenhagen pointing to a long track record of production as an amateur but also labeling his overall offensive profile as “middling.”
All told, it’s a fairly underwhelming return for Dickerson, though that’s largely indicative of the manner in which bat-first corner outfielders have been devalued in the current economic climate of baseball. The Rays surely tried to trade Dickerson for much of the winter but seemingly found no takers before designating him for assignment, and even in this swap it seems that Tampa Bay had to agree to take on some salary to work out a deal. Jay Bruce managed to score a three-year, $39MM pact with a similar, albeit superior overall profile at the plate, but both the trade and free-agent markets for good-not-great corner outfielders have been rather tepid over the past couple of seasons.
It seems plausible that the Rays simply felt they could utilize a full season of Mallex Smith in a corner outfield spot without losing much in the way of overall value, and elected to turn Dickerson into an alternative Major League asset. The surprising trade of Steven Souza that followed Dickerson’s DFA, as the Rays’ front office told it recently, was more or less a function of an unexpected and aggressive pursuit of Souza by the Diamondbacks, who promised a prospect package the Rays felt they could not afford to turn away. The Rays were then able to capitalize on a weak free-agent market and bring in Carlos Gomez at a bargain rate — a move that further reflects the dwindling value of above-average offensive outfielders that aren’t premium defensive assets.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Pirates have inked a minor-league deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, per a club announcement. He has been invited to participate in the MLB side of camp.
Saunders, 31, has had something of a roller-coaster career to this point. After an injury-riddled run with the Mariners, he seemed to turn a corner in 2016 with the Blue Jays. Saunders ran up a .253/.338/.478 slash through 558 plate appearances, though the bulk of the output came in the first half of the season.
The open market was not quite as kind to Saunders as many anticipated, but he still commanded a $9MM guarantee to join the Phillies in advance of the 2017 season. Things just did not work out in Philadelphia, though, as Saunders limped to a .205/.257/.360 slash before being cut loose. He ended up back with the Toronto organization but was not overly impressive at Triple-A or in a brief, late-season return to the majors.
Those ups and downs have shown up in baserunning and fielding metrics, too, perhaps reflecting the role that injuries have played. Saunders has at times graded as a high-end threat on the bases (2012-13) and corner outfield defender (2014), but received below-average marks in both areas in 2016 before bouncing back somewhat in his 73 total MLB games in the following campaign.
Pittsburgh enters Spring Training with several options for filling the outfield vacancy created by the trade of Andrew McCutchen. It could be that Saunders will battle Daniel Nava (a switch-hitter who’s much better against righties) for a single spot. Saunders carries narrow platoon splits over his career, it’s worth noting. That represents a point of distinction from Nava, who was productive when healthy last year but has never hit a lick against southpaws.
Perhaps both players could earn jobs if they are sufficiently impressive, but that seems like a tight fit. The Bucs could utilize southpaw-swinging utilityman Adam Frazier in the outfield, after all. And the team will need to ensure that it has the other pieces needed for a platoon, with right-handed hitters Bryce Brentz and Sean Rodriguez providing options.
If he’s not able to crack the Opening Day roster, Saunders will presumably spend some time digging in against Triple-A pitching in hopes of getting back to form. (Whether and when he can opt out of his deal is not yet known.) Given the amount of uncertainty at the major-league level for the Pirates, Saunders should at a minimum represent a worthwhile depth option to have on hand.