Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro remains in the running to become the Pirates’ next manager, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network. The race is seemingly down to Quatraro, Athletics quality control coach Mark Kotsay and Twins bench coach Derek Shelton, though Heyman notes there may be other unreported names in the mix. Hiring a manager could end up as the first important order of business for new GM Ben Cherington, whom the Pirates brought aboard earlier this week.
The Pirates set their roster in advance of the 2019 Rule 5 Draft tonight, selecting the contracts of right-handers Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce as well as infielders Ke’Bryan Hayes, Will Craig and Oneil Cruz. In a corresponding series of moves, the Pirates have designated lefty Williams Jerez and right-handers Dario Agrazal, Montana DuRapau and Luis Escobar for assignment.
Of the four players designated for assignment, Agrazal had the largest workload with the Pirates in 2019, pitching 73 1/3 innings but struggling to a 4.91 ERA, 5.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 39.9 percent grounder rate. Each of the other three posted an ERA north of 7.00, though Escobar and Jerez each threw fewer than six innings. The 27-year-old DuRapau, meanwhile, enjoyed an outstanding season in Triple-A but allowed 18 runs in 17 1/3 innings at the MLB level.
Hayes, 23 in January, is fresh off a .265/.336/.415 season and against much older competition in Triple-A. Regarded as one of baseball’s premier defensive prospects, Hayes is considered to be among the top farmhands not just in the Pirates’ system but in the entire game.
Cruz, too, has generated some top 100 fanfare and just put the finishing touches on a huge but shortened season, hitting a combined .298/.356/.475 in 73 games. The towering 6’7″ Cruz, acquired in the 2017 trade that sent Tony Watson to the Dodgers, received 80 grades in arm strength and raw power from Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs on their midseason rankings, where he checked in at No. 34 in MLB.
Ponce, acquired from the Brewers in this summer’s Jordan Lyles swap, averaged nearly 10 strikeouts per inning out of the bullpen. Cederlind, also 23, had a solid year out of the ’pen and reached the Triple-A level for the first time. Craig had a down season in Triple-A but has long been considered to be among the top 15 prospects in the Pittsburgh farm and will give them some near-term corner infield depth.
We’re going to see a whole lot of players added to 40-man rosters in advance of tonight’s deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft. We will use this post to track those contract selections from National League teams that are not otherwise covered on the site.
- The Dodgers announced that they’ve selected the contracts of right-hander Mitchell White, infielder/outfielder Zach McKinstry and outfielder DJ Peters. Both White and Peters are considered to be among the club’s top 15 prospects. McKinstry isn’t generally ranked inside L.A.’s top 30, but the 24-year-old had a big season between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019 while appearing at six defensive positions (shortstop, second base, third base and all three outfield slots).
- The Diamondbacks announced that they’ve selected the contracts of right-handers Taylor Widener and Riley Smith as well as the contracts of infielders Andy Young and Wyatt Mathisen. Widener, 24, was one of the organization’s best pitching prospects coming into the season but was blown up for an eye-popping 8.10 ERA in 100 innings. He’s only a year removed from 137 1/3 innings of 2.75 ERA ball and an 11.5 K/9 mark in Double-A, however. Smith, 24, was sharp in Double-A before struggling in Triple-A — like many pitching prospects throughout the league (and with the D-backs in particular). Young, acquired in the Paul Goldschmidt trade last winter, hit 29 homers while playing three infield positions between Double-A and Triple-A. Mathisen, 26 in December, hit .283/.403/.601 in 345 Triple-A plate appearances.
- The Giants, surprisingly, did not add anyone to their 40-man roster prior to tonight’s deadline.
- The Rockies selected the contracts of infielder Tyler Nevin, left-hander Ben Bowden and right-handers Ashton Goudeau and Antonio Santos (Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post first reported the news on Twitter). Those four moves will fill the team’s 40-man roster. Of the four, Bowden and Nevin draw the most fanfare. Nevin, the No. 38 pick in the 2015 draft and son of former MLB slugger Phil Nevin, posted deceptively solid numbers in an extremely pitcher-friendly Double-A environment in 2019 (.251/.345/.399 — good for a 122 wRC+). Bowden, a second-round pick in ’16, posted gaudy strikeout numbers but struggled in Triple-A after dominating in Double-A in 2019.
- The Padres selected outfielder Jorge Ona’s contract and designated outfielder Nick Martini for assignment, as outlined here.
- The Cardinals announced the additions of Jake Woodford, Elehuris Montero and Alvaro Seijas while designating righty Dominic Leone for assignment (as detailed here at greater length).
- Outfielder Corey Ray and right-hander J.P. Feyereisen will head onto the Brewers 40-man, per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via Twitter). It’s not yet known if the team will make further roster additions, but it would have five additional spots to work with to do so. Ray was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft but is coming off of a rough season. Feyereisen, who was added in a quiet September swap, will have a chance to challenge for MLB relief opportunities. Milwaukee also added infielder Mark Mathias to the 40-man roster after acquiring him in a trade with the Indians tonight.
- The Cubs announced that they’ve added catcher Miguel Amaya, infielder Zack Short and right-handers Tyson Miller and Manuel Rodriguez to the 40-man roster. Amaya is the most highly regarded of the bunch, ranking second among Chicago farmhands and drawing some top 100 consideration at MLB.com.
- Four additions to the 40-man were announced by the Reds, who have selected the contracts of catcher Tyler Stephenson and right-handers Tony Santillan, Ryan Hendrix and Tejay Antone. All four rank within the club’s top 30 at MLB.com, headlined by Santillan at No. 4 and ranging all the way to Antone at No. 30. Santillan thrived in a brief Double-A debut in 2018 but struggled there in a larger 2019 sample (4.84 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 in 102 1/3 innings). He’s still just 22, though, and is regarded as a potential big league starter. Stephenson is a former first-round pick who hit well in a highly pitcher-friendly Double-A setting (.285/.372/.410; 130 wRC+). Hendrix posted big strikeout numbers as a reliever in 2019, while Antone displayed sharp ground-ball skills as a starter and reached Triple-A for the first time.
- The Pirates added prospects Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, Will Craig, Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce to the 40-man roster while also designating four pitchers for assignment (as explored in greater length here). Lefty Williams Jerez and right-handers Dario Agrazal, Montana DuRapau and Luis Escobar were cut loose.
- Yesterday, the Braves announced the addition of five prospects to their 40-man roster: outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher William Contreras, right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz and lefties Tucker Davidson and Phil Pfeifer. (More about those moves here.)
- The Nationals announced that they have selected the contract of southpaw Ben Braymer. They still have a huge amount of 40-man flexibility to work with. Even after this move, the Nats have nine openings. The organization also surely expects to fill many of those slots with free agents and/or trade acquisitions after losing quite a few significant players to the open market. Braymer is a former 18th rounder out of Auburn who had a nice run last year at Double-A before being hit hard in the batter-friendly International League.
- The Phillies picked up lefty Cristopher Sanchez in a trade with the Rays and added him to the 40-man roster. Philadelphia also selected the contracts of lefties JoJo Romero and Garrett Cleavinger and right-hander Mauricio Llovera. (Details on those moves here.)
- The Mets announced the additions of Andres Gimenez, Thomas Szapucki, Ali Sanchez and Jordan Humphreys to the 40-man roster and designated righty Drew Gagnon for assignment. (More on those moves here).
- The Marlins opened some eyes by eating the remaining $22MM on Wei-Yin Chen’s contract and adding six prospects to the 40-man roster: Sixto Sanchez, Lewin Diaz, Nick Neidert, Jazz Chisholm, Humberto Mejia and Edward Cabrera. (More details here.)
Twenty-one new charges have been filed against Pirates left-hander Felipe Vazquez, Rich Cholodofsky and Renatta Signorini of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report. Vazquez is currently being in Westmoreland County Prison on previously filed charges of sexual statutory assault of a minor. He was denied bail at a preliminary hearing Tuesday after the prosecution argued that Vazquez is a “significant flight risk.” The new charges, brought to light today, allege possession of child pornography, unlawful contact with a minor and corruption of a minor.
The timeline for an eventual ruling and potential sentencing aren’t immediately clear, though the mounting number of disturbing charges against the former All-Star pitcher make it difficult to envision him ever returning to a big league mound. Depending on the findings of the court, Vazquez could face anything from extended jail time to deportation. He’s currently on administrative leave under Major League Baseball’s joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy.
The Pirates have a new general manager in Ben Cherington, whom they officially introduced as Neal Huntington’s replacement Monday. Pirates owner Bob Nutting indicated then that the Pirates, a few weeks removed from a 69-win season and their fourth straight year without a playoff berth, don’t regard anyone on their roster as untouchable. Even before Nutting made that revelation, many considered high-profile Pirates such as Starling Marte, Chris Archer and Keone Kela as trade candidates. But in the wake of Nutting’s comments, there’s an even bigger name in the mix: first baseman Josh Bell.
Would the Cherington-led Pirates dare shop Bell, who has arguably emerged as their first franchise player since the Andrew McCutchen era came to an end after the 2017 season? Bell, like McCutchen, is a homegrown Pirate made good. A second-round pick of the Pirates in 2011, Bell debuted in 2016 and posted mediocre numbers (relative to his offense-driven position) during the first three years of his career. But the switch-hitting Bell broke out this year during an All-Star season in which he slashed .277/.367/.569 with 37 home runs and 116 runs batted in – an impressive amount even if you regard RBI as an antiquated statistic.
So what’s the problem for Pittsburgh, which seems to have a real building block on its hands at first? As is often the case, it’s about the money. The 27-year-old Bell’s projected to make an affordable $5.9MM via arbitration in 2020, though he has just two more seasons of arbitration control thereafter. And considering their current state, it may be unrealistic on the Pirates’ part to expect they’ll turn back into contenders during Bell’s remaining arb years.
The Pirates could extend Bell in that time span and retain him for the long haul, though as of July, super-agent Scott Boras didn’t sound optimistic about a new deal coming together. Boras took aim at the Pirates for not showing a willingness “to go out and invest in a great young player for a long time,” also criticizing the team for a payroll that has barely climbed (relative to its profits) across the past two decades.
It’s hard to argue with the opinionated Boras regarding the Pirates, especially considering they still haven’t signed anyone for more than the $60MM extension they gave former star catcher Jason Kendall back in November 2000. Bell would likely rake in more on his next pact, but should Pittsburgh make an aggressive push to lock him up at this point? Should the team simply keep Bell and continue going year to year with him? Or maybe now is the time to trade Bell, who’s more appealing than all free-agent first basemen on the open market.
(Poll link for app users)
The Pirates have finally cemented a structure in the front office, having officially hired Ben Cherington as general manager. While the club still needs to settle on a field manager, it can also turn towards restructuring a roster that endured a disastrous second half in 2019, both on the field and off. Cherington and owner Bob Nutting met with Pittsburgh media today (including Rob Biertempfel of the Athletic) to discuss the organizational outlook. As expected, changes figure to be in the works.
No player on the roster is off limits in trade, Nutting indicated. He’ll instead give Cherington free rein in player movement. As Biertempfel notes, that figures to be most relevant for the respective futures of Starling Marté, Keone Kela, and Josh Bell, all of whom are productive enough to catch other teams’ attention but are three or fewer years from free agency.
Marté and Kela, especially, figure to be bandied about the rumor mill in the coming months. The Pirates weren’t believed to be shopping Marté when the offseason began, but that always seemed likely to change and the club has since installed Cherington in place of former GM Neal Huntington. Kela, meanwhile, was seemingly part of the club’s fraught clubhouse that boiled over at season’s end. That said, he remains an extremely talented reliever (2.12 ERA in 32 appearances in 2019), so he figures to draw interest elsewhere.
A Bell trade, while perhaps not as likely, would certainly shake up the first base/DH market. The 27-year-old had a disappointing second half, but his full-season .277/.367/.569 slash line (135 wRC+) remained stellar. Neither scouts nor defensive metrics have ever loved Bell as a first baseman, but he certainly looks the part of a middle-of-the-order masher. Speculatively speaking, the Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, Twins, and Nationals are among the dozen or so teams who would make sense as Bell suitors. After all, he comes with three seasons of team control and is only projected for a $5.9MM arbitration salary, so he could appeal to organizations in various markets and at different stages of the competitive cycle.
Does that mean the Pirates are destined for a full rebuild? The owner did let on that a change in the organization’s outlook may be necessary. “Shooting to be an 81- or 82-win team year after year is not going to be acceptable,” Nutting told reporters, including Biertempfel. “At the same time, 69 wins is never going to be acceptable. I don’t subscribe to (the notion that) a couple of 69’s leads to a winning team.”
There’s a bit of mixed messaging there, but Nutting’s disavowal of consistently fielding average to slightly above-average rosters and hoping things break right is noteworthy. Pittsburgh has, in the past, done just that, eschewing a full rebuild in hopes of remaining on the fringes of the race each year. That served the organization well from 2013-2015, when they ripped off three consecutive Wild Card berths. It has been much less effective in the four seasons since.
No one in the organization fully committed to a teardown, it’s worth noting. As would be expected, Cherington indicated a desire to get acclimated to his personnel before making any decisions. Among those aids will be assistant GM Kevan Graves, who will return in that position, per Biertempfel. Graves served as interim GM after Huntington’s firing and was in the running for the permanent position. Nevertheless, he’ll remain on hand in his previous role, unlike Kyle Stark, who was let go from his AGM job over the weekend.
With the front office turnover now complete, the Pirates’ on-field product will start to take shape. There are many ways this offseason can go, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted in his Offseason Outlook, and it now seems that everything is on the table. The organization could be in for a drastic reshuffling in the coming months.
Nov. 18: The Pirates have formally announced the hiring of Cherington as general manager.
“This is an important step forward for our organization,” owner Bob Nutting said in a press release. “Ben has an incredible track record of success having been a part of three World Championship teams in Boston, one as General Manager, and setting the table for a fourth. His passion and ability to identify, infuse and develop talent at every level, including at the Major League level, is exactly what we need to be successful in Pittsburgh.”
Nov. 15: Former Red Sox general manager and current Blue Jays senior vice president of baseball operations Ben Cherington has accepted an offer to become the next GM of the Pirates, Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (via Twitter). Mackey reported last night that Cherington had been offered the position but had yet to accept or reach an agreement. Once officially announced as the replacement for the recently fired Neal Huntington, Cherington will quickly turn his attention to finding a replacement for manager Clint Hurdle, who was also fired following the 2019 season.
It’s been more than four years since Cherington resigned as general manager in Boston. Cherington was under contract for at least one more season when the Red Sox brought Dave Dombrowski aboard as the new president of baseball operations, and although he was offered the opportunity to retain his GM role, he instead opted to leave the organization. A year later he signed on with the Blue Jays to work in the role he held until accepting this new challenge.
Cherington is best remembered for serving as the key architect of the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series-winning roster. That season was preceded by whirlwind of free-agent additionsS that nearly all panned out; in the 2012-13 offseason, Boston signed Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, David Ross and Ryan Dempster. That flurry of moves was made possible when Cherington put together one of the most memorable blockbusters in recent history, trading Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the Dodgers in perhaps the most prolific salary dump of all time. In making that swap, Cherington freed up a stunning $258MM of long-term payroll commitments (none of which had been issued during his time as GM).
Of course, one can’t discuss Cherington’s run in Boston without acknowledging the ill-fated moves that ultimately led the organization to bring in Dombrowski and install him at a higher rank. The Red Sox have only recently been liberated from the last vestiges of the five-year, $95MM Pablo Sandoval contract and the four-year, $88MM commitment to Hanley Ramirez that were issued in the 2014-15 offseason. Rick Porcello won a Cy Young Award in the middle of the first year of the four-year, $82.5MM extension he signed under Cherington’s watch (which didn’t take effect until the season after Cherington left the team), but in the three subsequent years he worked to a collective 4.79 ERA in 569 innings.
Suffice it to say, as is the case for any GM/president of baseball operations whose ownership provides him substantial resources, Cherington’s track record in terms of free-agent pickups and pricey contract extensions is rather hit or miss.
Where Cherington arguably excelled most, however, was in cultivating an enviable stockpile of prospect depth that helped fuel Boston’s eventual 2018 World Series title. Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi and Eduardo Rodriguez were acquired during Cherington’s time as GM, as were then-prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, who headlined the return sent to the White Sox in the Chris Sale trade. Several key graduations to the Majors and trades by the Dombrowski regime have thinned out the Red Sox’ minor league depth, but Boston was considered to have an elite farm system at the time of Cherington’s departure.
More recently, with the Jays, Cherington has worked with a particular focus on the club’s player development efforts. And while a farm system is always a product of a group effort, it’s nonetheless notable that the Jays have churned out notable prospects like Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Danny Jansen while continuing to cultivate an increasingly impressive amount of depth. That may have been one of the most appealing aspects of Cherington’s track record to the Pirates, who currently possess what is considered at best a middle-of-the road farm system (No. 15 at MLB.com and No. 20 at Baseball America).
Continued success in that area will be crucial to Cherington’s success or failure in Pittsburgh, as he’ll have only a fraction of the player personnel budget to which he was accustomed during his time as GM in Boston. The Pirates are perennially among the league’s lowest-spending clubs under owner Bob Nutting, meaning Cherington will need a deep reserve of cost-controlled talent from which to draw as he navigates the financial obstacles that accompany any low-payroll GM’s job.
The biggest offseason questions on Cherington’s roster, once the field staff is set, will be how to proceed with center fielder Starling Marte and right-hander Chris Archer. Both are controlled for another two seasons, and Archer is coming off perhaps the worst season of his career. Marte figures to be an in-demand trade asset given his consistent production and the dearth of quality center-field options on the free-agent market, while Archer could yet have considerable trade value given his raw stuff, affordable contract and a similar lack of high-end pitching targets on the trade market. Determining the right time to pull the trigger on that type of deal will become the norm for Cherington in the years to come, barring an unexpected hike in payroll from ownership.
- Pirates infielder Erik Gonzalez underwent left foot surgery Wednesday and won’t resume baseball activities for 10 to 12 weeks, Adam Berry of MLB.com tweets. It’s the second time Gonzalez has undergone surgery as a Pirate. The offseason acquisition from last winter underwent a procedure in April to repair a fractured left clavicle, which was one of multiple injuries that helped sideline him for the majority of the 2019 campaign. The 28-year-old posted woeful production over the 156 plate appearances he amassed, as he hit .254/.301/.317 with only one home run. He’s projected to earn $800K via arbitration in 2020.
Blue Jays vice president of baseball operations Ben Cherington has established himself as the favorite in the Pirates’ search for a general manager, Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Multiple sources have informed Mackey that the Pirates have offered the position to Cherington and are waiting to hear if he’ll accept the job. Whether Cherington or someone else gets the role, expectations are Pittsburgh will “announce a move of some sort on Monday,” Mackey writes.
Cherington is one of four known candidates for the post, joining Pirates assistant GM Kevan Graves, Astros AGM of player development Pete Putila and Brewers AGM Matt Arnold. Graves has been the Pirates’ interim GM since they fired Neal Huntington last month, but even if they don’t promote him, he’s likely to stay in the organization, Mackey suggests.
Should Pittsburgh tab Cherington as its GM, it’ll be getting someone with experience in that capacity. The 45-year-old is best known for his hit-and-miss tenure as Boston’s GM. Cherington succeeded Theo Epstein after the 2011 season and stayed on until his firing in August 2015. The Red Sox did win a World Series in that span (in 2013), but they stumbled to sub-.500 records in each of the other three seasons. As MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk previously noted, big-money Cherington signings such as Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez were black marks on his time with the Red Sox, though cornerstones Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and Eduardo Rodriguez did develop when he was running the show.
While Cherington had a large payroll at his disposal with the Red Sox, that won’t be the case if he joins the Pirates. Pittsburgh’s perennially a low-budget club, one that opened 2019 with a payroll below $75MM. The lack of financial flexibility helped doom Huntington, whose days with the Pirates ended after four straight non-playoff seasons. With that in mind, the Pirates’ next GM is definitely in for a challenge, though that may make the job more appealing to Cherington. He has reportedly bowed out of previous GM searches because of an interest in rebuilding an organization from the ground up.
- Pirates third base coach Joey Cora is the latest possibility to take over as the Mets’ bench coach, per Sherman. Cora, a former major league second baseman and the brother of Red Sox manager Alex Cora, has ties to new Mets manager Carlos Beltran and special assistant Omar Minaya, Sherman notes. He managed in the Mets’ minor league system when Minaya was their GM in the early 2000s. Cora, Fredi Gonzalez and Jerry Narron are the only known candidates to become the Mets’ bench coach. Longtime San Francisco assistant Ron Wotus had been in the running, but he’ll stay with the Giants as their third base coach, Daniel Brown of The Athletic relays.