- This winter holds as much or more uncertainty for the Pirates, though it’s not at all clear there’ll be much roster change. Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tackles some fan questions in an interesting read. He predicts that, so long as the team doesn’t find trades for significant players, it will likely keep the same essential form as it had this year. (Side note: best wishes to Stephen as he transitions off of the beat into a new role, as he discusses in the link.)
- Andrew McCutchen is the key figure of this Pirates offseason, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, as the team faces a big decision about trading the long-time star outfielder. Dealing McCutchen would essentially mark the end of an era for the franchise, though it would free up $14.5MM in payroll for 2018 (Brink rightly figures McCutchen’s club option is sure to be exercised by the Pirates) that could then be used to fill other roster holes. McCutchen turns 31 next week and is coming off a solid 2017 season that revived his value following a very disappointing 2016 campaign.
John Jaso may have played his last big league game, he told reporters (including Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and MLB.com’s Adam Berry) following the Pirates’ season-ender today. “Honestly, this is probably it for me, as far as baseball goes,” the veteran utilityman said, though he stopped short of entirely confirming his retirement. “We’ll see. I mean I can’t say anything for sure. I can’t really tell you what the future holds or whatever. But if I left now, it would be a really good feeling to leave right now, if I did. These last couple of years with the Pirates were good. It’s just taking that step and being brave enough to do it. For most of us, this is all we know. There’s a lot of those ’what ifs’ and ’buts’ and everything like that. That stuff kind of scares you when you have to make a decision like this. There’s a lot of excitement out there that I’m looking forward to. I feel ready to make that step.”
If this is it for Jaso, the 34-year-old will be hanging up the spikes after 2591 career PA over parts of nine seasons with the Rays, Mariners, A’s and (for the last two seasons) Pirates. Injuries and struggles against left-handed pitching limited Jaso’s usage as an everyday player, though he was very productive in various part-time capacities. Jaso posted good career splits against right-handed pitching and was an above-average run producer overall in six of his eight full seasons, finishing with a 115 wRC+ for his career. If this it for Jaso, we wish him congratulations on a fine career and we tip our hats to his most immediate postseason endeavor — helping with relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
- Andrew McCutchen will remain in center field if he’s still on the Pirates next year, general manager Neal Huntington told Adam Berry of MLB.com and other media Sunday. From 2009-16, McCutchen lined up exclusively in center field, but after an especially poor showing in the grass last year, the Pirates shifted him to right in favor of Starling Marte. McCutchen took over again in center after Major League Baseball gave Marte an 80-game suspension in April for using performance-enhancing drugs and never relinquished the position. For the fourth year in a row, advanced metrics gave unfavorable reviews to McCutchen’s work in center (minus-14 Defensive Runs Saved, minus-4.4 Ultimate Zone Rating), but he did have a bounce-back season at the plate after a down 2016. Looking ahead to the offseason, picking up McCutchen’s $14.5MM club option for 2018, his final year of team control, should be a no-brainer for the Pirates. However, it’s possible they’ll shop him again after doing so last winter.
- Right-hander Trevor Williams has somewhat quietly made a strong case for a spot in the Pirates’ 2018 rotation, writes MLB.com’s Adam Berry. The Bucs are banking on Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova to hold down the top three spots in the rotation, and Williams’ quality run over his past 24 outings has perhaps earned him the next spot in the starting five. In that time, he’s worked to a 3.65 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 49.9 percent ground-ball rate. He’s averaged 5 2/3 innings per start in that time, so the Pirates would probably prefer to see him work deeper into games with greater frequency, but Williams certainly looks like a viable rotation piece moving forward.
- Pirates’ infielder Jung Ho Kang has been granted an exemption to play in the Dominican Winter League despite being on the restricted list, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Kang has not earned any salary or service time during the 2017 season, because the Department of State denied his application for a visa after a third drunk driving incident in his home country of South Korea. Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached an agreement to allow Kang to play in winter ball in the offseason in hopes that he can get a visa for 2018.
The Pirates controversially parted with reliever Juan Nicasio in a money-saving move last month, but the now-Cardinal and impending free agent would be open to an offseason return to the Bucs, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. “Yes, I would consider it. I liked it there a lot,” said Nicasio, who joined Pittsburgh prior to the 2016 season. It’s unclear whether the Pirates will pursue Nicasio over the winter, but he has put himself in position to secure a nice deal from them or someone else with his output this year. In 69 innings divided among Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and St. Louis, the 31-year-old has posted a 2.74 ERA with 8.74 K/9, 2.35 BB/9 and a 45.9 percent groundball rate.
More from Pittsburgh and two other NL cities:
- The Nationals plan to activate right fielder Bryce Harper for their series opener against the Phillies on Monday, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post tweets. Harper left the Nats’ game against San Francisco on Aug. 12 after suffering a gruesome-looking knee injury, thus derailing an MVP-caliber campaign, but he’ll have a chance to be a major factor in October for the World Series hopefuls.
- Giants right-hander Matt Cain sounded uncertain on Saturday when discussing whether he plans to continue his career in 2018, Chris Haft of MLB.com writes. What’s clear is that the Giants will buy out the former front-line starter’s $21MM club option in favor of a $7.5MM buyout in the offseason, ending a fruitful tenure in the Bay Area. While the 32-year-old Cain is in the midst of a fourth straight rough season, he has been outstanding for the majority of his career in San Francisco, where he has won three World Series and earned three All-Star nods since debuting in 2005.
- Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang won’t need to come off the restricted list to participate in the Dominic Winter League, general manager Neal Huntington told Adam Berry of MLB.com and other reporters Sunday (Twitter link). Kang is already in the Dominican Republic and working out with his winter ball team, per Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Their season begins Oct. 20, and playing for them will represent his first game action since the 2016 major league season. Kang hasn’t been able to secure a U.S. work visa since earning his third DUI charge in his native South Korea last winter. The Pirates will set an offseason deadline to decide whether they can count on Kang for 2018, according to Huntington. “We’ll get to a point in time where, if we still don’t know, we’ll plan as if he’s not going to be here,” he said. “If he is able to secure a visa to get into the country, we’ll have an extra really good player.”
- In a piece that’s not altogether unrelated to Kang’s situation, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette analyzes the thin margin of error the Pirates front office has to work with in light of the team’s still-limited payroll. GM Neal Huntington notes the need to find “significant value outside of the free-agent market” as well as the imperative to “get more than just a dollar-for-dollar value” in free agency. The piece highlights the challenges facing the just-extended executive as he seeks to position the Bucs for contention once again.
Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang discussed his attempt to return to the majors with Jee-ho Yoo of Yonhap (here and here). Kang derailed his career when he drove under the influence of alcohol in his native Korea — the third time he has been arrested for a DUI — with a subsequent conviction leaving him unable to obtain a visa to work in the United States. Now, as he prepares to play in the Dominican Winter League, Kang says he hopes “to become a better person and a better player.” Whether or not he’ll be able to return to action in the majors — in 2018 or beyond — will ultimately depend upon the U.S. government.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli will be shut down for the rest of the year, manager Clint Hurdle tells reporters including MLB.com’s Adam Berry (via Twitter). Hurdle says there simply isn’t enough time for the backstop to make it back from his quad injury.
While the Bucs don’t need Cervelli to make a push for the postseason — that ship sailed a while back — it’s disappointing for his season to end this year. The veteran has been out since mid-August (apart from a one-game effort to return) and has missed out on a chance to work with the club’s young pitching staff down the stretch.
Cervelli’s absence also means he won’t have a chance to bounce back from his rough finish to the year. Over his final 17 games, Cervelli posted only a .132/.220/.151 slash with twenty strikeouts. Of course, Cervelli was much better at the plate over the full course of the season. But he has produced less than the league average with the bat over the past two years and tanked recently in the framing department (after previously ranking among the game’s best).
All said, the Pirates haven’t made out quite as well as they hoped when they inked Cervelli to a three-year, $31MM extension early in the 2016 season. While the team can still expect to get value out of the 31-year-old over the next two campaigns, he’ll need to boost his performance to warrant the $22MM he is still owed.
Following this weekend’s outright of Drew Hutchison, Pirates GM Neal Huntington spoke to Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the decision to move on from the right-hander, who is now very likely to become a free agent at season’s end. While Hutchison was the lone return the Pirates received in exchange for dumping Francisco Liriano’s contract and sending two prospects to the Blue Jays, Huntington indicated that he’s been passed on the depth chart by other arms. “We traded for him with the idea that he was a controllable, young starter that could fill a rotation spot for years to come,” said Huntington. “We just also decided this year that the growth and development of our guys put them ahead of him.” The Pirates have relied heavily upon Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow to make starts behind Gerrit Cole, Ivan Nova and Jameson Taillon this season. With Hutchison eligible for arbitration this winter, the lack of room in the rotation makes his removal from the 40-man roster is essentially the same as non-tendering him several months in advance.