In an expansive Q&A with Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington discusses the challenges that accompany running a low-payroll club, noting that “large-dollar free-agent signs are not available to us,” so the Bucs must rely on developing cheap talent from within. As a result, Huntington has found it difficult to part with packages of prospects in trades for established major leaguers (Jose Quintana, for instance). “You can look around our entire club right how and anybody that came through our system, we could have traded somewhere along the way,” said Huntington. “Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, Josh Bell, Tony Watson; we could have traded any and of all of them at some point, and every single player we would have acquired wouldn’t be with the Pittsburgh Pirates anymore. They would have left for somewhere else because of free agency.”
Pittsburgh has pursued a trade for White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana over the past several months, but Pirates general manager Neal Huntington found the asking price to be “well above where it made sense for us” (via ESPN’s Jim Bowden). With the Bucs seemingly out of the picture for Quintana, the Astros and Braves are the “best possibilities,” per Bowden, who notes that the White Sox “continue to work hard” to trade the 28-year-old. No deal is imminent, though, according to Bowden, who adds that the Astros would have to part with both right-hander Francis Martes and outfielder Kyle Tucker, two of Baseball America’s top 20 prospects, to acquire Quintana (all Twitter links). Houston balked at giving up a package of Martes, Tucker and righty Joe Musgrove for Quintana during the Winter Meetings.
The Pirates, Astros and Braves are among multiple teams still showing interest in White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reports. Pittsburgh and Houston have been widely linked to Quintana on the rumor mill all winter long, while connections between Quintana and the Braves have been largely quiet since December, when Atlanta reportedly balked at Chicago’s very high asking price for the southpaw. Several evaluators tell Passan that the Braves aren’t a great trade fit for the Sox, as while Atlanta’s farm system is very deep, its top prospects (Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Kevin Maitan) are all middle infielders, and Chicago already has Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada slated as their up-the-middle combo of the future. In short, not much has really changed on the Quintana front, as the Sox are in no rush to make a deal unless someone meets their price. “The White Sox have dispatched more scouts than usual” to minor league camps, Passan writes, in a sign of due diligence should a good trade offer suddenly emerge.
As of now, 38-year-old Cubs right-hander John Lackey doesn’t expect the 2017 season to be his last. “At this point, I think I’m more likely to pitch next year than not pitch,” Lackey told Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. “But we’ll see at the end of the season.” Lackey will be a free agent next winter, and while the Cubs unsurprisingly aren’t ready to commit to bringing him back as a 39-year-old, they’re keeping the door open. “It’s not a decision that you make right now,” said general manager Jed Hoyer. “But certainly we love having him. I think his edge, his swagger is fantastic for our team. And we’re certainly glad that we signed him last winter.” In 2016, the first season of a two-year, $32MM deal, Lackey recorded a 3.35 ERA, 8.6 K/9 and 2.53 BB/9 over 188 1/3 frames for the World Series champions.
The latest on four other National League teams:
- All three of the Mets’ fifth starter candidates – Robert Gsellman, Zack Wheeler and Seth Lugo – have fared well this spring, leaving the team with “a pleasant puzzle to solve” by Opening Day, writes Mike Puma of the New York Post. “It’s a great problem to have,” manager Terry Collins said. “We came into this camp knowing we have depth in the rotation. We didn’t know where Zack was going to be, but we felt with the other four guys and Robert and Seth, we had some depth here. And they have stepped up and shown us we weren’t wrong.” Wheeler hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014 because of March 2015 Tommy John surgery, but he ran his fastball up to 97 mph on Wednesday. That “certainly” got the Mets’ attention, Collins noted. It’s possible Wheeler will open the season in extended spring training or the bullpen, though, as the Mets try to limit his workload. Lugo, meanwhile, is “a strong candidate” to begin the year in the bullpen, sources told Puma.
- Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang remains in South Korea, where’s waiting to obtain his United States visa, per Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Kang, who received an eight-month suspended prison sentence on March 3 stemming from an offseason DUI in South Korea, is working out on his own, but he hasn’t faced live pitching. “He’s going to need some work, some game at-bats,” GM Neal Huntington told Nesbitt. “We can set up some sim games, we can set up a lot of at-bats for him in a short period of time. But it’s hard to say until we get him here.” Because the Pirates placed Kang on the restricted list last week, he’s not currently occupying a roster spot; further, he won’t receive pay for any regular-season action he might miss.
- Marlins third baseman Martin Prado suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain during Venezuela’s loss to Team USA in the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday and is likely to miss some regular-season time, per Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. While that’s disappointing, Prado is relieved that he didn’t receive a far worse diagnosis. “I was not sleeping,” he informed Frisaro. “I was like, so worried about myself, worried about the team, worried about the future and everything. After I talked to the doctors, it was a big relief for me.” Until Prado comes back, Miami will turn to Derek Dietrich and Miguel Rojas at the hot corner.
- The Giants entered the spring without a clear No. 1 option in left field, but Jarrett Parker has separated himself from Mac Williamson in the battle for the role, observes Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News. “Coming into this spring, he knew what was at stake and he’s doing the job,” manager Bruce Bochy said of the 28-year-old Parker, who the skipper believes is “maturing as a hitter” and “playing well on defense, too.” Last season was Parker’s first extensive action in the majors, and he batted an above-average .236/.358/.394 in 151 plate appearances.
In his latest notes column, FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports that while teams such as the Astros, Pirates, Rangers and Yankees were all linked to Jose Quintana in trade rumors this offseason, the best offer the White Sox received came from an unnamed club that is currently perceived as more of a rebuilding team. That could mean any number of teams — the Braves, Phillies, Twins, Reds, Brewers and Padres are all in the midst of retooling their organizations — and further context is seemingly unknown at this time. A trade of Quintana, at this point, seems far likelier to occur this summer than during the final days of Spring Training, though Heyman’s note is a reminder that Quintana would appeal to virtually any club in baseball. With four years and $36.85MM remaining on his contract, Quintana’s affordable level of excellence can help clubs looking to win now or those looking to contend more in 2018-19.
A few more highlights…
- The Braves have made “multiple” attempts to sign free-agent outfielder Angel Pagan, but the veteran has been holding out for a big league deal worth around $5MM. Heyman notes that Pagan has received some guaranteed offers, but they’ve come with very low base salaries. Atlanta has also been tied to another reunion with infielder Kelly Johnson, but Heyman notes that Johnson, too, is seeking a Major League contract.
- Zack Cozart is still available in trade talks, but the Reds haven’t gotten much in the way of appealing offers due to the fact that few clubs are looking for a shortstop right now. The Padres have talked to Cincinnati about Cozart, but Heyman notes that they’re not keen on giving up top-tier talent for a player with only one year of club control remaining before free agency. Heyman notes that San Diego is still on the lookout for a shortstop upgrade.
- The Rangers would want a Major League ready starting pitcher in any trade involving Jurickson Profar, Heyman notes. The Padres like Profar but wouldn’t be willing to surrender right-hander Luis Perdomo in order to obtain him, he adds. That may raise an eyebrow for some fans, but I’d point out that Perdomo has five years of control remaining (to Profar’s three) and posted a 4.47 ERA with 6.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 61.4 percent ground-ball rate across his final 110 2/3 innings in 2016 after a dismal start in the bullpen. In that time, he posted a 3.84 xFIP and 3.88 SIERA. Profar hit .239/.321/.338 in 307 plate appearances last season.
- Right-hander Jered Weaver tells Heyman that he considered retirement this offseason following a career-worst year in 2016. However, Weaver began to feel stronger after a month of rest, ultimately landing with the Padres on a one-year, $3MM deal. Weaver says that he’s “10 steps above last year” in terms of how he feels physically at this point.
- The Indians made an offer to Jose Bautista that was for roughly the same $18.5MM guarantee he received with the Blue Jays, Heyman reports, and they weren’t entirely closed off to a multi-year deal. However, Bautista’s preference was to head back to Toronto.
- The Pirates sought right-hander Derek Law (among other pieces) in trade talks centering around Mark Melancon with the Giants at last year’s trade deadline, per Heyman. It seems that the Pirates were focused on adding an MLB-ready replacement arm for the bullpen in Melancon talks, which they received in the form of left-hander Felipe Rivero. San Francisco, of course, signed Melancon to a four-year deal this winter.
Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang has decided to appeal his DUI sentence in South Korea, reports Jee-ho Yoo of Korea’s Yonhap News Agency (Twitter links). The appeal decision on Kang’s behalf was made in an effort to get his sentence reduced to a court fine, which would expedite his visa acquisition process and allow him to join the Pirates more quickly. The 29-year-old Kang admitted guilt following what was reportedly his third DUI arrest and received an eight-month sentence that was suspended for two years earlier this month. Kang can reportedly avoid any jail time if he does not violate the terms set forth as part of the agreement to suspend his sentence. The Pirates placed Kang on the restricted list over the weekend, as Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote, and as of that writing it had yet to be determined precisely how long Kang would require to secure his work visa. The infielder hoped to resolve the issue within a week, per Adamski, but Pirates president Frank Coonnelly chose not to comment on the matter. It’s not yet known if Kang will face any type of punishment from the team upon arriving in the U.S.
4:09pm: Pagan had an agreement with the Orioles, but a failed physical blew things up, Heyman reports. It isn’t clear just when that occurred or what the issue was.
The deal with Baltimore was a major league deal, Heyman suggests. Pagan’s agent, Greg Genske, also says that other teams have offered MLB roster spots, per the report. Indeed, Atlanta is potentially interested in such an arrangement, though it’s not clear at what price tag.
This new report seems to change the story on Pagan. It now appears that opportunity and/or money are the main sticking points. The veteran has “been seeking close to $5MM” in contract talks, according to Heyman.
3:47pm: The Pirates and the Braves are among the “many” teams that have made offers to outfielder Angel Pagan, tweets Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. (Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle first reported that the Braves had made an offer.) However, the 35-year-old Pagan has reportedly been holding out for a Major League offer, and it doesn’t seem that any team has made that type of proposal to this point, as Heyman adds that the outfielder has yet to find a suitable opportunity.
Pagan isn’t exactly missing out on Spring Training entirely, as he’s playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, so he’ll be somewhat up to speed if he does ink a deal with a club at some point this month. Earlier this week, Pagan told reporters that he feels that his 2016 play has earned him a spot somewhere. It’s hard to argue that, based on Pagan’s 2016 season. While he may no longer be much of an option in center field, he did bat .277/.331/.418 with 12 home runs and 15 steals last season, and his defense in left field as passable in the eyes of Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved.
Both Atlanta and Pittsburgh were among the speculative landing spots I listed for Pagan last week, as either one makes sense on paper. The Braves don’t have a true fourth outfielder, as their current backup options in center field include Jace Peterson, Chase d’Arnaud and perhaps non-roster invitee Lane Adams. The Pirates, meanwhile, are currently set to utilize Adam Frazier as an infielder/outfielder off the bench but lack a pure fourth outfield option themselves.
March 3: Pirates president Frank Coonelly has issued a statement on Kang’s sentencing, via press release, which reads as follows:
“Now that Jung Ho’s legal case in Korea has concluded, we will continue to work with him and his representatives in an effort to secure his work visa so that he may resume his career as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. We look forward to meeting with Jung Ho as soon as he is able to travel to the United States and having a serious discussion with him on this issue and how he has and will change those behaviors that led to the very serious punishment that has been levied against him in Korea. We will withhold judgment on what Club discipline, if any, is appropriate until we have had an opportunity to have that discussion. We will also withhold from further comment until we have an opportunity to meet with Jung Ho. Regardless of our decision on the disciplinary issue, we will do everything that we can as an organization to assist Jung Ho as he works to change his behavior and grow into the man that we know he can be.”
March 2: Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang has been sentenced in the DUI case in which he admitted guilt, as Jee-ho Yoo of Yonhap News reports. Kang received an eight-month sentence, but it has been suspended for two years, clearing the way for him to return to Pirates’ camp.
Kang can avoid any jail time if he does not violate the terms of the suspended sentence. He has two prior DUI arrests in his native South Korea, though still managed to stay clear of a prison this time around. Whether or not he’ll face any discipline from Major League Baseball remains to be seen.
Clearly, there’s a broader issue of maturity at play here for Kang, who has endangered others with his poor decisionmaking. He has also been accused in the United States of sexual assault, though it’s not clear at present whether those allegations have any merit, and whether there’s any chance of prosecution.
On the baseball side of the ledger, there’s no doubting Kang’s importance to the Pirates. The 29-year-old has been a steady producer when healthy, providing Pittsburgh with a cumulative .273/.355/.483 batting line and 36 home runs over 837 plate appearances over the past two seasons. The Bucs guaranteed Kang just $11MM in total for his four-year deal, which also includes a $5.5MM club option for 2019.
This is the first entry in MLBTR’s annual Offseason In Review series. We’ll be reviewing the other 29 clubs over the next several weeks as the season approaches.
The Pirates were at the center of multiple potential blockbuster trade rumors this winter, but none of the rumored deals came to fruition. Now, Pittsburgh looks poised to enter the 2017 with a familiar core while several young talents hope to cement themselves as big league contributors.
Major League Signings
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades And Claims
LHP Wade LeBlanc: one year, $750K, plus $1.25MM 2018 option or $50K buyout
Despite being connected to trade talks involving star lefty Jose Quintana throughout the winter, the Pirates’ offseason was generally a conservative one, designed to retain and augment the team’s top assets rather than adding more top assets to join them. That’s not to say, though, that their winter failed to prepare them for the upcoming season. The Bucs will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to compete with the Cubs again this year — that would be a tough assignment for any team, really. Still, there’s reason to think they can improve on their 78-win 2016 total, perhaps dramatically so if things go right.
The Bucs’ 2016 season was full of disappointments, particularly in their rotation. Ace Gerrit Cole couldn’t stay healthy and failed to build on his outstanding 2015. Francisco Liriano was a disaster, and he ended up heading to Toronto in a dubious August trade. Jon Niese, acquired prior to the season for a quality second baseman in Neil Walker, was a mess, posting a 4.91 ERA in Pittsburgh before heading back to New York. And Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong, perhaps somewhat predictably, failed to pick up the slack. The Bucs’ rotation, formerly one of the team’s strengths, finished fifth-worst in the NL with a 4.67 ERA.
The disappointments extended to the lineup, where the Pirates got less than they were probably hoping for from Francisco Cervelli, Josh Harrison and John Jaso. By far the Bucs’ biggest disappointment, though, was Andrew McCutchen. The former MVP batted a mere .256/.336/.430 and looked markedly slower than he had in the past. His declining speed was a factor in his horrific -18.7 UZR and -28 DRS, with both statistics marking him as easily the worst regular center fielder in the game.
There’s reason to think the Pirates can avoid some of 2016’s troubles, even though they made few big on-paper moves. In the rotation, they re-signed Ivan Nova, who pitched better than he ever had after heading their way at the 2016 trade deadline. (More on Nova below.) They can also hope for a full, healthy season from Cole, and they should continue to receive help from a burgeoning group of young pitchers that includes Jameson Taillon (who had a strong rookie season in 2016), Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and, if he can improve his control, top prospect Tyler Glasnow.
This offseason, the Pirates first attempted to address the McCutchen issue by trading him. The superstar has only one guaranteed year left on his contract, plus a team option for 2018, and with top prospect Austin Meadows on the way and Starling Marte looking like a far better defensive center fielder than McCutchen, McCutchen seemed like an increasingly strained fit in Pittsburgh. The Bucs were repeatedly connected to the Nationals as a potential trade partner, with the Nats reportedly offering pitchers Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning, plus another player. Those plans were scuttled when the Nationals traded Giolito, Dunning and Reynaldo Lopez for Adam Eaton instead. It then appeared the Pirates would keep McCutchen, and though there were whispers about other teams (including the Mets and Blue Jays) having interest, the Bucs never seemed all that likely to trade him once their talks with the Nationals fell through.
So the Pirates will keep McCutchen, at least for now, and they’ll head into 2017 with a new plan for how to use him. While McCutchen’s 2016 season was disappointing, he did end it well, batting .284/.381/.471 over the season’s final two months. It remains to be seen whether he can retain that pace going forward, of course. But the Pirates also addressed his defensive struggles by changing their outfield alignment — the very capable Marte will man center field going forward, with Gregory Polanco in left and McCutchen in right. McCutchen has a weak arm, suggesting that right field is an odd fit, but right field in PNC Park is small. Also, McCutchen is better at going to his right than to his left, suggesting that he could fare decently in right by staying relatively near the foul line.
The Bucs also addressed their bullpen, which had been depleted by the losses of Mark Melancon at last year’s trade deadline and Neftali Feliz to free agency, by signing Daniel Hudson to a two-year deal. Hudson produced a 5.22 ERA with the Diamondbacks last season, but his peripherals were somewhat more promising than that, and his fastball averaged 96 MPH in his second full year back from his second Tommy John surgery. He shares his good velocity, extensive injury history and modest recent performance record with pre-2016 Feliz, who had a successful comeback season with the Pirates last year.
More analysis after the break …Read more
- David Freese originally came to the Pirates on a mid-March, one-year deal last offseason, but he figured out quickly that he hoped to remain with the Pirates beyond the 2016 campaign, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Freese tells Biertempfel that he told his agent last summer to initiate the extension talks that led to his two-year, $11MM deal with the Buccos. “It all started with talking to me understanding this is the place I want to be,” says Freese. The corner infielder adds that the market has begun to change for players like himself, who are closer to average than to stars: “Older guys are not going to find that kind of deals that were there a few years ago.” Freese’s teammates are thrilled to have him back, as both Gerrit Cole and Josh Harrison laud his quick emergence as a quiet leader in the clubhouse. Cole referred to Freese as “one of the better teammates, if not the best, that I’ve played with.”