- There are a few more details available on the strange circumstances that led to the Cardinals acquiring reliever Juan Nicasio from the Phillies earlier today– but without the ability to utilize him in the postseason. A team other than the Cards won the claim for Nicasio when the Pirates put him on trade waivers in August (only to pull him back when no deal was reached), per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). Rather, it may actually have been yet another NL Central rival — the Cubs — that had the highest-priority claim on Nicasio last month, per Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — which would mean the Cards bypassed a shot at adding him at that time. In any event, St. Louis did place a successful claim this time around, when the Phillies ran him through trade waivers after acquiring him via outright waivers on the last day of August, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweets.
The Phillies announced that they have traded right-hander Juan Nicasio to the Cardinals in exchange for minor league infielder Eliezer Alvarez. Philadelphia had recently claimed Nicasio off outright waivers from the Pirates. Nicasio will give the Cardinals’ bullpen a boost, though since he’s been acquired after Aug. 31, he won’t be eligible for the postseason roster if St. Louis qualifies. Nicasio is a free agent after the season.
Nicasio’s time with the Phillies will last all of a week, bringing to a close one of the more puzzling sequences in recent August trade history. The Pirates were unable to pass Nicasio through revocable trade waivers last month, ultimately pulling him back off waivers and placing him on outright waivers and instead losing him to the Phillies, who had top waiver priority, for nothing other than salary relief that amounted to roughly $600K.
The move was confusing enough that Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington felt the need to explain the team’s rationale to the media. Per Huntington, Nicasio was claimed by a “playoff-caliber” team on trade waivers — it’s not clear if that Cardinals were that club, though it’d make sense — and the Bucs opted to place him on outright waivers in hopes of getting him to an AL contender rather than helping a “direct competitor.” (Trade waivers are league-specific, whereas outright waiver priority ignores league and is solely determined in reverse order of MLB standings.)
Nicasio will ultimately end up with a direct competitor of the Pirates anyhow, though he won’t be able to pitch in the postseason. Moreover, the Phillies will make out extremely well in this deal, as Alvarez entered the season ranked 10th on Baseball America’s list of the Cardinals’ top 30 prospects. He currently ranks 19th among St. Louis farmhands in the eyes of Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. In essence, the Phillies were able to claim a Cardinals prospect off waivers, which ultimately cost them about $138K in terms of salary (the pro-rated portion of Nicasio’s week-long tenure with the team).
For the Cardinals, Nicasio immediately becomes one of their best relievers. Through 61 1/3 innings, Nicasio has averaged 8.95 K/9, 2.64 BB/9 and a 46.9 percent ground-ball rate en route to an excellent 2.79 ERA. The 31-year-old has averaged a career-best 95.4 mph on his heater in 2017 and is sporting a 10.7 percent swinging-strike rate that would rank third among current St. Louis relievers (not including the injured Trevor Rosenthal, who led the team’s bullpen in that regard).
Alvarez, 23 next month, has spent the season with St. Louis’ Double-A affiliate, hitting .247/.321/.382 with four homers and eight steals (in 11 tries). Those numbers don’t immediately stand out, though it’s worth noting that Alvarez skipped Class-A Advanced entirely and was considerably younger than the league average in Double-A.
Callis and Mayo note in their free scouting report that Alvarez has a line-drive approach with a knack for making hard contact and could eventually grow into more power. He’s an above-average runner and could profile as a regular at second base down the line if everything breaks right for him. Alvarez was added to the Cardinals’ 40-man roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, so he’ll go onto the Phillies’ 40-man roster and fill the spot that was vacated by trading Nicasio.
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The Pirates have announced matching, four-year extensions for both GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle. Both are now under contract through the 2021 season; salary terms are unreported.
Hurdle’s deal was reported yesterday, though Huntington’s situation remained unclear. As we covered at the time, both of these key organizational figures were entering an offseason of uncertainty, with the Bucs possessing team options for the 2018 campaign.
Rather than simply taking the one year already contemplated in their prior contracts, Pirates president Frank Coonelly decided to reward both Huntington and Hurdle with yet greater commitments, calling each “selfless leaders who have made us a far stronger organization, both on and off the field.” Both had previously worked for one or three-year terms.
Some fans will find some cause for consternation in the timing of the move. After all, the Bucs are again failing to play to expectations after a 2013-15 run of success that reinvigorated hopes and fan interest. And the club has drawn fairly persistent accusations of being unwilling to spend when necessary. Most recently, hackles raised with the club’s curious move at the end of August to dump the salary of quality reliever Juan Nicasio. (At least as public perceptions go, it probably doesn’t help that Nicasio was claimed by the cross-state-rival Phillies, who had even less reason to pay his salary at this stage of the year.)
Still, it’s hard not to credit the work of the Huntington-Hurdle duo. The former came over from the Indians organization in advance of the 2008 season; while it took some time, and awaited the arrival of Hurdle a few years later, the club finally broke its long-running losing streak. Utilizing creative methods worthy of a book, Huntington’s front office — with Hurdle chipping in from the clubhouse and dugout — managed to field a roster that won 280 and lost 206 games from 2013 through 2015.
While those teams never advanced in the postseason, and things haven’t gone as well since, that doesn’t necessarily fall entirely on the shoulders of the GM and manager. The team’s exciting trio of outfielders was seen as perhaps the game’s best entering 2016; for a variety of reasons, they’ve combined to put up just 12 WAR over the last two years. Unlike some other organizations that have emerged in recent seasons, too, the Bucs have continued to carry less than $100MM in Opening Day payroll.
While the team has just not quite gotten enough from a variety of spots on the roster, Huntington has done well in acquiring and re-signing Ivan Nova, getting Felipe Rivero for pending free agent Mark Melancon, and acquiring and then extending the solid David Freese (who has been especially important with the unexpected loss of Jung Ho Kang). Every recent move hasn’t been a winner — the signings of Daniel Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong, for example — though perhaps the most strident complaints have been about opportunities that may have been missed owing mostly to payroll constraints.
All told, the current roster still holds plenty of talented players on appealing contracts. But some of the organization’s biggest stars — McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, in particular — are nearing free-agent eligibility, posing major questions (fraught with complicated baseball and public relations elements) to the front office and ownership group. How the Bucs will navigate the potentially turbulent waters remains to be seen, but the helmsmen will remain the same — albeit now with significant contractual protection to weather any short-term disappointments.
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The Pirates have reached agreement on a four-year extension with skipper Clint Hurdle, according to a report from Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hurdle, 60, will now be under contract through 2021.
This represents the lengthiest commitment the club has made to Hurdle, who has been at the dugout helm since 2011. He originally signed a three-year contract, then added a year and an option, then inked a three-year extension with another option season. That last deal left the club with the right to keep Hurdle around for 2018; instead, though, the organization elected to strike a lengthier pact.
When Pittsburgh initially hired Hurdle, who had previously managed the Rockies, the organization had yet to post a winning season since way back in 1992. That did not change right away, but Hurdle and GM Neal Huntington helped oversee a return to prominence beginning in 2013.
The Bucs ran off an impressive 280-206 record from 2013 through 2015, though somehow the club never managed to take a division crown in a competitive NL Central. Unfortunately, too, Pittsburgh fizzled in all three trips to the postseason.
Since that time, the Pirates have faltered. After a disappointing 2016 campaign, the team has again fallen shy of expectations — though it’s tough to find much cause to blame Hurdle for the notable roster absences the club has dealt with.
What’s not yet known is whether Hurdle will continue to partner with GM Neal Huntington. Pittsburgh can also retain Huntington through a 2018 club option. At this time, there’s no real indication as to how that situation will play out.
The Pirates announced that they have claimed left-handed reliever Jack Leathersich off waivers from the Cubs and optioned him to Triple-A Indianapolis. Leathersich, 27, had been designated for assignment over the weekend as the Cubs tweaked their 40-man roster to accommodate the arrival of some September promotions.
Leathersich debuted with the Mets back in 2015 but missed the latter portion of the season due to Tommy John surgery. He worked his way back to throw 23 1/3 innings across multiple minor league levels last year and has had a strong season with the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate in 2017. Through 44 1/3 innings this year, he’s pitched to a 2.84 ERA and averaged a whopping 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Leathersich, though, has also averaged 5.7 walks per nine frames pitched, and control has long been an issue for the southpaw. He’s averaged nearly 15 K/9 over the life of his professional career but has also averaged 5.0 BB/9.
The Pirates will have about four weeks to potentially bring Leathersich up to the Majors and get a look at him with expanded September rosters in place, if the team wishes. Leathersich does have a minor league option remaining beyond the current season, so the Bucs can take a look at him next spring and option him to Triple-A without needing to risk exposing him to waivers. Of course, that also assumes that he’ll survive the winter on Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster, which is far from a given.
- The Pirates placed utilityman Josh Harrison on the disabled list with a broken left pinky finger and recalled fellow infielder/outfielder Chris Bostick from Triple-A on Sunday, per a team announcement. The injury, which is the result of a hit by pitch from Reds right-hander Tyler Mahle on Saturday, will end Harrison’s season, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review. The 30-year-old Harrison currently leads the majors in HBPs (23, two more than Anthony Rizzo) and closes 2017 having produced 3.2 rWAR/2.5 fWAR and a .272/.339/.432 batting line with 16 home runs and 12 stolen bases across 542 plate appearances. Depending on whether the struggling Pirates elect to rebuild over the winter, it’s possible Harrison has played his last game as a Buc. The versatile veteran is reasonably priced through 2020, including a pair of club option years, and could be a trade candidate.
In one of the more puzzling waiver placements in recent memory, the Pirates opted to place right-hander Juan Nicasio — the team’s second-best reliever behind Felipe Rivero — on outright waivers earlier this week. The Pirates have drawn heavy criticism for the decision, which looked to be largely about saving roughly $600K through season’s end — or slightly more than the league minimum salary for one player over the course of a full season ($535K).
Recognizing the general befuddlement over the move, Pirates GM Neal Huntington issued a statement to the media explaining his rationale with the transaction. (Via Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.) Huntington revealed that a “playoff-caliber” club claimed Nicasio off revocable trade waivers earlier in the month but did so with the intention of blocking others from obtaining Nicasio rather than adding the right-hander to its own roster.
The Pirates had the option of dumping Nicasio’s contract on the team that claimed him, but that would’ve involved aiding a “direct competitor,” per Huntington. Rather, the Bucs placed Nicasio on outright waivers in hopes of getting him to the American League, as outright waiver priority is not league-specific like revocable trade waivers.
“We chose to take the chance to see if by placing Juan on outright waivers he would end up with a different playoff contender, preferably one in the American League,” the GM stated. The Pirates surely didn’t expect to see the Phillies, who possess MLB’s worst record, claim Nicasio. The right-hander is a free agent at season’s end, making it a surprise that any non-contending club would claim him. Huntington would go on to acknowledge the “minimal” cost savings the move created while also labeling the transaction a forward-looking move that would allow the team to evaluate longer-term pieces in high-leverage spots.
While the Pirates likely expected that the placement on outright waivers would allow Nicasio to fall to a team such as the Royals, Mariners or Rangers — each of whom would have claiming priority over NL contenders such as the Marlins and Cardinals — the move remains difficult to understand. For a club with a perennially low payroll, the effective dumping of their second-best reliever to a team with a worse record comes with significant public relations ramifications.
Even if the team’s intentions were primarily driven by a desire to get Nicasio onto a contending club, a frugal team such as the Pirates will be hard-pressed to sell the notion that the move was not motivated by cost-savings — especially just one year after having traded Francisco Liriano in a deal that was primarily viewed as a means of obtaining salary relief. Nicasio’s departure also seems unlikely to sit well with the remaining players in the clubhouse. Rivero, for instance, has already lamented the departure of his bullpen-mate on social media (Twitter link).
The decision looks all the more questionable when noting that the Bucs could have moved Nicasio prior to the non-waiver deadline as well. While the team surely hoped to contend for the NL Central at that point in the season — Pittsburgh was 5.5 games out of first place on July 31 — the Pirates still traded left-hander Tony Watson to the Dodgers just before the non-waiver deadline. And, a year ago, the Bucs flipped closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals in exchange for Rivero while still aiming to contend.
Observations such as these are always easy to make with the benefit of hindsight. It stands to reason that Pittsburgh was very likely reluctant to move two of its top three relievers at the deadline, when the postseason still seemed within reach. However, the end result of the process leaves the organization worse for the wear in more ways than one.
The Phillies announced that they’ve claimed right-handed reliever Juan Nicasio off waivers from the Pirates. Philadelphia designated first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.
It’s a surprising move for the Phils: Nicasio is slated to reach free agency at season’s end; he’s owed another $600K or so through the end of the year; and Philadelphia clearly is not contending in 2017. It also seems unlikely Nicasio will be flipped via trade. (He was already claimed and pulled back from revocable trade waivers, and any deal would likely need to be struck by the end of the day — which represents the deadline for adding outside players with postseason eligibility.)
Perhaps the Phils simply are willing to pay for Nicasio to help win some close ballgames over the final month of the season, though at this point the team is in position to earn the top 2018 draft pick (with the worst record in baseball — which also gave them the top waiver position). It also won’t hurt to have a veteran in the bullpen with so many young pitchers on the rosters.
The cross-state rival Pirates, on the other hand, evidently saw an opportunity to save some payroll in what has turned into a lost season. GM Neal Huntington acknowledged as much, as Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (links to Twitter). Huntington also cited a desire not to “help a direct competitor” as well as to allow other hurlers a chance to pitch in the late innings.
There’s little doubt that many contenders would have liked a shot at adding Nicasio down the stretch. He has thrown sixty excellent innings this year, working to a 2.85 ERA with a 60:18 K/BB ratio. Odds are, Nicasio will step into a late-inning role for the Phillies. So long as he maintains something like his current trajectory, the 30-year-old will likely be in line for a strong, multi-year contract over the winter.
As for Stassi, the 27-year-old struggled in his first taste of the majors this year. Over 90 trips to the plate, he hit just .167/.278/.295 with a pair of long balls. He has also fallen off in the upper minors after two consecutive productive campaigns.
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6:34pm: Southpaw Wade LeBlanc is also on irrevocable waivers, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tweets. LeBlanc is earning just $750K this year and can be controlled next year via arbitration or a $1.25MM club option (with a $50K buyout).
The 33-year-old lefty has thrown 61 1/3 innings on the season, working to a 4.99 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. He has surrendered ten long balls in that span. As has been the case for most of his career, LeBlanc has posted reverse platoon splits, with lefty batters hammering him and righties managing only a .234/.288/.418 slash.
6:14pm: The Pirates have placed right-handed reliever Juan Nicasio on outright waivers, according to a report from Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Unlike revocable trade waivers, outright waivers cannot be rescinded — meaning that any team can simply claim Nicasio at this point.
That’s a surprising decision, at first glance. Nicasio, who’ll soon turn 31, has been nothing shy of outstanding this year. Over sixty frames, he owns a 2.85 ERA with sixty strikeouts against 18 walks. He’s also throwing harder than ever before, averaging 95.8 mph with his fastball while working in high-leverage spots.
On the other hand, the Bucs have now slipped so far in the standings — eight games out of a postseason spot entering action today — that there’s just no realistic hope for the team to contend. Nicasio is still set to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $600K, as Brink notes, after avoiding arbitration for $3.65MM last fall.
Surely, the club would prefer to get something for Nicasio via trade; MLBTR’s Steve Adams ranked him second among remaining August trade candidates a few days ago. But it could well be that Nicasio was claimed and then pulled back from revocable waivers earlier this month. In that event, it makes good sense for the club to simply hope to find a taker for the salary, though it’s somewhat curious that the team did not utilize irrevocable trade waivers (rather than outright waivers) in case he does clear.
It seems reasonable to expect multiple teams to place claims on Nicasio. Because Nicasio is on outright waivers, rather than irrevocable trade waivers, teams can claim him in order of record (worst to first) regardless of which league they are in. (Otherwise, he’d have been available first to N.L. clubs.)
- The Pirates’ rotation hasn’t been overwhelming this season, but they have had good depth they largely haven’t needed, as Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. The Bucs have only used six starters, and one of those, Tyler Glasnow, has a 1.99 ERA with Triple-A Indianapolis and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since early June. Steven Brault (1.94 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 52.2 GB%) has also fared well at Triple-A, with Drew Hutchison, Clay Holmes and Nick Kingham all also getting fairly good results. “It’s a good lesson in humility and patience,” says Brault. “You have to realize it’s not what you’re doing that’s wrong. Sometimes there’s just not a spot.” The Pirates control the rights to everyone in their current rotation for at least two more seasons beyond this one, so an offseason move or two could be a possibility, with Gerrit Cole perhaps being on the trading block. Kingham will be out of options next season, making his name one to watch as well. Of course, rotation depth charts have a way of changing quickly.