- Pirates righty Ivan Nova says he hopes to remain in Pittsburgh and intends to value his comfort there, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports (Twitter links). Still, he suggested that’s far from a certainty. “I don’t want to leave this clubhouse, to be honest,” he said. “But it’s not up to me.” It’s not immediately clear just what Nova meant by that comment, but certainly there are plenty of other factors at play — on his end, but also for the Pirates and other clubs. The 29-year-old has positioned himself nicely with a huge showing since heading to Pittsburgh. After his outing tonight, Nova has allowed just 21 earned runs over 59 1/3 innings with 47 strikeouts against only three walks.
- Neftali Feliz isn’t likely to get back on the mound for the Pirates this season, manager Clint Hurdle told reporters, including Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Feliz, signed as a free agent last winter, enjoyed a nice rebound campaign with the Buccos in 2016, pitching to a 3.52 ERA with 10.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 37.9 percent ground-ball rate in 53 2/3 innings of work while playing on a modest $3.9MM salary. The specific nature of the arm injury that has plagued Feliz since early September remains somewhat murky, though he was reportedly cleared of elbow or shoulder troubles earlier this month. Assuming there are no major medical concerns, he’ll become yet another pitcher to significantly boost his stock in a brief stint with the Pirates, as he’ll enter the open market with an ERA nearly three runs lower and a K/9 rate that’s nearly three whiffs higher than he did a year ago.
- In a second piece from the Post-Gazette, Stephen J. Nesbitt writes that while Andrew McCutchen’s defensive ratings in center field have plummeted — his -26 DRS mark is the worst of any fielder at any position in baseball, and his -14.4 UZR is third-worst — Pirates manager Clint Hurdle isn’t ready to flip McCutchen and standout defensive left fielder Starling Marte. “I know that there are probably going to be plays that Marte can make in center field that maybe Andrew doesn’t make,” said Hurdle, “[but] there are plays Marte makes in left field that nobody can make. That’s the other point. Everybody in the street talks to me about center field. Marte makes plays in left that I don’t know if any other left fielder in the game can make.”
The Pirates announced that they have acquired infielder Chris Bostick from the Nationals in exchange for minor league catcher Taylor Gushue and cash. Bostick, who was designated for assignment by the Nats earlier this month, has been added to Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster but won’t join the team for the final few games of the season. He’ll take Josh Harrison’s spot on the 40-man, with Harrison being transferred to the 60-day disabled list.
Bostick, 23, split his season between Double-A and Triple-A with the Nats, hitting a combined .250/.313/.386 with eight homers and 11 steals while playing second base, third base and left field. He was ranked as the organization’s No. 25 prospect by Baseball America last offseason, with BA noting that he’s an above-average runner who stands out for a line-drive approach to all fields but may lack a true defensive home. He’s consistently displayed the pop necessary to reach double-digit home run totals and also averaged 27 steals per season from 2013-15.
The 22-year-old Gushue was Pittsburgh’s fourth-rounder back in 2014 and spent the 2016 campaign with their Class-A Advanced affiliate in Bradenton, where he batted .226/.282/.357. At the time Gushue was drafted, BA wrote that he was a good receiver with an average or even above-average arm behind the dish despite difficulties he’d had throwing out runners in college. Their report called him a below-average overall hitter but did note that he has average raw power. Gushue did hit a career-high eight homers in 90 games this season, though his 25 percent caught-stealing rate still leaves something to be desired.
It didn’t take much last winter for the Pirates to re-sign utilityman Sean Rodriguez, who inked a one-year, $2.5MM contract after a poor season. Considering Rodriguez has drastically improved his output this year, Pittsburgh won’t be able to bring him back during the offseason at such a low cost, which general manager Neal Huntington knows.
“We’d love to have Sean remain in a Pirate uniform,” Huntington told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Given what he’s done this year, we would fully anticipate that there’s going to be quite a market out there for him.”
Rodriguez has lined up everywhere but pitcher and catcher this season, though he has spent the lion’s share of his time at first base, the middle infield and right field. Offensively, the 31-year-old is amid a career campaign, having slashed a terrific .264/.345/.518 with 18 home runs through 320 plate appearances. Rodriguez’s overall line and homer total are easily personal bests since he broke into the majors with the Angels in 2008, and the longtime Ray has helped his cause with a 10 percent walk rate. That’s significantly better than the 2.1 percent mark Rodriguez posted in 2015, when he logged one of his worst seasons.
In assessing Rodriguez’s value, Huntington said, “Sean’s just done a remarkable job. The defensive versatility and the impact, it’s hard to measure.”
Rodriguez hit an uninspiring .228/.295/.371 across 2,093 PAs entering this season, but he could seek a multiyear deal worth around $5MM per annum on the heels of a strong 2016, writes Biertempfel. That would likely price him out of Pittsburgh, per Biertempfel, who notes that the club has potential in-house replacements in Adam Frazier and Alen Hanson. Frazier seems especially likely to take over for Rodriguez, as the 24-year-old has spent time at multiple infield and outfield positions and slashed .311/.361/.432 in his first 144 major league trips to the plate.
Given the dearth of quality starting pitchers set to hit free agency during the offseason, it might make sense for the Pirates to use their money on bullpen upgrades if they’re unable to re-sign Ivan Nova, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The Pirates and Nova have engaged in extension talks, but the 29-year-old’s late-season breakout could price him out of the team’s range. If so, Sawchik suggests a reunion with soon-to-be free agent closer Mark Melancon, whom the Bucs traded to the Nationals at this year’s non-waiver trade deadline. As a 31-year-old who lacks eye-popping strikeout numbers, Melancon is likely to garner the cheapest contract among fellow impending free agent bullpen aces Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman. Melancon made his return to Pittsburgh on Friday as a visitor and received an ovation from its fans, though he suffered his first blown save as a National in a 6-5 loss.
- Veteran lefty Phil Coke has spent the 2016 season traveling around the state of Pennsylvania, Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. After being released by the Braves near the end of Spring Training, Coke joined the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. He eventually signed with the Yankees and headed to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, about two and a half hours away. Coke was in Scranton following the end of the minor league season when Yankees GM Brian Cashman called him earlier this week to ask if he wanted to join the Pirates’ bullpen. “OK, that’s not far away,” Coke said. “I’m in.” He officially headed to the Pittsburgh organization on Thursday in a minor trade.
After struggling through the first four months of the season with the Pirates, lefty Francisco Liriano has enjoyed success since coming to the Blue Jays in a deadline trade, writes Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. Nicholson-Smith notes that, since the trade, Liriano has gotten opposing batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone 35.1% of the time, up from 27.8% with the Bucs. “He’s always had one of the better arms in baseball. He’s one of those guys that can always dominate teams and he really hasn’t lost a whole lot,” says manager John Gibbons. In seven starts with Toronto, Liriano has a 3.35 ERA, 8.8 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. If he can maintain similar numbers in 2017, he’ll be more than worth his $13.7MM salary, which means that the Blue Jays will likely come out significantly ahead in the trade that brought Liriano to Toronto, in which they also received prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez while giving up only righty Drew Hutchison, who hasn’t been impressive in the Pirates organization so far. Here’s more from the American League.
The Pirates are “aggressively trying” to come to agreement with righty Ivan Nova on an extension that would keep him out of free agency, according to Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Twitter links). We learned recently that Pittsburgh had opened dialogue with the 29-year-old.
Things do not seem to be progressing quite as smoothly as the Bucs might have hoped, though. Agent Greg Genske confirms that there have been “multiple offers” and says that “there is mutual interest,” but also made clear that “no agreement is imminent.”
Though Genske did not address his client’s asking price, prior reports put it at five years and $70MM. It remains hard to imagine the Pirates going near that amount, but the fact that discussions remain open certainly suggests that they put a high value on their most recent reclamation project. The report suggests that the organization is mindful of a weak upcoming market for pitching.
Nova has undeniably been spectacular since coming to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline — even as the organization sold some veteran pieces. His 2.93 ERA over 55 1/3 innings doesn’t really tell the true story. Nova has permitted only three walks in that span while picking up 45 strikeouts, meaning that he carries an outstanding 15.0 K/BB ratio.
With perhaps only a pair of starts to go before he’ll reach the open market, Nova doesn’t have a ton of risk at this point. A few duds could put a damper on his market, as could any kind of injury, but it isn’t as if he’s facing a full season at this point. And the Bucs can’t slap a qualifying offer on him, limiting the team’s leverage. All told, it would be surprising to see a deal come together, as there’s little downside and plenty of upside in testing the market in this case.
Ivan Nova has been a revelation in the Pirates’ rotation since being acquired for a pair of minor leaguers (Stephen Tarpley and Tito Polo), and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Pittsburgh is already working to prevent Nova from reaching the open market. The Pirates have made a pair of extension offers to Nova, according to Brink, but Nova’s representatives with the Legacy Agency opened talks with an asking price of $70MM over five years.
While that’s a shocking number, to be sure, given Nova’s lack of a track record, it’s not surprising to see any agency come in with high starting point. (Conversely, while Brink doesn’t report the size of Pittsburgh’s early offer, one can only imagine that it was probably considerably lower than the top of their comfort zone and than Nova’s market value.) Brink does note that the Pirates were the ones to initiate talks with Nova’s camp in the first week of September, and they came back with an increased counter-offer after hearing the early asking price. While Brink doesn’t indicate that anything is close between the two sides, discussions are still alive at this juncture.
Two months ago, that number for Nova would’ve seemed preposterous, but like many pitchers before him, Nova has experienced a renaissance in Pittsburgh. Though he finally had a rough outing in his most recent start, the 29-year-old Nova has worked to a brilliant 2.93 ERA with 7.3 K/9 against a superlative 0.5 BB/9 in 55 1/3 innings of work. He’s maintained his strong ground-ball rate (50.9 percent since the trade) and issued an unthinkable three walks to the 220 batters he’s faced. While there will, of course, be skepticism about his ability to sustain this performance (particularly the superlative command), this isn’t the first prolonged stretch of excellence that Nova has enjoyed in his career. He tossed 139 innings of 3.10 ERA ball for the Yankees in 2013, but Tommy John surgery in late April of the 2014 season prematurely halted his opportunity to build on that success.
MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently likened Nova’s emergence with the Bucs to that of J.A. Happ last season following a trade from the Blue Jays, and the comparison is apt. However, Happ was three years older than Nova at the time of their respective trades, and he was walking into a considerably stronger market for starting pitching. I’ve been slow to warm to this idea, personally, as I recently explained in the MLBTR Mailbag, but a four-year contract for Nova is looking increasingly likely on this year’s dreadful market for free-agent starters. His primary competition will be a 36-year-old Rich Hill (37 next March) and Jeremy Hellickson. However, while Hellickson is more comparably aged to Nova (29) and has been an outstanding buy-low investment for the Phillies, he’ll almost certainly have to deal with a qualifying offer this winter. Nova, though, will be free of that burden by virtue of the midseason trade that sent him from New York to Pittsburgh and made him ineligible to receive a QO.
The Pirates have acquired lefty Phil Coke from the Yankees for cash considerations, the teams announced. Pittsburgh will need to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate the acquisition.
Coke, 34, made three major league appearances earlier in the year for New York, but has spent the bulk of the season at Triple-A. Though he has pitched almost exclusively as a reliever for most of his big league career, Coke made 11 starts during his time at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
On the year, Coke threw to a 2.96 ERA over 70 frames at the highest level of the minors. He compiled 7.8 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9, with 68 hits and just three home runs recorded against him.
It’s a bit unclear what Pittsburgh plans to do with Coke, though he will indeed be headed for the major league roster. He could conceivably take a start or two in an effort at a Rich Hill-like metamorphosis, or may just log some frames from the pen. The Pirates are technically still alive in the Wild Card race, but only barely. Coke will again be a free agent at season’s end.