At 27-35, the Pirates on track to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. But the club’s recent woes aren’t threatening the job security of either GM Neal Huntington or manager Clint Hurdle, says FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, who reports that the two are good bets to sign contract extensions before the season ends. Huntington has been at the helm since 2007, Hurdle dating back to 2011, and the team has gone to the playoffs three times during their six-plus-year partnership. The Pirates are now headed for their fourth sub-.500 season under the Huntington-Hurdle tandem, though, and look as if they’ll sell at the deadline, as MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth wrote earlier Saturday.
The Pirates announced today that they’ve designated righty Pat Light for assignment. The move clears space on the Bucs’ 40-man roster for righty Edgar Santana, who was promoted today, as anticipated, along with fellow reliever A.J. Schugel. The move fills the Bucs’ 25-man roster after the demotions of starter Tyler Glasnow and reliever Dovydas Neverauskas.
[Related: Updated Pittsburgh Pirates Depth Chart]
The 26-year-old Light has pitched this season for Triple-A Indianapolis, posting a 3.76 ERA and 6.8 K/9 over 26 1/3 innings, but with 5.1 BB/9. The former Red Sox first-round pick throws hard but has struggled with his control in the high minors and in brief big-league stints with Boston and Minnesota. The Bucs acquired him from the Twins in a minor deal in February.
The 25-year-old Santana got off to a late start to his pro career, making his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League at age 22, but he’s quickly emerged as one of the Bucs’ most interesting young relievers. This year, he’s posted a 1.93 ERA, 8.5 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 over 32 2/3 innings with Indianapolis. He ranks 21st in MLB.com’s list of the Pirates’ top 30 prospects, receiving praise for his 96-97 MPH fastball and his slider.
The Pirates have optioned starter Tyler Glasnow and reliever Dovydas Neverauskas to Triple-A Indianapolis, MLB.com’s Adam Berry tweets. The idea, as Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets, is that Jameson Taillon will return and start on Monday, with Chad Kuhl pitching in Glasnow’s rotation spot on Wednesday. There’s no official word on who will Glasnow and Neverauskas on the roster in the short term, although the agent for righty reliever Edgar Santana recently tweeted congratulations to his client for making it to the big leagues for the first time.
Of these moves, the most newsworthy is Taillon’s quick return. Taillon had surgery for testicular cancer in early May and returned almost immediately, hopping back into baseball activities and then making three rehab starts in the high minors during which he showed little rust. That he will have been able to rejoin the Pirates’ rotation so quickly is heartwarming news after his shocking cancer diagnosis. Before his surgery, he had a 3.31 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 over 31 1/3 innings this season.
Glasnow, who once joined Taillon atop lists of the Pirates’ best pitching prospects, has struggled greatly this season, posting a 7.45 ERA, 8.3 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 over 54 1/3 innings. The 23-year-old has size and elite stuff, with a mid-90s fastball and an excellent curveball, but he has made little evident progress in the development of his control.
MLBTR is launching a new summer series entitled Taking Inventory, in which we’ll preview the potential trade chips that could become available on a number of likely and borderline selling clubs throughout the league.
Heading into the 2017 season, the Pirates looked like a potential contender, as it wasn’t hard to imagine scenarios in which Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole bounced back, Jameson Taillon built on a strong rookie season, Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow emerged as solid contributors and an offensive core built around McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco gave pitchers fits. Not much of that has happened, though, and the Bucs have also dealt with Jung Ho Kang’s visa limbo, Taillon’s unexpected testicular cancer diagnosis and Marte’s PED suspension. They’re now 26-35. While there might still be an outside shot they’ll contend, since no other club has yet run away with the NL Central, it looks increasingly likely they’ll consider selling as the summer progresses. If they do, here’s what they’ll have to offer.
Tony Watson, LHP (reliever) | Salary: $5.6MM
Watson at one point might have been a good trade chip, but the Pirates recently bumped him from the closer role, and he’s posted a 6.00 ERA since the start of May. Watson is still left-handed, can touch the mid-90s, and has a good overall track record, however, so there’s still a chance a team could part with a real prospect to get him, particularly if he can reemerge over the next six weeks. He did pitch a scoreless inning yesterday against the Marlins, which is perhaps a good sign.
Juan Nicasio, RHP (reliever) | Salary: $3.65MM
The hard-throwing Nicasio appears to have finally settled in as a key contributor to the Pirates’ bullpen this season, posting a 1.35 ERA, 8.4 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. That low ERA probably unsustainable, but he’s a good bet to continue to be successful. A team could also conceivably use him as a starter, but since he’s almost completely scrapped his changeup and tends to fare better as a reliever, it’s likely teams will pursue him as a bullpen asset. He could further boost his stock by pitching well in any save chances he gets in the wake of Watson’s demotion from the closer role.
Antonio Bastardo, LHP (reliever) | Salary: $6.5MM
Bastardo is currently on the DL with a quad strain (though he’s close to a return) and pitched miserably in April (allowing 12 runs and six walks in 6 2/3 innings). One team, the Mets, has already essentially dumped his contract when they shipped him to Pittsburgh for Jon Niese at last August’s non-waiver deadline. It’s unlikely Bastardo will have much value this summer, although he’s perhaps worth watching as a possible addition to the lefty reliever trade market if he returns and pitches reasonably before then.
John Jaso, 1B/OF | Salary: $4MM
Jaso boasts a good eye at the plate and has gamely attempted to be versatile in the field. Unfortunately, his abilities to hit for contact and power seem to be fading (he’s batting just .236 this season and has only three homers in 140 plate appearances), and he isn’t really an outfielder. He might attract limited interest from a team interested in a veteran left-handed bat off the bench.
Controlled Through 2018
Andrew McCutchen, OF | Salary: $14MM
McCutchen has a team option for 2018 worth $14.5MM, with a $1M buyout. The former MVP once appeared to be a significant trade asset, of course; even after a down 2017 season, the Pirates appeared last winter to be on the verge of trading him to the Nationals for a package that included Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning. McCutchen’s even worse hitting performance in 2017 (.237/.319/.411), though, makes his mediocre 2016 season look like less of an anomaly, leading to questions about whether the Pirates would even exercise his option if they were to keep him beyond this summer. McCutchen seems to have gotten back on the right track in the past few weeks, batting .350/.449/.525 over the past 14 days. Another month or so of that kind of hitting would go a long way toward solidifying his market.
Daniel Hudson, RHP (reliever) | Salary: $5.5MM
Hudson is also under contract for 2018 at $5.5MM. He has not pitched well in 2017 (5.33 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, although he’s fared decently since a five-run blowup against Miami in late April), and the Pirates, who believe in their ability to boost the stock of struggling pitchers, might be inclined to keep him and hope he benefits from their coaching.
Wade LeBlanc, LHP (reliever) | Salary: $750K
LeBlanc has a $1.25MM option or a $50K buyout for 2018. He has fared reasonably well this year (3.89 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 over 37 innings), although he wouldn’t be an exciting pickup, given his modest pedigree and limited velocity. He could still attract interest from a team in need of a reliever capable of pitching multiple-inning stretches, although he would continue to be useful for the Pirates thanks to that ability, particularly if they were to trade other pitchers.
Jordy Mercer, SS | Salary: $4.325MM
Mercer has been a steady but unspectacular regular shortstop throughout his career and would have only modest trade value despite a solid .347 OBP this season. Particularly with Kang still on the restricted list, the Pirates don’t yet have an obvious replacement for Mercer. They might therefore be inclined to keep him.
Chris Stewart, C | Salary: $1.4MM
Stewart also has a $1.5MM option or a $250K buyout for 2018. The backup is currently on the DL and would have very limited trade value even if he were healthy.
Righty Gerrit Cole is controllable through 2019 through the arbitration process. Connor Byrne recently examined Cole’s trade candidacy, noting that the problem with Cole as a trade asset is that he hasn’t pitched well recently — he’s given up a total of 23 runs over his last four starts. The Astros have reportedly had interest in Cole, and they’d surely join a long list of teams making calls about Cole should be the Bucs make him available (which they reportedly haven’t). The Pirates, though, might be reluctant to part with him given the years of control they have remaining and the possibility that they could be selling low. Of course, teams might be willing to pay high prices for him anyway, given his stuff, solid peripherals (7.8 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 45.7 GB%) and unsustainably high home-run rate. Cole could be an interesting player to watch as the summer unfolds.
Other longer-term assets who could potentially come up in trade discussions include Ivan Nova (controllable through 2019), Francisco Cervelli (2019), David Freese (2019) and Josh Harrison (2020). None of those players seem terribly likely to be traded, although it’s possible to imagine Cervelli or Freese heading elsewhere under certain circumstances. Cervelli is currently on the 7-day concussion DL, and youngster Elias Diaz has hit well in limited opportunities. Perhaps Cervelli could be dealt should the Pirates choose to rebuild more aggressively than it currently appears they will. Freese has batted .273/.376/.432 this season and would undoubtedly be an attractive trade candidate, although with Kang out, the Bucs can certainly still use him.
It was on this day in 1908 that one of baseball’s great slang terms was coined. In a story by the New York Globe’s Peter Morris about an 8-2 Giants win over the Pirates, Morris wrote “It isn’t often that [umpire] Hank O’Day is caught napping‚ but a young player just getting his cup of coffee in the league put one over on Hank and [umpire Bill Klem] yesterday.” This was reportedly the first time that “cup of coffee” was used to describe a short stint in the big leagues, and it has been part of the game’s vernacular ever since.
- Baseball America’s Ben Badler (subscription required) looks ahead to the next international signing period that opens on July 2, profiling five highly-touted young players from the Dominican Republic who are already rumored to be signing with the Mets, Pirates, Rockies, Twins, and Yankees.
Right-hander Chris Leroux, who played 41 of his 65 career MLB games in a Pirates uniform, is moving into a very different endeavo(u)r as the new star of The Bachelor Canada. Leroux, 33, posted a 6.03 ERA over 71 2/3 career innings in the bigs from 2009-14, pitching for the Marlins and Yankees as well as the Bucs. The Montreal native pitched for Canada in this year’s World Baseball Classic before announcing his retirement in March.
Here’s more (on the field) news out of Pittsburgh…
- The Pirates announced to reporters today that they’ve pulling left-hander Tony Watson from the closer’s role (Twitter link via Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). For the time being, Pittsburgh will rely on a combination of left-hander Felipe Rivero and right-hander Juan Nicasio in save situations. Both throw considerably harder than Watson and both have enjoyed a markedly better season than Watson, who has limped to a 4.44 ERA with 6.8 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 41.4% ground-ball rate. Watson has been charged with two earned runs in four of his past seven appearances, and those struggles prompted the shift. The 32-year-old is a prime trade candidate, though his recent slump and deteriorating peripherals mean he’ll likely need a quick rebound if the Pirates are to receive much of value in exchange for their longtime reliever. To keep tabs on the ninth-inning situation for the Pirates and the other 29 teams, be sure to follow MLBTR’s affiliate Twitter site, @CloserNews.
- MLB.com’s Bill Ladson recently spoke to Andrew McCutchen, Clint Hurdle and Josh Harrison in three separate interviews on the same episode of his Newsmakers podcast. Bucs fans will want to check out the interviews in their entirety (either at the provided link or here for a direct download), but here are a few quotes of note, including McCutchen on how he has tried to ignore persistent trade rumors. “I just focus on my team, focus on the guys around me,” McCutchen said. “The more I try to focus on, ’Where am I going to be? Am I going to be here? Am I going to stay here?’ the more I lose that time with my teammates — with my friends — the more I lose the present. … Of course this is where I want to be. This is what I have on me right now, and that’s all I’m focusing on.”
- Speaking of those rumors, the outfielder chalked up the speculation to the need for hot stove chatter during a generally quiet Pirates offseason. “The take was: ’People need news. People need something to talk about. People need that big name because that’s the only thing that’s going to draw peoples’ attention to click on a page.’ That’s the way I looked at it,” McCutchen said. “People need something to talk about. So, in the midst of all of it, there was nothing that I could do. There may be some talks going on, but I’m a big name, and that’s about the only name that’s really big right now, at the time, so they talked about it. There could’ve been 10 other guys, 10 other big-name guys, that could’ve been in the same position in the news as myself, but since it was kind of a slow offseason, that’s the reason I think it was put out there. People need something to talk about. There’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t control that.”
- The Pirates’ struggles both this year and in 2016 have led to whispers that the club could be considering a rebuild, though Hurdle denied this. “Our focus is to win now, to win next year, win the year after,” Hurdle said. “[General manager] Neal Huntington has echoed that statement ever since he’s been here. Rebuilding… we reignite at times. We refuel at times. However, we don’t consider it rebuilding.”
- Speaking of Rivero, his new part-time closer, Hurdle said that Huntington was “steadfast in wanting Rivero included…from the start” in the trade that brought the southpaw to Pittsburgh from the Nationals last year in exchange for Mark Melancon. After two good seasons, Rivero has been flat-out dominant this season, posting an 0.58 ERA, 9.9 K/9 and 5.67 K/BB rate over 31 innings.
The White Sox have claimed infielder Alen Hanson off waivers from the Pirates, reports Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports (via Twitter). Pittsburgh placed the former top prospect on waivers last week.
Once one of baseball’s top overall prospects, Hanson’s production trailed off upon reaching Triple-A. That didn’t prevent him from reaching the Majors, but he hasn’t performed well there, either, hitting a combined .205/.239/.261 in 92 plate appearances between the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The bulk of his time in the field as a big leaguer has come at second base, though defensive metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved don’t paint a favorable picture. Hanson is out of minor league options, so if the White Sox wish to send him down at any point, they’ll have to once again expose him to waivers.
“Of course, this is where I want to be,” Andrew McCutchen tells MLB.com’s Bill Ladson amidst trade rumors that have swirled around the Pirates star for the better part of a year. “I’ve never thought about anything else. This is the only uniform that I’ve ever worn. This is somewhere I want to be. I can’t control the business side — where I am or whatnot. I don’t focus on that.” After a rough 2016 season and a slow start to 2017, McCutchen has been hot over the last couple of weeks as he tries to help keep the Bucs afloat in a crowded NL Central race. While the Pirates are 26-32 and in last place, they’re still only 4.5 games out of first place.
Cervelli suffered the injury on Tuesday night, leaving the game in the ninth inning after taking a foul tip off his mask. He’ll be out of action for the minimum seven days as per MLB’s concussion protocol, though the catcher could possibly be out of action for a longer stretch, given the unpredictable nature of such injuries. Cervelli also has a lengthy history of concussions already, so both he and the Pirates may want to take extra precautionary time before he rejoins the roster.
While known more for his strong defense, Cervelli has been an above-average hitter since joining the Pirates three years ago, and he was hitting .252/.343/.394 over 178 PA before his injury. While his BABIP was an even .300, it could be argued that Cervelli was perhaps a bit unlucky to only be posting okay numbers, as his hard-hit ball percentage (40.7%) was far beyond his career average.
With Cervelli and Chris Stewart (hamstring) both on the disabled list, Pittsburgh finds itself short-handed behind the plate, with rookies Elias Diaz and Stallings holding down the fort. Stallings, 27, made his big league debut last season, appearing in five games with the Pirates. A seventh-round pick for the Bucs in the 2012 draft, Stallings has a .238/.316/.356 slash line over 1483 career plate appearances in the minors.
- Andrew McCutchen’s struggles this season could potentially leave the Pirates with a decision about whether to exercise his $14.5MM 2018 option (which comes with a $1M buyout), Travis Sawchik of FanGraphs writes. That call wouldn’t have seemed like a difficult one even after McCutchen’s lackluster 2016 season, but after a modest .232/.313/.419 start in 2017, it perhaps seems possible now. The Pirates could also consider dealing him at the deadline after keeping him over the winter. McCutchen did recently make a mechanical adjustment and is batting .394/.500/.727 over the past two weeks, and he could change his outlook entirely with more of that kind of hitting. Of course, the evidence that he can continue to hit so well after over a year of mediocre work at the plate is still a bit limited, and as Sawchik suggests, the Pirates are running out of time to figure out what to do with him.