10:20am: Hembree’s contract guarantees him $2.125MM, reports Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter links). He adds that Vogelbach’s $1MM guarantee comes in the form of an $800K salary and a $200K buyout on next year’s $1.5MM option.
9:15am: Vogelbach’s deal comes with a $1MM base salary and up to $400K worth of incentives, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The contract also contains a $1.5MM club option for the 2023 season. Vogelbach would remain under team control via arbitration even if the option is not picked up, although at that point, if the club opts against a $1.5MM salary, it seems likely that he’d be non-tendered.
7:07am: The Pirates kicked off their Tuesday by announcing a pair of signings: first baseman/designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach and right-handed reliever Heath Hembree have both agreed to one-year, Major League contracts, per the team. Vogelbach is repped by ISE Baseball, while Hembree is a client of the Ballengee Group. Right-handers Blake Cederlind and Nick Mears were transferred to the 60-day injured list in a pair of corresponding moves. Cederlind is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and The Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel tweets that Mears had surgery to clean up some scar tissue in his right elbow back on Feb. 9.
Vogelbach, 29, will join Yoshi Tsutsugo in the mix for playing time at first base and in the newly created National League designated hitter slot. The 2011 second-rounder (Cubs) has spent the past two seasons with the Brewers organization after logging parts of five seasons as a member of the Mariners. He batted .219/.349/.381 in 258 plate appearances with Milwaukee during a 2021 season that saw him hobbled by hamstring tear. Vogelbach sustained the injury when scoring from second base on an RBI single; it was a bizarre play that saw the big man pull up lame about a third of the way home but still limp home as a sleeping D-backs defense appeared unaware of its surroundings.
Oddity of that play aside, Vogelbach will bring to the Buccos plenty of pop against right-handed pitching and a lofty walk rate against both lefties and righties. He’ll quite likely be platooned, as he’s just a .135/.256/.255 hitter against southpaws, but Vogelbach has walked in nearly 17% of his career plate appearances versus right-handers while putting together a .228/.357/.442 batting line. He’s only appeared in more than 100 games once in his career, but when he did so, Vogelbach swatted 30 long balls through 558 plate appearances with the 2019 Mariners.
If things go well in Pittsburgh, the Bucs will be able to retain Vogelbach for another two seasons beyond the 2022 campaign via arbitration. He currently has three-plus years of big league service time and is out of minor league options.
As for Hembree, he’ll give the Pirates a big-time strikeout arm to install in their late-inning mix. The 33-year-old punched out a massive 38% of his opponents last year while pitching for the Reds and spent a portion of the season as the closer in Cincinnati. A nightmare stretch of games from late July through mid-August saw Hembree serve up 13 runs in seven innings, however, ballooning his ERA north of 6.00. Hembree was designated for assignment, caught on with the Mets and had a nice finish to the season, pitching to a 3.45 ERA in 15 2/3 innings with New York.
Hembree’s end-of-season ERA was still an unsightly 5.59, continuing some struggles he’d experienced beginning in the shortened 2020 season (9.00 ERA in 19 innings). However, even with the recent scuffles — which seemingly stem from an uptick in home runs allowed — the right-hander has maintained big strikeout, swinging-strike and opponents’ chase rates. Hembree’s 30.9% strikeout rate and 21.3 K-BB% are actually better than the marks he posted from 2015-19, when he was a consistent presence in the Red Sox bullpen and notched a 3.59 ERA over the life of 238 innings.
As far as low-cost bullpen fliers go, Hembree is a particularly sensible one for the Bucs, who’ll hope he can sustain some of those strikeout gains while getting away from the home run troubles he had at more hitter-friendly settings in Philadelphia (2020) and in Cincinnati. Hembree figures to serve as a setup man for emerging closer David Bednar, joining righty Chris Stratton in that regard. If Hembree does manage to curtail the home run troubles that plagued him in 2020-21, he could well emerge as a nice trade chip for the Pirates this July.