Thursday, July 14, 2016

Who Could the Pirates Give Up at the Trade Deadline?

It's the All Star break in Major League Baseball, and that means that the trade deadline is fast approaching. Moved to Monday August 1st this season to avoid a Sunday deadline, the Pirates' role at the deadline has changed drastically over the past few weeks. As the team has gained so much ground on the suddenly faltering Chicago Cubs in a short period of time, the Bucs have moved from what could have been sure sellers to likely buyers. The way the Pirates organization is set up at the moment, the club has a lot of pieces that could shake around, from the low minors all the way up to the major league roster. This article will take a look at much of the important pieces in the organization and show some of the movement that could happen come the end of this month by general manager Neal Huntington.

I'll start with the big league level, as even if the Pirates are not sellers, a few pieces could still be moved.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The 2016 Non-Roster Invitee Breakdown

*edited on 2/20 to include Matt Joyce and update some pictures courtesy of Pirates Prospects*

Note: This article is something I've also written in each of the last two years, and while it's likely nobody really read it, it's been something I've been proud of. I've been working on this about since the new year started, so I hope whoever reads it enjoys it.

Each spring in Major League Baseball, Spring Training brings a fresh start to many players around the league. That includes a club's non-roster invitees, the players not on a 40 man roster who are invited to big league camp on a minor league contract. Here's a breakdown of each one of those players that the Pirates are bringing into camp this season. The article shows some basic information on each player, such as the jersey numbers they are wearing in camp and statistics from last season and previous seasons, and a prediction on where he will end up in 2016.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Summary From the First Two Days of Winter Meetings

Some various notes and rumors from the first two days of MLB's Winter Meetings in Nashville regarding the Bucs.

  • The main talk of Monday for the Bucs was their interest in Texas first baseman Mitch Moreland. Moreland has been a rumored Pirates target for the last three offseasons and it looks like this year is the closest anything has come to getting done. Moreland, in his final year of team control, would likely serve as a platoon partner with Michael Morse. Talks, however, broke down a bit on Tuesday, as it sounds like the Rangers (managed by former Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister) expressed interest in Charlie Morton and Elias Diaz (although not necessarily in a trade directly for Moreland) to fill their needs at starting pitcher and catcher. Relief pitcher Shawn Tolleson is another name that has come up in trade talks from the Rangers, although not necessarily from the Pirates. However, don't be surprised to hear some more Bucs-Rangers trade talk for the rest of the week.
  • When it comes to Mark Melancon and Neil Walker, the two current Pirates most likely to be moved this week, there hasn't really been any new developments regarding the status of the two players. The market for closer trades could possibly heat up after the Aroldis Chapman trade to the Dodgers was backed off after a report of domestic violence from the flamethrower in October; the Astros could also be in the market for relief pitching. As for Walker, it seems like his trade status could possibly begin to heat up now that Ben Zobrist has signed with the Cubs. As the Mets were also interested in Zobrist, their surplus of young and talented pitching even outside of their major league staff could make the Amazin's an interesting possibility for the Pittsburgh Kid. It was also reported that the chance of Walker getting an extension are pretty much zero, so if Walker starts 2016 with his hometown club, it will probably be the last we see of him in Pittsburgh. 
  • Another possible option for the first base hole is former KBO and NPB player Dae Ho Lee. I'd had him pinned as a possible Pirates target from the moment I saw he was interested in a move to MLB. Lee is 33 years old and the 6'4" slugger, who hit 31 home runs and won the Japan Series MVP for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks this past season weighs in at an impressive 286 pounds. You can take a look at his impressive power in this video. The presence of fellow countryman Jung Ho Kang and the lack of a long term need at first base works in both the Pirates' and Lee's favor when it comes to length of contract and money earned, as he could bounce a successful year or two in Pittsburgh into one big contract before the end of his career, regardless of what country it may be in, and it also could prevent the Pirates from having to rush Josh Bell to the major leagues.
  • It sounds like the Pirates are very interested in bringing back first baseman/utility man Sean Rodriguez. "Serpico" didn't hit very well for Pittsburgh, but provided great defensive value at first base and around the outfield in 2015. His team leadership and value in the clubhouse also makes him well worth the modest salary it would take to bring him back. 
The Pirates have also met with representatives or shown interest in each of the following players at some point over the past two days: 

  • Justin Masterson: Masterson and the Pirates seem like a perfect fit, as he has the upside to be a number one starter, as was seen for years in Cleveland. A rough couple of years in St. Louis and Boston brought his value to this point, and while some diminished velocity in those seasons may have just been a result of injury, the 30 year old starter could simply be starting a decline. However, again, Masterson seems like the perfect candidate to become the next Ray Searage project for the starting rotation.
  • Scott Kazmir: This would be a great signing for the Pirates. Too great. His value is estimated to be more than the Francisco Liriano contract from last offseason, which, at 3 years and $39 million was the largest ever given to a free agent in Pirates history. However, if the Bucs are willing to shell out a little more cash, Kazmir fits in well as the #3 starter behind Gerrit Cole and Liriano, and would make once again an impressive looking rotation in Pittsburgh, 
  • Kyle Kendrick: Honestly, I'm not entirely sure what the Pirates see in Kendrick. He had the expected awful season for Colorado in 2015 with a 6.32 ERA, and hasn't had an ERA under 4 since 2012. I guess this does make for another interesting and cheap project for the Pirates, although this looks more like a Vance Worley type one, where you hope to get good back of the rotation depth, rather than expecting to get a surprise ace or top of the rotation depth. Regardless, the Bucs need to get at least one starter, and I guess Kendrick would fill that mold. 
  • Mark Reynolds: Somewhat of a surprise here, but I guess Reynolds could be a good fit for the Pirates. Strikingly similar to old friend Pedro Alvarez, with lots of power but lots of strikeouts, but Reynolds plays better defense, although he is older. Most likely would be a bench acquisition, although I think the Bucs could spend money more effectively elsewhere.
  • Jeff Francoeur: The outfielder has had an interesting couple of years over in Philadelphia to somewhat revitalize his career. There were some rumblings in Pittsburgh about Francoeur at the trade deadline, and it's not surprising to see them return, as the Bucs don't have a legitimate fourth outfielder option (if you don't count Josh Harrison or a possible re-signing of Rodriguez), although they have a decent amount of options to compete for a spot there, such as Keon Broxton, Danny Ortiz, and Jake Goebbert. Bringing in the veteran wouldn't be a bad move.
  • Matt Thornton: With the Pirates presumably not bringing back Antonio Bastardo, the only other left handed bullpen option to complement setup man/possible closer Tony Watson is minor league veteran Bobby LaFromboise, and as much as I personally like him, he probably couldn't be trusted very often out of the bullpen. Enter Thornton, who had a decent 2015 with the Nationals after coming over from the Yankees in 2014. Although, at 39 years old himself, it's nowhere near certain he would be any better than LaFromboise or someone else the Pirates could pull out of the scrap heap. Finding a bullpen lefty isn't a top priority right now, which is exactly how it should be. 

The Winter Meetings continue into Wednesday and end with the Rule 5 Draft Thursday morning. Of course, it's no guarantee the Pirates will actually make any big moves this week, but the conversations and possibilities considered here tend to blossom at some point later in the offseason.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thoughts on Pirates' free agents

The Pirates don't have many notable free agents heading into the 2015 offseason. Even the minor league free agent crop isn't very exciting. However, this almost makes things easier for the Pirates, as there's not a huge risk of losing anyone really essential to the club's present and the future. The focus this offseason will be on free agents from outside the organization. This is a breakdown of the guys they have departing, and whether they might be brought back or not.

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First, I'll start with the two players that are retiring. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez has already formally announced his retirement, as was intended when he was traded to the Pirates at the end of July for minor league pitcher Yhonathan Barrios. Starter AJ Burnett has yet to make such an announcement, and it could be because he could return to the Pirates in the future, a la Roger Clemens. He wouldn't be much of a risk to sign anywhere else if he does choose to return, so we'll safely assume he will retire.

courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A third player who could choose to retire is Corey Hart. The 33 year old first baseman only had 54 at bats for the Pirates in 2015 before going on the disabled list and did not return to the active roster even in September, as the Pirates went as far as to send him home. That creates a safe assumption his one year, $5 million deal will not be re-upped, and as Hart hasn't really had a successful season since 2012, he may not gauge any interest on the open market. A minor league deal somewhere for Hart wouldn't surprise me. However, it will not be with the Pirates.

courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The most notable Pirate free agent is lefty J.A. Happ. Happ, also 33, had possibly the best two months of his career in August and September with the Pirates, going 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA. This can most likely be chalked up to yet another Ray Searage revival, and it could be the one big chance Happ has at a big contract. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes predicts Happ will get a 3 year, $30 million contract, which isn't very far off from what the Pirates gave Francisco Liriano last offseason at 3 years and $39 million. If the Pirates do believe that Happ's numbers were more than just a fluke and sustainable in future years (as was the case with Edinson Volquez when he went to Kansas City in 2015, pitching two games in the World Series) then a contract such as this would be smart for the Bucs to give out. One might say that the Pirates pitching depth may make a longer commitment to Happ unreasonable, especially considering his age and past struggles, there's really nobody solidified in the 2016 rotation outside of Gerrit Cole and Liriano. An ideal scenario would have one of Jeff Locke or Charlie Morton out of the rotation, and none of the prospects or normal filler guys like Brandon Cumpton or Casey Sadler will be ready to start 2016 in the majors, with the previous two and Nick Kingham likely to miss nearly all of '16 as it is. The Bucs will need to bring in at least one starter, so why not bring back the guy you're already familiar with? The gamble on having too many reclamation projects (and oh, there are a lot of them) is not sustainable for a team who had 98 wins in 2015 and will have to chase Chicago and St. Louis. Bringing back Happ would be a big step in the right direction.
Edit: Happ signed a 3 year, $36 million contract with Toronto on 11/25. 

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Sean Rodriguez, or Serpico, as many Pirate fans came to know him over the 2015 season, is also a free agent. Rodriguez was acquired over the winter from the Rays for Buddy Borden, a fairly decent pitching prospect. Rodriguez didn't have a great season with the bat, hitting .246 (I actually didn't expect it to be as high as it was) with 4 homers and 17 RBIs. However, the 30 year old utility man brought great defensive value and flexibility to the Bucs, mainly as the late game substitute at first base, logging 102 games at the position, along with seeing time at second, third, shortstop and in the outfield, not to mention being Clint Hurdle's emergency catcher. It's unlikely that Rodriguez would command a long or expensive deal, and the Pirates bench could really use someone like Rodriguez, so I believe the Bucs could easily bring him back, and I think they should.

The final three major league free agents the Pirates have are all in a similar boat. Lefty Antonio Bastardo and righties Joakim Soria and Joe Blanton all provided good value to the Bucs in 2015, but it's likely that none of the three will return to the Shark Tank for 2016.

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Starting with Soria, who was acquired at the trade deadline for JaCoby Jones, the right hander made a decent mark with the Bucs, pitching in 29 games earning a 2.03 ERA. Soria would only make sense for the Pirates if they were to trade Mark Melancon (which is a bad idea in and of itself and I'll explain why in the future) and place either Tony Watson or Soria in the ninth inning. While Soria worked well for the Pirates as a seventh and eighth inning guy, I don't know of many people in the organization who would trust him enough to pay him what he's likely to command in the open market as a free agent "proven closer" kind of guy, and Soria would prefer to be racking up the saves himself rather than setting up for someone else. The Pirates' reps haven't even approached Soria yet, and I don't believe they should.

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Blanton was a surprising waiver acquisition from the Royals in July to take the long reliever spot in the Shark Tank, and the 34 year old continued his career resurgence with the Bucs in the second half of the season, pitching in 21 games, racking up 5 wins and putting up a sparkling 1.57 ERA. It's not completely out of the question that Blanton could return, as the Bucs bullpen looks somewhat uncertain other than the back end at this point in the offseason and Blanton shouldn't command a large guarantee. However, Blanton himself has been among speculation that he could retire, and he may look for an opportunity to start again as it is. That makes the status of Blanton very much in question for a possible return to the Pirates, but don't be surprised if they bring him back.

courtesy of USA Today

Last but not least is the lefty Bastardo, who had a fairly decent season in the black and gold after coming over from Philadelphia for Joely Rodriguez over the winter. 66 games for Bastardo saw him go 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA, pretty solid numbers for a relief pitcher. That makes him a very attractive name for teams looking for solid relief pitching. I think someone on the open market will give him a better offer than what he could get from the Pirates, and Bastardo has even said himself that he'll likely take the best offer. That means he may not be back with the Bucs in '16.

What are your thoughts on what may happen to these free agents? Comment below!