Tuesday, January 31, 2012


  • Rob Beirtempfel of the Trib reports that "Tony Sanchez, the Pirates' top catcher prospect, again got into hot water with the team when he sustained a broken jaw (his third since he's been a Bucco) in a bar brawl earlier this offseason." The fight happened three months ago, and Sanchez was working out at a team camp two or three weeks ago, so the jaw is obviously healed. It looks like our first rounder is gonna need a goalie mask strapped on tight before he goes up to bat...or out for the night.
  • Clay Davenport conjured up some early 2012 projections. He has the Pirates at 74-88, which sounds about right unless an eruption of individual breakout seasons occur this year.
  • Ronnie Paulino, 30, signed a minor league deal with the Orioles, where he'll be insurance along with Taylor Teagarden behind Matt Weiters. Since leaving Pittsburgh after the 2008 season, when he lost his job to Dewey, he's been with Florida and the Mets.
  • For those wondering how the Astros got away with signing Chris Snyder to a $750K deal, the contract includes $1.5M in at-bat bonuses up to 475, another $250K for days on the active roster up to 150, and $200K if he gets traded during the year. Pretty creative way to structure a contract with an injury-prone guy, and it's stilled capped at $2.5M if he starts for the team all year. And no, that sort of deal probably wasn't an option with the Pirates early on when they grabbed Rod Barajas. We're sure Snyder went at a deep discount when he realized it was January and he was still unemployed.
  • MLB Trade Rumor's Tim Dierkes speculates that three players with Pirate ties may be ready to hang up the spikes: Jason Kendall and Tim Wakefield, who both began their careers here, and Derrek Lee, who may have ended his at PNC Park last season.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Will Neil Walker Be Extended?

The secondary sidebar to the off season was the backburner story of Neil Walker's extension. Walker has accumulated one year and 166 days of service time during his young career. That means he has one more season at minimum wage and then he seems all but certain of Super Two status and four years of arbitration eligibility.

Walker has been a great local story ever since being the Pirates top pick in 2004. A multi-sport star out of Gibsonia's Pine-Richland High School and the son of a former MLB pitcher (Tom), the Pittsburgh Kid was called up as a utility infielder in 2010 and became the starting second baseman shortly thereafter, replacing Aki Iwomura. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

How unlikely was that? Drafted as a catcher, he was moved to third base in 2007, only to see Pittsburgh trade for Andy LaRoche and draft Pedro Alvarez the following year. The Pirates had written him off as a role player, and used him at first, second, third and the outfield at Indy in 2010 before beckoning him to the show.

His bat was OK but not overwhelming in the minors, usually in the .275 BA, 12-15 homers and 75 RBI range. Walker has kept to that line in 286 games as a Bucco, hitting .280/24/149, with an OPS of 108. A switch hitter, his splits are pretty even, with a little more power as a lefty, as is often the case.

A lot has been made of his clutch hitting, but his RISP is .286, just a shade over his regular BA. He's a doubles hitter (66 in the past two years) and the recipient of having the wheels of McCutch, Jose Tabata and Alex Presley ahead of him in the order. And that's not bad, considering that he has very little protection behind him in the lineup. As a Bucco, he's batted in every spot but leadoff.

His glove was fairly brutal at the start, with an UZR/150 of -17.1 in 2010. Then again, he had all of 21 pro games at the position before the Aki implosion, and he was thrown head first into the fire. Walker worked hard in the off season, spent the spring at Maz's knee, and to his credit, he turned himself into a much more competent fielder last season with a rating of -2.5.

Walker improved his BIZ (balls in zone) conversion rate to 80% (75% in 2010) and made 53 plays out of his zone, up from just 11 two seasons ago. And he does a great job of running down flares and going upstairs for liners.

Still, The Kid's range isn't great, balls get tangled up at his feet, and the DP turn is still a work in progress. The guy may be athletic, but at 6'3" and 215 pounds...well, not many high school football heroes end up in the middle infield. If you hear a Pirate broadcaster describe a ball being "tackled" by a Bucco fielder, you can bet the ranch that he's watching Walker.

There's been talk about returning him to third, where his bat should play because of his glove. He's much stronger playing at a reactive rather than rangy position and was an All-D player at the hot corner in AAA. But any corner infield moves in Pittsburgh ultimately depend on Pedro and where he ends up, either at first, third, or out of town.

With that background, there's no sense of urgency to lock up Walker like there is for McCutch. The Kid is a couple years older (26), no cinch to stay at second, and under team control for five more seasons.  But we think the smart move is to lock up his arb seasons and then backload his free agent years with team options just to provide some cost certainty down the road by eliminating the arb guessing game.

We're speculating along the lines of a Jose Tabata type deal. Walker would get a $1M signing bonus, a 2012 salary of $750K, and $2M - $3M - $4M - $5M during his arb years with a team option or two. That's $15.75M guaranteed over 5 years, and would keep the Pittsburgh Kid in Pittsburgh through the 2016 season, when he'll be 31.

But...yep. there's always a but. There's no question that Walker is a home-town boy who is a fan favorite and seems comfortable here. But is he willing to discount himself to stay local? Four years of arbitration is a pretty powerful financial lever for an established, everyday player.

For the Pirate FO, it's a matter of leveling out the cost and protecting themselves against being bushwhacked by arbitration. For Walker, it's a choice between a security blanket and potentially much larger paychecks. If he's not signed to an extension this year, we'd expect the Bucs to push hard for a deal before arbitration begins in 2013 rather than risk going year-to-year.

It's hard to read the FO; they haven't even come to terms with Garrett Jones or Casey McGehee yet.  So it's possible they want to wait a year to see if Walker is indeed a long-term piece, or prefer to deal with him on an annual basis. That's skating on thin ice. Another consistent season of play could start Walker off at $2.5-3M when he goes to arbitration, and the ante gets higher every year.

But if they're hot to land Walker now, they have a funny way of showing it. The Kid told Bill Brink of the Post-Gazette last month that "We haven’t had any discussions this off season. We have had conversations but we haven’t been able to come to common ground."

And there it sits; we're not even sure whose court the ball is in.

Sunday Notes

  • The Bucs added a bit to their pitching depth, bringing in RHP Daniel Cabrera. They've shown some interest in him in past seasons; he's another of the reclamation projects the FO so loves to take on. The starter has six seasons in the show with a 48-65 record and 5.10 ERA, averaging 7 Ks and 5Ws per/9 innings. He last pitched in the majors in 2009 for Washington and Arizona. Cabrera, now 31 years old, sat out the entire 2011 season following Tommy John surgery. It's likely he'll end up in the Indy pen.
  • Can't quite figure out why the FO hasn't reached deals with Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee yet.  Neither arb-eligible player had a big gap between asking price and the Pirates offer; pay the midpoint and save the mini-drama of a hearing.
  • Looks like the Pirates are gonna stay with what they've got on the hill. Roy Oswalt is considering signing with the Cards, Jeff Francis signed a minor league deal with the Reds, and Edwin Jackson is talking to the Bosox. It is a moot point; there have been no indications that the Bucs were in on any of them other than some due diligence tire-kicking.
  • The Zachster, Zach Duke, is back in the division after signing a minor league deal with the Astros. The lefty was 3-4 with a 4.93 ERA in Arizona in 2011.
  • The Mets are about to have the biggest one-year payroll drop in MLB history, lopping $52M off their roster. Even though they're losing more payroll than the Pirates carry, they'll still be doling out $90M for 2012.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

McCutch: Will He Stay Or Will He Go?

One of the hot sidebars at the end of the season was whether the Bucs and Andrew McCutchen could work out a deal that would keep McCutch a Pirate past his arbitration years. He missed out on Super Two status this season, so 2012 is his last year of minimum wage before arb kicks in.

After 420 games in a Pittsburgh uniform, the 24 year old has put up a line of .276/51/199 with 78 stolen bases, 255 runs scored, an OPS of +123 and a WAR of 12.4. The WAR is a little on the low side, as the Pirates' oddball outfield alignment under JR and Gary Varsho netted him a -0.7 defensive score during his first two go-arounds, improving to +0.7 in 2011 under Clint Hurdle's more conventional set-up.

The parameters for a contract, if a deal is made in the coming weeks, would be for six years (2012-2017) if it were to hold any value for the Pirates. There's not much team incentive to strike an agreement if a couple of years of free agency aren't included except for some cost certainty.

Imperfect but useful comparables for a contract are out there. Justin Upton and Jay Bruce both signed deals that bought out their first two free-agency years with an approximately $51M price tag. They went about it slightly different ways. Upton's deal is backloaded so that he gets $14M+ during his walk years, while Bruce spread his money out more evenly over the six seasons and included a team option. But the overall pot of money remained about the same in both cases. 

The Pirate FO has been fairly mum about the whole affair, as has the McCutchen posse. No terms, either for length or salary, have become public except for the posing, so we're left to sort through the deals like Upton's and Bruce's as the gold standard. What are the sides looking for?

For the Pirates, a long-term contract with McCutch would allow them to plan on a core that should begin to come together in 2014-15, with the big if - if Jameson Taillon and Gerritt Cole end up being all that. Losing McCutch, who would be in his prime production years, would take some of the shine off that apple. PR-wise, it would just reinforce the fan feeling that All-Star performance in Pittsburgh leads to a plane ticket and another batch of prospects.

Then again, that may be just the road that management intends to walk down. In the Tampa model, once players hit their high-payroll seasons, they're moved to accumulate more talent for their system. If that's the Pittsburgh plan, they have no bigger stocking-stuffer than McCutch.

And, of course, without the threat of arbitration, the FO may be content to sit on another year of McCutch's services on the cheap. We feel that's a short-sighted view, even if it does keep Bob Nutting's CPAs happy.

On McCutchen's end, it's just a matter of weighing security against uncertainty. Six years is a long time to commit to one organization, especially one with a track record like the Pirates. And when he hits the free market in 2016, he's sure to be looking at $15M and probably more given his durability, tools and performance to date. It could be that's when he'll look for the security blanket of a long term contract.

But what he has to consider is that he is under team control for four of those six seasons. Will he and his adviser (he's represented by Steve Hammond, whose other big-time client is Adam Wainwright) opt to cede those two FA years at a discount for long-term protection against slumps, injuries, and the vagaries of arbitration or go for the brass ring? It's hard to tell; Hammond doesn't have enough work with elite clients to hazard a guess.

It comes down to this: a template is in place for both sides to use as a starting point. Whether either side wants to accept that blueprint as common ground is the question. Heck, we don't even know that they're talking to each other. This much is certain - the longer the Pirates wait to lock down McCutch, the more difficult and expensive reaching an acceptable deal becomes, and the closer the center fielder gets to his walk/trade season.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Minors Movin' On Up

Yah, we've been slacking, but those dang Bucco FO guys are keeping a low market profile. We fear that they're about done playing with the roster, and we're not as sure as they are that it's been upgraded. We'll discuss that issue a little later; today we'll focus on the captive market, Pittsburgh's prospects.

John Sickels of Minor League Ball ranked the farm systems, and the Bucs came in at 12th, in the upper-middle of the pack. We have no beef with that. The system boasts of a couple of high-end guys but mostly consists of players whose future level has yet to be determined.

That's because the Pirates have burned their energy on implementing the long term plan of picking high school talent. The kids all have oodles of upside but precious little time in the crucible and no history of top flight competition as a basis for future projections. But as Sickels noted "Heavy draft investments (are) slowly-but-steadily raising the talent level in this system."

Based on our own thoughts and the individual prospect ratings of Sickels, Tim Williams of Pirate Prospects, John Perrotto of Baseball America, Thomas Belmont of Baseball Instincts and the MLB.com rankings, here is the state of minors for the Pirates:

Everybody agrees that RHPs Gerritt Cole and Jameson Taillon are potential aces, with emphasis on potential. Both should start out at High A with the hope that Cole can make the jump to Altoona before too terribly long and then Indy the following season. He could, with his college pedigree, be in Pittsburgh by late 2013 if all goes according to plan, with Taillon maybe a year behind.

If they live up to their hype and escape any big time injuries, by 2015 the Bucs could at long last have a top of the rotation that's under team control for most of the remaining decade.

A couple of outfielders fill in the next spots, Josh Bell and Starling Marte. Bell is a puppy yet, but fills the bill as a switch hitter with power although years away from the show. Marte has every tool in the kit except for raw power, but still could be a 25/25 guy in the show. Questions linger regarding his poor plate discipline and Rube Goldberg routes in the outfield. The 23 year old will be at Indy this year, and improving his mental approach is key.

Other position players who bear watching are C Tony Sanchez, a first-rounder who has been hurt and not making the progress anticipated by the FO. His defensive ability behind the plate remains unquestioned, but his bat needs some heavy duty work.

1B Alex Dickerson is off to a promising start, and as a college player could be on a fast track (he's a top ten prospect per MLB.com). He looks like he's ready to pass Matt Curry as the Bucs' top 1B prospect. OF Robby Grossman made strides to get on the radar; now he needs to repeat his success, although thought of as a tweener.

SS Jordy Mercer is 25, and he may be ready to make a move. He better, with Brock Holt breathing down his neck. OF Gorkys Hernandez has the glove and wheels to play, but the Bucs aren't sold on his stick. 2B Jarek Cunningham has shown some flash, too, but isn't in the immediate plans.

That leaves us with a whole kettle of pitchers that may or may not pan out. Luis Heredia and Stetson Allie top that list of guys who could break through as elite arms. Only time will tell if their youthful potential will ever be harnessed into major league production.

Names like Kyle McPherson, Jeff Locke, Nick Kingham, Bryan Morris, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Zach Von Rosenberg, Zack Dodson, Colton Cain, Clay Holmes and Duke Welker all pop out as as possible MLB arms to differing degrees. Some will learn their craft; others will fall by the wayside. Baseball Darwinism is the reason the Pirates have committed so many of its resources to hoarding pitching.

There's also a crew of Latin players currently bumping along in the lower levels, like 3B Elevys Gonzalez, 1B Jose Osuna, OFs Adalberto Santos & Exicardo Cayonez, and C Ramon Cabrera. We'll see how an unleashed Rene Gayos and the new Dominican camp work out in farming that fertile field of dreams.

The Pirate farm system has made marked improvement in the Coonelly/Huntington era, especially considering that Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and Alex Presley have all moved through it to the show in recent seasons, along with contributors like Brad Lincoln, Tony Watson and Danny Moskos. Chase d'Arnaud and Josh Harrison have shown they can be capable role players.

The farm has advanced from the bottom of the pack to solidly in the middle and knocking on top ten's door. But their future plans will have to adapt in the new world of capped draft budgets, which makes their over slot signings a thing of the past.

For now the Pirates have stocked the lower minors with talent, and that should work its way up in the next couple of seasons. How they'll approach future drafts -  possibly the new paradigm (no, I don't know what it means, but I always wanted to use it in a post) will focus more on proven college players mixed in with Latin signings - should tell the tale of Pittsburgh's goal of competing in the long run.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Movin' Along...

  • You can go home again. Houston native Chris Snyder signed a one year deal with the Astros with a mutual option for 2013 (no salary info released yet). He went to the University of Houston, and his wife Carla is also from Space City. The Pirates declined his $6.75M option after he sat out virtually all of 2011 with back problems.
  • Ryan Ludwick signed with the Cincy Reds for a year, pending his physical.
  • With those two signings, five ex-Buccos stayed in the division - Paul Maholm and Jason Jaramillo are now with the Cubs and Jose Veras went to the Brewers, along with Snyder and Ludwick.
  • Don't look for a Derrek Lee comeback. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweets that Lee may opt for retirement if he doesn't find a deal he likes, and it's pretty apparent that playing in Pittsburgh again isn't on his bucket list.
  • Aaron Cook signed with the Red Sox, so you can scratch another name from the Bucco rumors list.
  • Big Country Brad Eldred, 31, has inked a minor league deal with the Tigers after spending last year with the Giants AAA Fresno club. He didn't receive an invite to camp. Too bad; we've always wanted to see what the slugger could do if given an extended shot in the show. His big league K rate is staggering (37%) and his BA & OBP (.204/.259) are sad, but he does have an intriguing 15 HR in 260 MLB at-bats.
  • If you're a draft nut, Tom Smith of Rumbunter speculates on a pair of shortstops the Bucs may looking at next season, a high school phenom (Carlos Correa) and a more polished college pick (Deven Marrero).
  • George Guido of the Valley News Dispatch has a tale of Leechburg's Mickey Morandini, who just landed a minor-league coaching gig with the Phils. 
  • The big recent Bucco news is the post-game concert bill: June 9th - Boyz II Men; July 7th - Daughtry; August 11th - Styx; and September 29th, Lifehouse.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two To Go & Invites

The arb housekeeping is just about done, with Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones the only pair remaining unsigned. And the two sides are pretty close, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Trib.

The exchanged figures between the Bucs and the duo are $2.5/$2.25M for Jones and $2.75/$2.35M for McGehee. Jones is just about right on his estimated value, while McGehee is actually a little under. So it doesn't appear that there will be any problem inking the pair.

The current 40-man payroll for the Bucs will end up in the $44-45M range after the pair sign, with an extra $2M in dead money, a slight increase from last season. There are still some guys on the market that could interest the Pirates, so the good news is that they should have enough in the budget to take on another player if they so desire.

In other news, the Pirates invited prospects RHP Gerrit Cole, C Tony Sanchez, OF Robbie Grossman; RHP Mike Crotta, C Eric Fryer and C Ramon Cabrera to camp. Pittsburgh has now invited 18 players to spring training who aren't on the 40-man roster.

The others are OF Brandon Boggs, 1B Jeff Clement, 1B Nick Evans, UT Jake Fox, IF Anderson Hernandez, RHP Ryota Igarashi, RHP Logan Kensing, RHP Shairon Martis, C Jose Morales, LHP Jo-Jo Reyes, LHP Doug Slaten and RHP Tim Wood.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Karstens, Meek Ink Deals

Well, the FO is TCB on the arb front so far. Two more guys, Jeff Karstens and Evan Meek, have agreed to contracts.

Karstens, who had a breakout season in 2011, came out better than expected, inking a one year, $3.1M deal, a cool $2M more than last season, per Bill Brink of the Post-Gazette. The 29 year old righty went 9-9 with a 3.38 ERA after being a stop gap insertion into the rotation.

He started 26 games and went 162-1/3 frames. Clint Hurdle kept him on a short pitch-count leash early on, but by the dog days, JK was getting his six innings and 100 pitches in. The caveat is that in the last two months of the season, his ERA was around 6.5. It could be a natural reaction to his first full season as a starter since the cows came home or as stat guys warn, his regression toward the mean. We'll see if he can repeat in 2012.

Evan Meek, an All-Star in 2010, had shoulder woes and worked just 20-2/3 innings last season. The Bucs brought him back on a one-year, $875K deal with $25K in possible bonuses, according to Jen Langosh of MLB.com. He'll be in the mix with Chris Resop and Jason Grilli to be Hanny's eighth inning caddy, and the favorite if he regains his 2010 mojo.

That brings the Pirate arb signings to six players and nearly $12.5M, with Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee to go. Jones is expected to be worth $2.5 or so, and McGehee $3M plus, but the FO has been a bit on the generous side so far, so we'll see.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Morton Signs, Taillon, Cole Honored

Well, when we said Hanny's deal might start the log rolling, we really didn't expect it to happen quite this quickly. Bill Brink of the Post Gazette reports that Charlie Morton has signed a one-year deal worth $2.445M.

Morton, 28, who earned $441K last year, had a promising 2011, reinventing his delivery by dropping his arm slot. He  went 10-10 with a 3.83 ERA and worked 171-2/3 innings during 29 starts, even with some mid-season down time. His ceiling will depend mightily on how well he learns to handle lefties, who hit .364 off him last season. Righties could only come up with an anemic .220 BA against Morton.

He's hopeful that he can be ready to go by the opening bell; he had fall hip surgery. The Bucs have a fairly forgiving early schedule, so if he can be back full strength by May, there won't be much shuffling of the Pirate rotation.

Morton joined the Pirates in 2009 with Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez in the Nate McLouth deal with the Braves. And hey, unlike some other higher profile trades, not only are all the pieces still in Pittsburgh, but Nate the Great is back, too.

Now only four to go...

In more good news, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com wrote that the Bucs have two of the top six RHP prospects in baseball with Jameson Taillon, 20, and Gerrit Cole, 21, ranked #3 and #6. Both are expected to start the year at High A Bradenton.

Bucs Reach $4.1M Deal With Hanny

According to Jen Langosch of MLB.com, the Pirates have agreed to terms with arb-eligible reliever Joel Hanrahan for a one-year contract. Keith Law of ESPN.com says the deal is worth $4.1M, just about at his estimated value. Rob Biertempfel of the Trib adds that it includes just $50K in performance bonuses, so it looks like Hanny structured his deal to be securely front-loaded.

That number flips his 2011 salary of $1.4M. The 30 year old righty, acquired from the Nats in 2009 as part of the Nyjer Morgan/Sean Burnett trade along with Lastings Milledge, appeared in 70 games for the Pirates last year with a 1-4-40 record, 1.83 ERA, and earned an All-Star spot.

The Bucs have five arb guys to ink yet (Garrett Jones, Jeff Karstens, Casey McGehee, Evan Meek, Charlie Morton) and all but Meek should fall between the $2-3M payscale. But Hanny was the main man of the group, so his signing should help get the other deals moving.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Resop Signed During the Doldrums

The Bucs have been taking their time in dealing with their arb-eligible players. First, they thinned the herd by releasing Ross Ohlendorf, Steve Pearce and Brandon Wood, with Pearce inking a deal with the Twins and Wood with the Rockies. Then they shipped Jose Veras to the Brewers for Casey McGehee, a wash as both were in their arbitration years.

They signed Jason Grilli to a one year, $1.1M deal early on and just this week doubled Chris Resop's salary by giving him a one year, $850K contract. Both deserved a deal. Grilli, 35, went 2-1 in 28 outings with a 2.48 ERA and a save. Resop, 29, put together a 5-4 record with a 4.38 ERA and pitched better than his line, which was marred by a brutal July. Both averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, a clutch bullet to have in a reliever's arsenal.

That leaves Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, Jeff Karstens, Casey McGehee, Evan Meek and Charlie Morton remaining to get under contract. Except for Meek, who missed most of last season with shoulder tendinitis, the cost should be between $2-4M for the remaining guys.

The group posted individual 2011 WARs in the 1-2 range (1 WAR = $4.5M market value) except for McGehee, but he has 2.0 and 3.3 WAR years in 2009-10 to buttress his value against his 2011 downer. While inexact, the rule of thumb is that a first year player is worth 40% of his WAR, a second year player 60%, and a third year player 80%.

Four of the players are in their first year of eligibility, while Hanrahan and Karstens are in their second. WAR, of course, isn't the end-all; past performance, comparable players statistically and prior contracts all factor into the equation.

Historically, the Bucs have taken care of business without an arbitration hearing. The current FO has gone the limit just once, losing to Ohlie last season, and before that the last case to go before arbitrators was in 2004, when Jack Splat Wilson beat Dave Littlefield and company. No wonder they try to sign players; they don't seem to do so well in front of a panel.

It will be an interesting Tuesday, when the team and players trade their salary offers (they filed for arb on Friday). That gives both parties a jumping-off point, and we'd expect the pace to pick up soon after. There's enough time to get the deals done, as the hearings run from February 1st-21st.

The FO is taking it a little slowly, as the arb agreements could add $16M or so to the 2012 payroll, a big hunk of change by Bucco standards. The 40-man salary hit this year looks to be in the $45M range, with another couple of million blown on buy-outs, a bit of an increase from the $42M spent last year, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, and near 2008-09 levels.

This is a "tip of the iceberg" season. Hanny and JK will be entering their third years of arb in 2013, while the rest of the gang will be in their second. McCutch, J-Mac and the Pittsburgh Kid will all join their ranks next season, too. The Bucco youth movement will start hitting Bob Nutting's wallet in earnest then. 

  • Rob Biertempfel of the Trib reported that Charlie Morton, recovering from hip surgery, is cautiously optimistic that he'll be ready to go on Opening Day.
  • Paul Maholm's next appearance at PNC Park will be in a Cubby uniform. The lefty signed a one year, $4.75M deal with Chicago that included an option for 2013. Sure a far cry from the $9.75M option the Pirates declined, hey?
  • The Bucs signed another lefty reliever to a minor league deal when they inked Chris Slaten, 31, who worked for the Nats last season, losing half the season to an elbow injury. Slaten is a LOOGY.
  • We're hopeful that the Pirates haven't given up on pitching yet. There are still quite a few guys on the market who could upgrade the rotation, and as the weeks until camp tick away, maybe the price will be right for the Bucs to add an arm, ala Eric Bedard. The question is whether the FO is willing to cross the $50M payroll line this year - and that hasn't happened since 2003.
  • Derrek Lee, along with Casey Kotchman and Carlos Pena, remain unsigned; the drawn-out Prince Fielder dance has them all on hold. Chris Snyder may have overestimated his market value, too.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Notes

  • John Dreker of Pirate Prospects reports that "according to a Nicaraguan newspaper (link is in Spanish) Vicente Padilla will be scouted by Rene Gayo and the Pittsburgh Pirates next week." He lost much of last season to injuries, but is throwing 94 in winter league play and putting up some nice numbers. The righty is 34, and has a 104-90/4.31 line in 13 big league seasons, mostly as a starter.
  • Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News announced that "The Mets added a veteran backup shortstop Friday, agreeing to a one-year deal with Ronny Cedeno. Cedeno is slated to earn about $1.2 million plus incentives next season as insurance for Jose Reyes’ replacement, Ruben Tejada." The SS's option, refused by the Bucs, was for $3M. The Mets are team number #4 for RC; maybe they can find the right button. It was no secret that his inconsistency drove Clint Hurdle nuts last season.
  • Of the Buccos who chose free agency, only Ryan Doumit and Cedeno have inked deals so far. Jen Langosh of MLB.com wrote that "The club has expressed interest in going after Derrek Lee, though the first baseman doesn’t seem to have reciprocated that interest. The Pirates might consider re-signing Maholm, though I don’t envision them offering significant guaranteed money." Lee is waiting for Prince Fielder to sign while Maholm is looking for a multi-year deal, and the Pirates appear ready to move on without them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thursday Bits & Pieces

  • Pittsburgh has five of the Top 100 prospects according to Frankie Piliere of Scout.com. Gerritt Cole and Jameson Taillon are in the top twenty, and Starling Marte, Luis Heredia and Josh Bell are on the back end of the list.
  • Matt Eddy of Baseball America posted that the Bucs have released RHP Mitchell Fienemann, RHP Joe Parsons, RHP Jarryd Sullivan and LHP Diomedes Mateo. Fienemann and Sullivan were part of the Australian signings the Pirates made in the past couple of years, but neither advanced past State College. 
  • Eddy also noted that they resigned RHP Mike Loree and SS Greg Picart. Loree, 25, made a good if brief showing at Altoona after the Giants released him and he pitched well in indy ball. Picart, 26, in an organizational infielder who's been with the Pirates since 2004. 
  • Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweets that the FO is still looking for a utility infielder. Anderson Hernandez, Yamaico Navarro, Gustavo Nunez, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Chase d'Arnaud aren't enough? Look for another pitcher, would ya please?
  • Wonder whassup with Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Name Droppin'

  • Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that the Pirates had some interest in RHP AJ Burnett of the Yankees. The 35 year old is an inning eater, but his $16.5M contract seems way out of the Pirates' depth unless the Bronx Bombers are willing to foot most of his bill, especially as Fangraphs lists his 2011 value at 1.5 WAR/$6.5M.
  • Dejan Kovacevic of the Trib reports that the Bucs had a chat with LHP Paul Maholm, but doesn't expect much to come of the conversation.
  • The Pirates showed some interest in RHP Dan Wheeler, according to MLB Trade Rumor's Ben Nicholson-Smith. From the same site, Mark Polishuk presumes the Pirates are looking at Taiwanese LHP Chen Wei-yin, 26, a report that's made the web rounds before.
  • Rob Beirtempfel of the Trib notes that Pittsburgh is in on Cuban OFs Yoennis Cespedes and Jorge Soler, although both seem to be in line for for some monster money.
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates announced the signings of LHP Jo-Jo Reyes and RHP Logan Kensing to minor league deals with invites to spring training. Reyes, 27, is a starter who is 12-26 with a 6.05 ERA in five seasons with the Braves, Blue Jays and Orioles. Kensing, 29, is 8-9 with a 5.81 ERA in 132 MLB appearances with Florida and the Nats, missing 2010 while recovering from elbow surgery. The reliever throws in the mid-to-upper 90s. 
  • Jim Callis of Baseball America compares Pirates outfield prospects Starling Marte and Robbie Grossman. He also puts Jamison Taillon/Gerritt Cole among the top four minor league pitching duos.
  • SS Pedro Ciriaco proved you can go home again when he signed with his old club, the Red Sox. C Jason Jaramillo stayed in the division, inking a deal with the Cubs, where he stands a decent chance of becoming the #2 catcher. 
  • Indy's IF/OF Corey Wimberly signed with the Mets, and corner player Josh Fields went to the Dodgers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Arb Clock Is On...

The next housekeeping chore for the Bucs will be coming to terms with their arb-eligible players. They are, with their estimated arbitration values as provided by MLB Trade Rumors:
  • Joel Hanrahan, RHP: $4M
  • Casey McGehee: $3.1M 
  • Jeff Karstens, RHP: $2.8M
  • Garrett Jones, RF/1B: $2.4M
  • Charlie Morton, RHP: $2.1M
  • Chris Resop, RHP: $1.1M
  • Evan Meek, RHP: $900K 
  • Jason Grilli, RHP: $800K (signed to a 1 year/$1.1M contract)
Other arb candidates were IF Brandon Wood, 1B Steve Pearce, and RHP Ross Ohlendorf, who were non-tendered, and RHP Jose Veras, who was traded to the Brew Crew for 3B Casey McGehee.

If the MLB Trade Rumor figures are close to accurate, the eight will cost Mr. Nutting $17.5M.

The Pirates traditionally begin contract talks after the first of the year. The players can file for hearings from January 5th through the 13th, and so far Grilli is the only player the Pirates have struck a deal with. That's not a drop-dead date; figures are exchanged on the seventeenth, and the actual hearings before an arbitrator don't begin until February 1st, running through the 21st. A deal can be struck anytime before the judge rules.

So the FO has a month or more to ink the players to a contract instead of going through a hearing. And we guess they will come to terms. Last year was the first time they took a player to arbitration, and Ross Ohlendorf gobsmacked them for $2M. Our guess is that they'll avoid the process if at all possible.

They'll all be one-year contracts. The only guy who is really worth tying up is Hanny, and the Pirates are loathe to sigh relievers long-term. And he'll do just fine with a "show-me" deal.

Next year will be a little more problematic. Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and James McDonald all become arb-eligible. Look for those back-burner contract deals that are barely on simmer now to heat up next off-season when some real money begins to get tossed around.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012...Lookin' For Pitching

OK, the Bucs top prospect list is loaded with young starters - Gerritt Cole, Jaimison Taillon, Luis Heredia, and Stetson Allie are at the head of the class. Other youngsters like Zach Von Rosenberg, Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes and Phil Irwin are learning their craft. AAA will have Rudy Owens and Justin Wilson returning, with Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson ready to join them. And that's good; like money, you can never have too much pitching.

But none of them will impact this coming season. The only young guy who can provide some immediate help is Brad Lincoln, and he looks closer to being plugged into the bottom rather than top end of the rotation. On top of that, Charlie Morton is recovering from hip surgery, and while his rehab is by all reports going well, it would be foolhardy to expect him to be ready for camp and an April role on the team.

That leaves newcomer Eric Bedard, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia and Lincoln as the opening day staff. The top half looks pretty solid, but that's it. There's no depth and no one behind them right now. And all have some kind of question mark attached to them.

Can Bedard stay healthy? Can J-Mac get past five innings? Can Karstens repeat a break-out season? Can Correia recover from his second-half meltdown? Can Lincoln find his mojo in the bigs? Can Morton recover quickly and figure out how to get a lefty to sit down?

As with all questions, some will have a positive answer and some won't. And the Pirates are ill-prepared right now to deal with someone stumbling out of the blocks. So while the FO, like Green Weenie, took a healthy break during the holidays, it's time to roll up the sleeves and add another starter, someone with enough chops to at least work from the middle of the pack, not the bottom.

Wei-Yin Chen, Bartolo Colon, Jeff Francis, Jon Garland, Rich Harden, Hisashi Iwakuma, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt, Brad Penny, Joel Pineiro, and Joe Saunders are still available (as is Paul Maholm), according to MLB Trade Rumors.

We can eliminate Jackson, a name that's been tossed around in local chat rooms, from the conversation. He's looking for a fair-sized, multi-year contract, and that's not happening in Pittsburgh. Chen, Francis, Maholm and Saunders are also looking for more than a year.

That doesn't leave a lot. Penny has been fairly strong in the NL although a dud in the AL and Oswalt would require a major contract, as would Iwakuma and Kuroda. The rest represent an upgrade, even of modest proportions, to the existing staff and could probably be landed with a one-year deal if structured with plenty of bonuses. We also like Chris Young, if he could be lured by a minor league deal and camp invite.

So we're hoping that the Pirate inactivity during the holidays was spent in spadework to add another pitcher to the rotation. Remember, they went through ten starters in 2011, and that exposed a depth problem that still exists today. If they don't plug that hole, 2012 could be another long year.