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November 21, 2014
by Rob Biertempfel


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In which we look back at last night’s roster moves …

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Last night, the Pirates put catcher Elias Diaz, outfielder Willy Garcia, and pitchers Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon on the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.
GM Neal Huntington said Taillon is “doing really well” recovering from Tommy John surgery. Why protect a guy who is coming off such a major surgery? Huntington pointed out that Taillon’s injury would have made him more attractive to other teams if he was Rule 5 eligible because he could have been stashed on the disabled list for all but the required 90 days a player has to stay on the big league roster.
Diaz, a catcher, made great strides offensively last season. He hit a combined .312 with a .786 OPS at Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona after putting up so-so numbers in A (.214/.579) and High-A (.279/.781). Elias is not a can’t-miss kid, but the Pirates cannot afford to be caught short at catcher in light of Russ Martin‘s departure and the questions about Francisco Cerivelli (can he stay healthy?) and Tony Sanchez (is he good enough defensively?).
Don’t forget about Garcia, 22, who batted .271 with 18 homers and eight stolen bases this year at Double-A Altoona. He has a plus arm and good power, but often struggles to make contact (145 strikeouts this year). Garcia played in 126 games at Altoona last year, but management hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll begin 2015 at Indy. “Willy still has some rough edges,” Huntington said. “We’ll see how things go this winter.” In the Dominican Winter League, Garcia is batting .257/.899 in 21 games with Aguilas Cibaenas.
>>> The Pirates also claimed shortstop Pedro Florimon off waivers from the Nats. Huntington said the team’s recent acquisitions of utility infielders Florimon, Justin Sellers and Jake Elmore doesn’t necessarily mean free agent Clint Barmes cannot return. “The door is still open for Barmes,” Huntington said. Still, the three newcomers are all low-income guys; Barmes would have to take another pay cut (he played for $2 million this year) to return.
As for Florimon, Pirates scouts love his defense and the fact that he also can play second and third base. “And he’s got above-average speed,” Huntington said. “He’s not going to steal a lot of bases, but he can go first to third and second to home. He can be a defensive replacement and give Clint (Hurdle) a pinch-running option off the bench.”
>>> Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors always does a great job projecting salaries for arbitration-eligible players. He pegged Ike Davis to get $4.4 million, Gaby Sanchez to get $2.7 million and Pedro Alvarez to get $5.5 million. For the Pirates, $12.7 million is way too much to pay for a sub-par, three-headed platoon. “It was going to be a challenge to carry all three, given where each of their contract values are expected to go,” Huntington said. That’s why Davis was DFA’d last night and why Sanchez will sweat out the minutes leading up to the non-tender deadline (11:59 p.m. on Dec. 2).
>>> As of a few minutes ago (1:40 p.m.), the Pirates had not announced anything about pitcher Radhames Liz. His impending two-year deal with the club seems to be the worst-kept secret in the world. If they do it today, I hope they do it soon; I have tickets to the Penn State-Pitt wrestling match tonight.

RB

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November 20, 2014
by Rob Biertempfel


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Bucs reportedly add Florimon, Liz

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The Pirates have not yet announced what is expected to be a flurry of roster moves to protect select prospects from the Rule 5 draft. Pitchers Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham and catcher Elias Diaz are expected to be added to the 40-man roster before the midnight deadline.
However, there are two interesting nuggets that have gotten out through other sources. The Washington Nationals announced the Pirates claimed utility infielder Pedro Florimon off waviers. Also, the website of Estrellas Orientals, a team in the Dominican Winter League, reports the Pirates have signed 31-year-old pitcher Radhames Liz to a two-year, $3 million contract. Continue Reading →

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November 17, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Do you want the bad news? More bad news? Or the silver linings?

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CLARK BUILDING –  Busy day in baseball, eh? (Get it … Canadian!)

The first dose of bad news (independent of contract) for the Pirates is Russell Martin officially signed elsewhere on Monday, agreeing to a 5-year, $82 million deal with the Blue Jays, according to Ken Rosenthal. Assuming that’s not Canadian dollars, that’s really a lot of money and it shocked many in the Twitter-sphere. It’s essentially the Brian McCann contract only Martin is two years older.

Look no one is surprised Martin signed elsewhere. And everyone knows how valuable he was to the Pirates. It is a significant loss. Only Mike Trout produced more WAR/game than Martin last year -and the only two times the Pirates have advanced to the postseason since 1992 occurred with Martin on the roster. While losing Martin is an obvious blow, the contract has to be taken into consideration.  Continue Reading →

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November 17, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up: Closing the revenue divide?

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SOUTH HILLS – Have you seen the contract details that the Marlins and 25-year-old superstar Giancarlo Stanton are reportedly close to agreeing upon? Something like 13 years and $325 million?

On one hand this is just a continuation of a industry-wide trend of locking up young talent beyond their controllable years, though it is a dramatic and bold such continuation. (And it’s a reminder if you really like a young player you better approach him when free agency is far, far away. See: Polanco, Gregory).

On the other hand, it’s shocking to see the Marlins considering one of the largest contracts in the sport’s history. Remember these Marlins are typically among the lowest payrolls in the game with some of the lowest local revenues from both an attendance and local TV perspective. I suspect the Pirates might even have greater local revenues despite the disparity in market size.

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November 14, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Batman returns

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SOUTH HILLS –  As you are probably aware of by now, A.J Burnett returned to the Pirates on Friday, signing a one-year, $8.5 million deal. He turned down a $12.75 million option to remain with the Phillies.

The Pirates benefited from an usual market for a free agent pitcher. The Pirates were the only team Burnett told his agent to negotiate with. Said Burnett’s agent Darek Braunecker: “It’s the only place he wanted to play in 2015. He instructed me to negotiate exclusively with the Pirates and thankfully there was mutual interest.”

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November 13, 2014
by Rob Biertempfel


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MVP decision is done. Busy offseason looms.

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Do I harbor at least a little bit of bias against a pitcher winning the league MVP award? Yeah, I suppose I do. Position players are on the field pretty much every day, and they can influence the outcome of a game in so many ways — at the plate, in the field, on the bases, presence in the lineup.
I don’t say that to diminish the importance of a starting pitcher. I’ve included at least one pitcher on each of the half-dozen or so MVP ballots I’ve turned in over the past few seasons. But I’ve always felt it would take a truly historic, knock-my-socks-off kind of performance for a pitcher reach the top of my list. Clayton Kershaw came darn close to doing that this year, but in the end I still put Andrew McCutchen’s name in the top spot. Continue Reading →

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November 13, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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The little trade that could … save 2015

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SOUTH HILLS – Yes, the Pirates have voids in the rotation. Yes, first base is unsettled and Andrew McCutchen believes it’s a priority need. Yes, the bullpen regressed greatly in 2014. But the fact is if Russell Martin is playing elsewhere in 2015, which seems very likely, catcher was by far the biggest void for the 2015 Pirates. And if you’ve examined the free agent at catcher beyond Martin, you understand there are no other starting caliber catchers out there. There’s a Niagara Falls-like drop off.

The Pirates were likely going to have to go the trade route to improve their bolster their catching situation for next season, and they might have made a very important acquisition in acquiring Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli on Wednesday night.

It’s a big ‘if’ given his injury history, but if he remains healthy, Cervelli can be an important part of the 2015 Pirates.

Continue Reading →

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November 11, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Should baseball push for a franchise tag? And are the Pirates a mystery team?

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SOUTH HILLS – I’m not sure the qualifying offer is helping anyone.

The qualifying offer is now 0-for-34. None of the twelve free agents tagged with the qualifying offer – a one-year deal of the average of the top 125 salaries in the game – accepted it yesterday. That means no free agent, none of the 34 tagged with it, since its implementation have accepted it.

The QO was part of the last collective bargaining agreement. It was designed in part to give clubs  - particularly small-market clubs – compensation should they lose one of their top players in free agency. It isn’t working as planned. It isn’t really working at all.

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November 10, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: McCutchen speaks his mind

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SOUTH HILLS – Few have doubted Andrew McCutchen‘s comfort level on the field as a player who enters the week vying for a second straight MVP. He has already secured a third straight, top-three MVP finish.

However, it appears McCutchen is becoming more comfortable off the field, specifically in speaking his mind off of the field as he spoke to the Trib’s Rob Biertempfel in a Sunday Q & A. Typically when interviewed, McCutchen is approachable but offers few newsworthy sound bites. This was different as McCutchen spoke candidly on a number of issues.

It’s one thing when a blogger, radio talk show host, or message board poster shares an opinion – it’s quite different when the face of the franchise opines.

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November 7, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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A missed opportunity?

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SOUTH HILLS – I was asked in the office the other day about who was really most responsible for the Pirates’ ability to rehab starting pitchers: Ray Searage (and Jim Benedict) or Russell Martin‘s framing and other intangibles?

It’s a great question and it’s difficult to know. Both played a role for sure, Searage’s ability to communicate and fix mechanics and Martin’s ability to swing the probability of counts in a pitcher’s favor. I think Searage is slightly more responsible but I’d  guess it’s close,  60/40.

So this lead me to wonder if the Pirates should have been serious players for Hank Conger.

Continue Reading →

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