The Pirates have scouted Cuban outfielders Yoennis Cespedes and Jorge Soler for several years and could be among the bidders when the players officially become free agents sometime this month. But don’t expect the club to stay in the hunt when (not if) the bidding shoots gets crazy. Cespedes is expected to command a price of $30 million to $50 million.
Most scouts rate Cespedes, 26, as potentially the best player ever to come out of Cuba. Soler, 19, also is a fine player but not the same caliber of talent as Cespedes. “We like (Soler), but it’s like comparing Roseanne Barr to Marilyn Monroe,” a senior Pirates scout told me. The bidding frenzy around Cespedes probably will drive up the price for Soler, some say as high as $20 million. That’s another price the Pirates might not be willing to pay.
»»» The Pirates would like to add to their starting pitching depth, and are eying possible trades as much as the remnants on the free-agent market. Nothing seems imminent on either front. As my colleague Dejan Kovacevic reports, the Bucs talked with lefty Paul Maholm about coming back, but the odds of that happened are highly unlikely. The Cubs and Orioles are interested in Maholm. The initial asking prices for Japanese league vets Hisashi Iwakuma and Wei-Yin Chen are higher than the Pirates are willing to pay — interest in them has cooled, but things could change in the run-up to spring training.
»»» GM Neal Huntington will huddle with his top lieutenants for five days next week in Bradenton, Fla. The annual organizational meetings will map out such things as draft strategy, the minor league depth chart, and trade and free agent targets. The team also will open the Pirate City complex to players for voluntary, unstructured workouts. I’ll be in (hopefully sunny) Bradenton for a couple of days next week, so check back here for updates.
»»» Assuming his 50-game suspension for using a banned substance is upheld, Brewers slugger Ryan Braun could make his season debut May 31 on the road against the Dodgers. The next day, the Brewers return to Miller Park to open a three-game series against — surprise! — the Pirates. During his suspension, Braun will miss seven games against the Cubs, six against the Cardinals, five against the Astros and three against the Reds. The only NL Central team not to benefit from Braun’s absence will be the Pirates. In 72 games against the Pirates, Braun has a 1.029 OPS, 20 home runs and 73 RBI.
»»» Well-traveled shortstop Pedro Ciriaco has signed with the Boston Red Sox. Ciriaco went up and down from Triple-A Indy to the Pirates six times last season.
»»» Former Pirates pitcher Josh Sharpless will be a volunteer assistant coach this year at LaRoche College.