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December 15, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Despite busy early offseason have the Pirates lost ground?

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SOUTH HILLS – Updated World Series odds from Bovada were released today, following the Winter Meetings and a surprisingly high volume of off-season transactions to date.

On Oct. 30., before free agency opened, the Pirates were given 20-to-1 odds to win the 2015 World Series. Those were the 12th-best odds in baseball and fifth in the National League.

Today, Bovada bookmakers have dropped the Pirates to 33-to-1 odds, 17th-best in baseball and 8th in the National League – lesser odds than the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and New York Mets. And this is after the Pirates spent a club record $39 million on a free agent and have already had a superior offseason compared to last year.

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December 11, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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NL Central just got more interesting and the rich (MLB owners) get richer

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SOUTH HILLS – This weekend there might be the fewest contentious questions ever at Pirates Fest for Pirates’ management. A day after signing Francisco Liriano and likely finishing off their starting rotation, the Pirates upgraded their remaining biggest area of need, their bullpen, in trading so-so prospect Joely Rodriguez to the Phillies for lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo.

Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News on Bastardo: “In the last 3 seasons, only 8 MLB relievers (min. 150G) had a better K rate than his 11.86 strikeouts-per-9 innings.” Bastardo isn’t perfect – he walks too many batters and allows too many flyballs – but he can miss bats. And he’s left-handed, which is critical.

Bartardo is essentially a slightly better version of Justin Wilson (though more expensive and closer to free agency). It was an important tactical acquisition as Clint Hurdle now has two late-game lefty options.

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December 10, 2014
by Rob Biertempfel


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Winter meetings day 3

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SAN DIEGO — Tony Sanchez‘s stint in the Dominican Winter League wound up being a lot shorter than he expected. After playing in just 10 games with Toros del Este, Sanchez was told by the team to go back to the United States.
“They sent me home,” Sanchez said by phone Wednesday morning. “I don’t blame them. The reason is, I did so poorly. I couldn’t hit.”
Sanchez had three hits in 30 at-bats. He also made two throwing errors.
“I felt good, I felt strong and confident behind the plate,” Sanchez said. “The errors came on short-hop throws to second base on steals. I went there to polish my defense.” Continue Reading →

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December 9, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Instant analysis: Pirates sign Liriano

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates did not retain their No. 1 offseason target in Russell Martin but they did resign their No. 2 free agent, Francisco Liriano, on Tuesday.

Liriano signed surprisingly early in the free agent process as the top free agent pitchers had not yet come to terms to set the market. And while Liriano’s market was no doubt eroded to a degree by the qualifying offer, which was wisely applied by the Pirates, a similar inconsistent pitcher tagged with a qualifying offer last offseason, Ubaldo Jimenez, waited and did get four years.

Some speculated Liriano would get four years. The Pirates were unwilling to go beyond four years with Martin and they were likely unwilling to push beyond three for Liriano. Luckily, they didn’t have to for Liriano, who signed for three years and $39 million, a price on the lower end of projections for Liriano.

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December 9, 2014
by Rob Biertempfel


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Winter meetings day 2

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SAN DIEGO — Good day, and welcome to day two.
If you’re still hunting stocking stuffers, the Pirates will be ready to take your cash starting 10 a.m. Friday, when single-game tickets go on sale. You can get them via the usual outlets: by clicking on pirates.com/tickets, by calling 877-893-2827, or by going old-school and standing in line at a PNC Park ticket window. The 2015 promotional schedule includes the usual mix of free t-shirts and bobbleheads, but the crown jewel of giveaway items is the Clint Hurdle garden gnome (May 7) Continue Reading →

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December 8, 2014
by Rob Biertempfel


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Winter meetings day 1

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workroomSAN DIEGO — 8:45 am PT First off, I vow to refrain from making any “Anchorman” jokes this week.

There was not a lot of buzz about the Pirates last night in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt, but, hey, it’s early. The Pirates want to re-up Francisco Liriano, but the stumbling block could be the number of years more than the dollars. They Pirates are skittish about making a four-year offer for a 31-year-old pitcher with a spotty injury history the past couple of years. Jason Hammels reportedly just got 2/$18M from the Cubs — is Liriano worth 4/$60M? We’ll see. The fact that Liriano is tied to draft-pick compensation could help the Pirates’ cause.

– If Jon Lester makes up his mind about soon which team’s logo will be on the hefty checks he’l cash the next few years, it should trigger a wave of pitcher signings. Until then, it’s a bit of a waiting game. GM Neal Huntington doesn’t necessarily believe a delay will hurt the Pirates’ chances of re-signing either Liriano or Edinson Volquez. “We’re still awfully early in the offseason,” Huntington said a few days ago. “I don’t know that the longer it goes the worse our chances are. In some ways, it might make our chances better.” Continue Reading →

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December 8, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: hot stove scrambles trace back to summer

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SOUTH HILLS – At the Winter Meetings this week, the focus will be on dollars thrown at free agents and trade rumors whirling about the hotel lobby.

As fun as the offseason rumor mill is, and it is a lot of fun and has driven offseason interest in baseball for a century, it really hammers home the importance of player acquisition in the summer with the draft in June and international free agent signings in July.

If a club misses too often in the summer on amateur talent, chances are it will be scrambling too much in December. While no club fills every need externally, even the clubs most efficient at drafting and development have needs, the fewer the better when entering what has become a more inefficient free agent market place.

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December 4, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Are stars losing trade value?

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SOUTH HILLS - Josh Donaldson and Andrew McCutchen have much in common.

McCutchen (15.0) and Donaldson (14.1) rank No. 2 and No. 3 all of baseball in Wins Above Replacement accumulated over the last two years – trailing only Mike Trout.

(McCutchen and Donaldson have among the most trade value in the game and four Pirates – McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco made Jonah Keri’s top 50 trade value rankings)

Donaldson is 10 months older than McCutchen, but they are both 28 today and at or near their peaks.

They are both under club control for four more seasons. Donaldson is a Super 2 player meaning his entering his first of four arbitration-eligible seasons. While Donaldson is about to get more expensive, he should still produce big-time surplus value. McCutchen is under club control through 2018 for $51.5 million.  They are two of the more valuable players in the game. Players like this, this far from free agency, rarely get traded. So here’s where it gets really interesting. Continue Reading →

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December 2, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Pirates’ payroll obligations as the clock nears midnight

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SOUTH HILLS – The deadline to tender contracts to players without guaranteed contracts for next season is 11:59 p.m today. The key players to watch at the tender deadline are the players eligible for arbitration.

The Pirates tendered contracts to six arbitration-eligible players last year. This year that number should nearly double to 11, which will significantly drive up payroll obligations.

The following are the projected 2015 arbitration salaries for the 11-arbitration eligible players on the Pirates’ roster, according to MLB Trade Rumors. The Pirates are likely to tender all 11 players after parting ways with their two on-the-arbitration-bubble players in Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez.

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December 1, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Adding versatility and ending a platoon?

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CLARK BUILDING – The Pirates gained bench versatility on Monday while also perhaps ending their strict platoon at first base. The Pirates acquired utility man Sean Rodriguez from Tampa Bay for a player to be named and cash considerations, and cleared a 40-man roster spot by cutting ties with Gaby Sanchez.

Rodriguez has played every position expect catcher and pitcher in his career. He’s an able middle infielder. He has posted above-average defensive runs saved numbers at short (5), third (3) and second (23) for his career, and also has the ability to play every outfield position. He has excellent versatility and should be more useful in the National League. He seems likely to replace Clint Barmes.

He showed more pop last year (12 homers, 15.8 HR/FB rate, and a .443 slugging mark) but his bat has really never developed after posting big minor league numbers in the hitter-friendly California and Pacific Coast Leagues. Rodriguez’s career slash-line: .225/.297/.372. He was DFA’d by Tampa and will be a free agent after the season. He made $1.4 million last season.

While Rodriguez should upgrade the bench, more interesting perhaps is that the Pirates appear to be moving away from a first base platoon unless another move is made this offseason – or Sanchez is brought back at a lower price. Continue Reading →

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