Pirates A.M. — Financial flexibility? Um, maybe.

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GTR-BucsAM-022117By Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — During our sit-down with chairman Bob Nutting yesterday, I asked he has given GM Neal Huntington the … (wait for it) … financial flexibility to add players/payroll later this season if necessary or if fans can expect to see another salary dump a la the Francisco Liriano trade. You might recall Huntington said last year that adding David Freese late in spring training ate into their late-season acquisition budget. Dealing Liriano freed up $6.5 million last year and another $6.5 million this year.

Nutting’s reply: “We’re just getting started off in spring training. We need to always have the flexibility to be opportunistic. Whether that’s opportunistic to go out and get talent in a trade, or whether it’s opportunistic to be able to supplement. We’ve done both. We have the flexibility to do either. But it would be far too early to decide where might that play out. Injuries will play into that. Team performance will play into that. I just don’t know.”

>>> Jung Ho Kang’s DUI trial in South Korea is set to begin at 2 a.m. EST on Wednesday, so his situation likely will come into better focus within 24 hours.

SelfPromotion1>>> Full workout today, including live batting practice at 11:30 a.m. — which, not coincidentally, is when I will take my first stab at doing a Facebook Live stream. Field 1: Cole, Nova, Watson, Hudson will face Cutch, Freese and Marte. Field 2: Taillon, Glasnow, Rivero and Bastardo vs. Hanson, Polanco and Jaso. Field 3: Kuhl, Hughes and Hutchison vs. Mercer, Bell and Hanson. Field 4: Brault, Nicasio, LeBlanc and Schugel vs. Perez, Gosselin and Frazier.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. – Nutting on Cutch, Kang and the will to win

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By Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — Owner Bob Nutting held his annual closed-door meeting with the players this morning. Later, he took questions from reporters for about a half hour.

NuttingST2016.jpegSome highlights:

Thoughts about the team: “I think we have a really solid core that is maturing and pulling together, so I’m enthusiastic about being able to supplement, both with internal talent coming up through the system as well as a few external. I think overall we have a group that can jell together and be a very good baseball team.”

On whether Andrew McCutchen could end his career with the Pirates: “What is simple, what is clear and what is true is he is a remarkable person. I thought his piece in the Players’ Tribune was really well done. It didn’t surprise me that it was well done, given the tremendous character and inner strength that Andrew has. He’s been tremendous on the field and off the field. I appreciate him. I could spend the rest of the morning saying nice things and wonderful anecdotes about Andrew. If there were a way to keep him, clearly it would be wonderful to see him in a Pirates uniform. He loves Pittsburgh and Maria loves Pittsburgh, and we love Andrew.

On whether manager Clint Hurdle and GM Neal Huntington will get contract extensions beyond 2017: “Neal and Clint are both really strong, really good. I love working with them. I’m very comfortable with them. I think they’re very comfortable with us and the organization. The contact extension is not something that’s top-of-mind for me. It’s not an issue at this point. But they are tremendous talents.”

On whether last season’s poor finish indicates ownership lacks the will to do whatever it takes to build a winner: “I really think that there are two different issues. We ended up with the season we did (in 2016) because the team and organization underperformed the level of talent that we had. I don’t think it was nearly so much that we didn’t have sufficient talent to make the run. We had some very good players who did not perform up to the expectations that we had. I really think it’s far more execution than what we put together.”

On Jung Ho Kang’s third DUI incident in South Korea: “We are absolutely disappointed that he has put himself and the organization in this circumstance. As importantly, he is disappointed and embarrassed that he has put the team in this place as well. What I hope is that as he works through his challenges in (South) Korea, and he comes back and is able to join the team, that the development system we’ve put in place — the character development, developing players as whole people, whether it’s Pirates Charities, leadership programs, taking accountability — we have been committed for a decade to making our organization about more than just the swings. We’re trying to develop character. We’re trying to develop community commitment. I think, frankly, we’ll be well positioned to help Jung Ho get back on his feet, get himself re-established, be in a community that will support him, and at the same time we will hold high level of expectation and demands on him. Prefer not to be here, but look forward to getting him back.

>>> UPDATE 12:06 p.m. – Francisco Cervelli said he’s feeling pain in the bottom of his right foot, which is why he’s not been on the fields yesterday and today. “I don’t know what I did,” Cervelli said. “There was some pain, so I came inside yesterday and Todd (Tomczyk, head athletic trainer) said, ‘It’s too early for this.’ ” Cervelli said he plans to work out on the fields on Tuesday.

Cervelli said there is no blister, just pain and discomfort. Previously, he wore two kinds of inserts in his shoes — a support insert in his left shoe and a basic cushy insert in the right. Now, he’ll switch to a more therapeutic insert for his right foot.

>>> Alen Hanson took ground balls exclusively at third base today, working with David Freese. … Josh Bell fielded grounders on the Mazeroski half-field behind Field 1.

>>> Today’s workout will be short. No bullpens, no live batting practice. Most of the players probably will be off the fields by 12:30 p.m. Some of them will attend a Miracle Field even at 4 p.m. today.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — WBC won’t change camp routine

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By Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — Manager Clint Hurdle will not alter the camp routine for players who will soon depart for the World Baseball Classic.

“We’re going to run our program,” Hurdle said. “If they feel they need something extra, we’ll work with them on it. So far, they all want to go though the regular workouts. Some of them got in work before they got here. So, I think we’re in a good place.”

IMG_4525>>> It’s photo day, which means the players spend about two hours this morning going from station to station around Pirate City, dressed in their regular season game uniforms. The players pose for mugshots — “Should I smile or look serious this year?” Jared Hughes wondered aloud — and faked “action” shots of them in mid-swing or delivering a pitch. There’s a breakfast station set up in the walkway outside the clubhouse, which is a break from the normal routine.

>>> There will be the usual workout today, including more live batting practice at 11:30 a.m.

Field 1: Josh Lindblom, Pat Light, Clay Holmes, Cody Dickson

Field 2: Dan Runzler, Dovydas Neverauskas, Nick Kingham (one inning)

Field 3: Trevor Williams, Angel Sanchez, Edgar Santana, Brandom Cumpton

Field 4: Tyler Eppler, Jared Lakind, Casey Sadler

>>> UPDATE 11:55 a.m. – Catcher Francisco Cervelli was removed from today’s workout discomfort3due to what the team describes as right foot discomfort. Pitcher Jason Stoffel, who has missed both of his bullpen sessions, is out with right shoulder discomfort. Both players are listed as day to day.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — Live BP today

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By Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — The first round of live batting practice will be held at 11:30 this morning on all four fields at Pirate City. Pitchers will throw around 18 pitches per inning and no more than 40 total. Fifteen the 16 pitchers will throw two innings; Gerrit Cole will throw one.

Field 1: Cole, Jared Hughes, Juan Nicasio, A.J. Schugel

Field 2: Ivan Nova, Felipe Rivero, Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison

Field 3: Jameson Taillon, Antonio Bastardo, Wade LeBlanc, Tyler Glasnow

Field 4: Tony Watson, Daniel Hudson, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Webb

This will be a long workout today. After the live BP, batters also will take a round of coach-pitch BP. The day should wrap up around 1 p.m.

>>> The annual “Pirates pep rally” is at 5 tonight in downtown Bradenton.

>>> Workouts have started a half-hour later than usual the past few days due to an evaluation process by the strength and conditioning staff. “We’re getting measurements in different areas — flexibility, stretching, core, muscle mass,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — McCutchen’s uneasy start to spring training

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By Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — Wearing a grey hoodie and black cap, Andrew McCutchen met with reporters for about 15 minutes this morning after arriving at Pirate City. McCutchen had a turbulent offseason — he was the subject of trade talks, particularly during the winter meetings in December, then lost his job in center field.

McCutchen answered every question without hesitation, but his trademark smile never flashed during the interview. Some of his thoughts:

>>> On his emotions heading into camp: “Pretty motivated, ready to go. I worked hard this offseason. Just ready to show up and do what I’ve got to do.”

>>> On moving to right field: “There was at one point, it was my call – when I was ready to go to right, it was on me. (Now,) it was more, ‘This is something you have to do.’ It wasn’t an ask. It was more of a say that I have to move there and it’s for the betterment of the team. That’s one of the first times where that’s something I wanted to go against. It wasn’t something I was ready for or something I wanted to do. But as I’m saying that, I’m talking about myself. I had to not be as selfish and just accept that’s what I have to do and move over to right.”

>>> On coming to terms with the position change: “It didn’t take too long. Once I got over the fact I had to move, the more I started to try to look at it and get some positivity out of it. That’s one way to look at it. Playing in a position, a spot of a guy I idolized, (Roberto) Clemente. He set the standard for someone to be like. I would love to be half that guy. It’s an honor to be out there playing that position. To be able to have won a Roberto Clemente Award, that’s awesome. To be playing out there and following in his footsteps is an honor for me.”

>>> On getting started with spring training: “I’m looking forward to seeing everybody, my teammates. I really haven’t spoken to too many people yet. I’m looking forward to being back. Looking forward to just getting out on the field and playing. I know you’re all sick of hearing about everything that’s happened and I am too. I’m ready to get my feet out there. Ready to show that this is just the beginning of some good stuff. I’m looking forward to spring training and putting a bat in my hand again.”

In other news from this morning at Pirate City … The Pirates had a full-squad meeting at 9 a.m. today and will head to the fields around 10 a.m. Highlights include bullpens for the C and D groups, along with full infield practice and batting practice. … As promised, Ivan Nova showed up today with a fresh dye job. Nova’s hair is now (mostly) yellow.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — Busiest time of year for catchers

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By Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — During the season, a catcher has to worry about handling a dozen or pitchers. He has to know each guy’s strengths and weaknesses and must be able to quickly decipher whether that pitcher is in a groove or out of sync.

During spring training, the challenge is greater. The Pirates have 32 pitchers in camp — big leaguers and prospects, veterans and kids — and each catcher will work with most, if not all, of them. There’s a lot to learn.

PTR-Stallings03-032816“We need to get to know the pitchers,” catcher Jacob Stallings said. “For me, I need to get to know big league guys and Triple-A guys. The (coaching) staff does a good job of making sure we catch each guy at least one time in bullpen sessions.”

There’s a catcher’s meeting with pitching coach Ray Searage scheduled for today, where each pitcher’s traits and arsenal will be discussed.

“We do a lot of stuff to make sure the transition is as easy as possible.,” Stallings said.

>>> Andrew McCutchen is among the position players who will be in camp today. He and Josh Harrison are among the group scheduled for noon physicals.

>>> Tony Watson’s arbitration case was heard Wednesday and the outcome is expected to be announced today. Watson filed for $6 million and the Pirates offered $5.6 million. The board must choose one figure or the other.

>>> The A and B groups will throw bullpens today. Group B (which includes Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault) will go at 11 a.m. Group A (which includes Gerrit Cole, Ivan Nova and Jameson Taillon) will go at 11:20 a.m.

UPDATE 10:30 a.m.Josh Bell picked up a bat, looked at catcher Elias Diaz and smiled. “Time for me to go make that noise,” Bell said.

That noise was the sound of Bell making contact with baseballs in the indoor batting cages. He was cleared to begin taking swings with a tee, another step forward in his recovery from offseason knee surgery.

WatsonUPDATE 11:30 a.m. — Relief pitcher Tony Watson lost his arbitration case and will make $5.6 million this season. Watson had filed for $6 million.

That’s still a 62 percent raise for Watson, who last year made $3.45 million and inherited the closer’s role in late July when Mark Melancon was traded.

Watson was the only Pirate to go to a hearing this year. The case was heard on Wednesday by arbitrators Gil Vernon, Jeanne Wood and Steven Wolf.

Watson, 31, last season converted 15 of 20 save chances and posted a 3.06 ERA over 70 outings. The left-hander will be a free agent after this season.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. – Jaso at 3B? Not so much.

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By Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — Some folks have asked if John Jaso will be an option to play third base if Jung Ho Kang ends up missing a significant chunk of time. You may recall Jaso said at the end of last year that he’d like to try to learn how to play third base before the start of the 2017 season.

Here’s a nugget I got from GM Neal Huntington during minicamp in January (which was about a month after Kang was arrested for DUI) when I asked about Jaso’s role: “There was conversation about third base, but it’s probably going to be more first base and outfield. As we do with a lot of our guys coming through the system, we’re not creating utility players, we’re creating avenues to make a major league team and help a major league team. John’s open to doing that.”

>>> Wednesday’s lineup for bullpen sessions is not as sexy as yesterday’s, when the top bullpen and rotation candidates toed the rubber:

Group C (11:05 a.m.) — Josh Lindblom, Dan Runzler, Trevor Williams, Pat Light, Jason Stoffel, Edgar Santana and Nick Kingham.

Group D (11:25 a.m.) — Clay Holmes, Dovydas Neverauskas, Brandon Cumpton, Jared Lakind, Cody Dickson, Tyler Eppler, Casey Sadler and Angel Sanchez.

PolancoAirport>>> Thursday is the deadline for position players to report, and a few (perhaps all) will check in today. Gregory Polanco is on his way, according to his Instagram account. Andrew McCutchen was spotted last night dining in St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota, just a half-hour down the road.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — The Candyman is in camp

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CandyHurdleBy Rob Biertempfel

BRADENTON, Fla. — John Candelaria and Rennie Stennett are newcomers this year among the crew of former Pirates players who serve as special instructors during big league spring training camp.

Candelaria, 63, pitched 19 seasons in the majors. He amassed 124 wins with the Pirates from 1975 (his rookie season) to 1985 (when he was traded to the Angels). He spent his final five seasons working mostly as a reliever, including a 24-outing stint with the Pirates in 1993 (his final season).

Candelaria is scheduled to help pitching coach Ray Searage evaluate bullpens this morning. All the big guns — including Gerrit Cole, Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Tony Watson and Felipe Rivero — will throw.

Stennett, 65, played for the Pirates from 1971 (rookie year) to 1979. He spent his final two seasons with the Giants.

The other special instructors this year are Bill Mazeroski, Bill Virdon, Kent Tekulve, Mike LaValliere, Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillen and Omar Moreno.

>>> The trade that brought Phil Gosselin to the Pirates also brought him closer to home. Gosselin grew up in Malvern, about a half-hour outside of Philadelphia.

“It’s across the state, but still a lot closer than Arizona,” Gosselin said. “I grew up a Phillies fan … and the Flyers.”

Uh oh. Will Gosselin be OK with donning a black-and-gold jersey if manager Clint Hurdle schedules another Penguins-themed road trip?

“I might have to, but my buddies back home might not be happy with me,” Gosselin said with a laugh.

A four-year veteran, Gosselin said the management hasn’t yet given him a specific plan for his role if he makes the team. He can play second, third, short, first and left field.

“I’m open to playing anywhere,” Gosselin said. “I kind of like that role, bouncing around. It’s fun. It’s something different every day, so I’m ready for whatever they throw at me. I’m excited for the opportunity here. It seems like a great organization.”

>>> UPDATE 10:46 a.m. — Third baseman Jung Ho Kang will miss the start of spring training camp due to his trial for driving under the influence in South Korea, team president Frank Coonelly confirmed on Tuesday.

Pitchers and catchers held their first workout on Tuesday morning. The first full-squad workout is set for Friday.

Kang faces charges after a DUI incident on Dec. 2 near Seoul. His trail is set for Feb. 22.

“It is not known how long the trial will last or when any sentencing phase that might be necessary would be scheduled,” Coonelly said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to do whatever we can to assist he and his representatives in their efforts to resolve all necessary matters so that Jung Ho will be able to travel to the United States to prepare for and to play in the 2017 season, but his reporting date remains undetermined.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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The most boring camp ever?

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BoringWe are 26 days away from what might be the most boring spring training camp in recent Pirates history.

You want drama? You want position battles? You want lots of starting jobs and rotation spots up in the air? Don’t look to Bradenton, Fla.

This morning, I decided to come up with the probable 25-man roster for the April 3 season opener against the Red Sox. It required a lot less time and head-scratching than I expected:

Starting lineup (in no particular order): C Francisco Cervelli, 1B Josh Bell, 2B Josh Harrison, SS Jordy Mercer, 3B Jung Ho Kang, LF Andrew McCutchen, CF Starling Marte, RF Gregory Polanco

No surprises here, although there is a bit of intrigue regarding McCutchen and Kang. For our purposes, let’s suspend #CutchWatch and assume he’s not traded before opening day. The question then becomes whether he’s stationed in front of the Green Monster or in center field when the Pirates play the Red Sox on April 3. McCutchen could put up a case during spring training that he deserves to stay in center, but don’t forget he’ll be out of camp for a while to play for Team USA in the WBC. That could help his cause (if the Pirates don’t want to tinker with their alignment while their outfielders are out of camp) or hurt it (if management figures there’ll be less turbulence if the change is made while Cutch is not in camp to protest it). Kang’s status is a murky in the wake of his DUI arrest last month. He could be suspended and/or he could miss time while participating in an alcohol-abuse rehab program.

Bench: Chris Stewart, David Freese, Alen Hanson, Adam Frazier, John Jaso

Freese will start at third if Kang is absent. Stewie and Jaso also are gimme picks. Hanson is a multi-position guy and (more importantly) is out of minor league options. Frazier clearly has been groomed to replace Super U Sean Rodriguez.

Starting rotation: RHP Gerrit Cole, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP Chad Kuhl, RHP Drew Hutchison

Barring a late acquisition — Jose Contreras? Jake Ordorizzi? Jason Hammel? Jorge De La Rosa? Henderson Alvarez? (OK, that last one might be a bit of a stretch.) — the No. 5 rotation spot should be the biggest question mark at the outset of camp. I gave the nod to Hutchison because of his big league experience. Also, the front office would like to see some return on an investment that will cost the Pirates $2.3 million this year, along with a former opening day starter (Frankie Liriano), a former first-rounder (Reese McGuire) and some outfield depth (Harold Ramirez). Also in the mix: Steven Brault (who would be the lone lefty in the rotation), Tyler Glasnow and Trevor Williams. Nick Kingham, who seems fit again after Tommy John surgery, also could claim this job at some point this season.

Bullpen: LHP Tyler Webb RHP Juan Nicasio, RHP Jared Hughes, LHP Antonio Bastardo, LHP Felipe Rivero, LHP Daniel Hudson, LHP Tony Watson (L)

There are a lotta lefties here. Too many, probably. And this doesn’t even include Wade LeBlanc, a late-season pickup last year. His $750,000 contract is non-guaranteed, which means the Pirates are on the hook for only a fraction of his salary if he’s cut during spring camp. Bastardo will make $6.5 million, but about half of that is being picked up by the Mets. Hudson has reinvented himself after having two TJ surgeries and likely will be the closer if/when Watson is moved. Webb is a Rule 5 pickup who’s got some good life in his four-seamer. 

* * * * * *

There you have it. This bunch is significantly different from the 2016 opening day roster, but still has the same core — McCutchen, Marte, Cervelli, Kang, Mercer, Harrison, Polanco, Cole, Watson. Regardless of who gets the fifth starter gig, the rotation figures to be better than it was last year. The bench loses SeanRod’s pop and gains Hanson’s speed. The bullpen could be a work in progress all summer — if Watty is not dealt this spring, he’ll still most likely be traded at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

Spring training will feature fewer moving parts than we’ve seen the past few years, but that’s usually not a bad thing. The roster is (more or less) settled; now all the 2017 Pirates have to do is find a way to make up for the 25 games they finished behind the first-place Cubs in the NL Central last season.

– Rob Biertempfel

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A bittersweet day: Nova returns, I depart

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SOUTH HILLS – So the Pirates gave everyone in  Western Pennsylvania an early Christmas gift by agreeing to a three-year, $26 million deal with Ivan Nova today.

This appears to be an excellent contract for the Pirates.

nOvaRain
If Nova is just Nova. It’s not a bad deal. If he’s Happ 2.0 it’s the steal of the offseason (Horner photo)

 

At $8.7 million per annum, the dollars are well less than what many predicted Nova would receive in a weak free agent market for pitching, where Nova was regarded as one of the better arms available.

MLB Trade Rumors predicted a four-year, $52 million deal for Nova earlier this offseason.

The FanGraphs crowd-sourced  prediction averaged three years, $43 million pact.

The Pirates’ deal with Nova, of course, comes in well below that.

With a Win Above Replacement thought to be valued somewhere around $8M on the open market, the Pirates are basically paying Nova to be what he’s been during his a career: a back-of-the rotation starter.

In his six full MLB seasons, Nova has averaged 1.4 WAR per season.

But as we saw in the second half last season, Nova, of course, has  upside. After coming over from the bandboxes of the AL East to pitcher-friendly PNC Park – Nova spent the first six-plus years of his MLB career with the Yankees – Nova was much more aggressive attacking the strike zone and credited the change to his new environment.

You can understand why he was more comfortable …

HR Park Factors last season

1. Yankee Stadium, 1.435

2. Coors Field, 1.321

3. Chase Field, 1.282

22. PNC Park, 0.837

After arriving in Pittsburgh, Nova’s rate of first-pitch strikes and pitches in the strike zone spiked. Nova’s rate of two-seam fastballs was also at a career high in 2016.

If Nova indeed Happed then the Pirates will have just agreed to a tremendous contract. And maybe a switch of environments was that important for Nova. It was pretty important for A.J. Burnett, Mark Melancon and Liriano (Liriano, at first, anyways).

Moreover, this makes the Francisco Liriano trade/salary dump look better as Daniel Hudson and Nova will nearly combine to earn what Liriano will be paid in 2017.

So that financial flexibility appears to have been put to use after all. And while I suspect Liriano to bounce back to a degree in the AL, I think most reasonable people would rather have Hudson and Nova for 2017.

So why did Nova accept what appears to be a club-friendly deal?

Perhaps he was being honest all along. He said he wanted to stay after starting the final game of the season. Maybe Nova just really wanted to pitch in Pittsburgh. His agent claimed to have a three-year, $36 million deal on the table. Or maybe the rest of the industry was skeptical, and remember Nova was essentially a giveaway at the deadline. There is reason to be skeptical. But there’s not a lot of obvious downside to this deal. The Pirates are paying Nova to perform like he’s a No. 4 or No. 5 starter, not like something more. And he could very well be something more.

Whatever the reason, he’s back. And the Pirates might not be done:

Now wouldn’t that be a rotation? Acquiring Quintana would require some sort of combination of at least two of these four names – Josh Bell, Austin Meadows, Mitch Keller and Tyler Glasnow – one would think.

Too rich?

AS FOR THE DAY’S OTHER TRANSACTION …

For me, personally, it is a bittersweet day as I announce I will soon log off here with the Trib.

I am departing next month to begin a full-time writing position with FanGraphs, which has been cited often and heavily here during my four seasons covering the Pirates.

While I am excited about this opportunity to cover all of Major League Baseball and join a team of writers and editors I hold immense respect and regard for, the departure is accompanied by some sadness and nostalgia.

The Trib was a good home.

The last 3 1/2 years – or four seasons of baseball coverage – were the most rewarding and educational period of my professional career. I had the good timing of arriving in the spring of 2013 just as the Pirates awoke from a 20-year competitive slumber. I had the good fortune of the Pirates beginning to do some smart and interesting things, and I was able to document some of them. I wrote as well and worked as hard as I could to inform readers, and reward the opportunity given to me by former Trib editors Frank Craig and Duke Maas, and sports editor Kevin Smith.

Working on Sunday enterprise stories with former Trib assistant sports editor Rob Amen and the design team was a blast. I will miss the daily camaraderie of the beat . My fellow scribes made the press box and road trips a lot of fun.

I will miss writing and reporting for the Trib audience and in particular the audience here, in this blog space. I tried to impart the things I learned along the way. And it was a learning experience, transitioning from covering Clemson athletics in South Carolina. Hopefully I made following the Pirates and MLB a little more fun to read about along the way.

Physically, I will not be leaving. I will still live in South Hills. I will still often be at PNC Park. (I will not be blogging from my unfinished  basement). And I will still be keeping a close eye on – and occasionally writing about – the Pirates.  But I will have a new online address.

Thanks so much for reading and to those that contributed to the blog conversation. Please continue to read and follow!

I plan on making several more posts before my final day, Jan. 2, but if I don’t post again beforehand have a safe and merry Christmas and holiday season.

Best,

TS

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– Rob Biertempfel