The Pittsburgh Pirates are set for one of their most important off-seasons in the Neal Huntington Era. Here is your guide to the club’s 2017 Hot Stove season.
With the Thanksgiving holiday behind us, baseball fans now will enjoy a few months of rumors, trades and signings to get them ready for the upcoming 2018 season.
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Hot Stove Updates
Here we will be chronicling all Hot Stove updates relevant to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ interests, both Pirates-centric and NL-Central specific as well.
7:30 AM EST Things continue to be quiet for the Pittsburgh Pirates but one of their main rivals made an international signing! The St. Louis Cardinals signed RHP Miles Mikolas formerly of the Yomiuri Giants. Mikolas spent parts of three seasons in the Majors with the Padres and the Rangers and had limited success. Following the 2015 season, he signed with the Japanese Giants and really turned his career around. In his three seasons in Japan, Mikolas went 31-13 with a 2.18 ERA.
This move gives the Cardinals some much-needed pitching depth and could spark a potential trade with the Miami Marlins for reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton.
7:45 AM EST The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t the only team with a relatively quiet hot stove season so far. The Chicago Cubs haven’t had much to report either. They do remain in on The Ohtani Sweepstakes but outside of that their biggest news may be the improved physique of Kyle Schwarber. A slimmed down Schwarber in December could mean nothing or it could mean he will improve on a terrible 2017 season. Scwarber did his 30 home runs last season but outside of that, he was below average nearly across the board. He had a 99OPS+ and struck out 150 times in 422 at-bats. Not to mention, he was one of the worst defenders in baseball with an awful -9 defensive runs saved in the outfield. A slimmer Schwarber could mean improved defensive play, which is something he and the Cubs desparately need.
7:30 AM EST If you were busy watching the Steelers victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last night, you didn’t miss any major Pirates news. The hot stove has yet to really heat up. You can tell that every team is waiting until the Ohtani Sweepstakes is over before starting their offseason plan of attack.
According to Adam Berry of MLB.com, the Pirates have kept in contact with the San Francisco Giants in regards to a potential Andrew McCutchen trade. The Giants are one of the seven teams still in on Shohei Ohtani, so they will obviously deal with that before turning their attention to Andrew McCutchen. However, it is likely the Pirates are simply “listening” to offers rather than shopping the former MVP. I would wager that Andrew McCutchen will be in a Pirates uniform come March 31, 2018.
4:30 PM EST: Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review is reporting that the Pittsburgh Pirates have shown interest in LHP reliever Xavier Cedeno
Left-handed bullpen help is one of #Pirates offseason wish list. They've contacted agent for LH Xavier Cedeno, who last week was non-tendered by Rays.
— Rob Biertempfel (@BiertempfelTrib) December 4, 2017
Pirates Breakdown will have a full breakdown of Cedeno in the coming days.
7:00 AM EST: Things continue to be all quiet on the Pirates front, however, there was some minor Pirates news. Japanese pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani eliminated the Pirates from contention for his services. Now before you jump to the “Typical Cheap Nutting” excuse, it seems that Ohtani prefers a small market west coast team. This was a preference thing, more than a money thing.
The only current Pittsburgh Pirates hot stove news is they have tendered contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. Gerrit Cole, George Kontos, Felipe Rivero, and Jordy Mercer will all likely be in Pirate uniforms in 2018. Jordy Mercer was the only even remotely possible non-tendered candidate and he was super unlikely given the Pirates currently lack an MLB-ready Short Stop on the roster.
The hot stove is very cool right now and that isn’t very surprising. Things will likely start to heat up once Ohtani is signed and current NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton is traded. I expect you will see the usual rush of moves beginning at the MLB Winter Meetings on December 10.
9:30 AM EST: Though things are still relatively quiet on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ front, the hot stove in earnest is starting to heat up.
Craig Mish of Sirius XM was the first to report — later confirmed by Jon Heyman — that the San Francisco Giants met with Giancarlo Stanton‘s representatives last night in San Francisco. Though many caution that this does not necessarily mean that a trade is imminent, this nonetheless represents the first real movement on Stanton.
Of course, the Giants’ courtship of Stanton does affect the Pirates, as Andrew McCutchen is now well known as the Giants’ preferred backup plan. Yesterday we took a deep look at the ins and outs of what a Pittsburgh-SFG trade would look like.
Today serves as the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. We recently commented on this, and came to the conclusion that of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ four arb-eligible players, only Jordy Mercer and George Kontos have any chance as ending up without a contract tender. Even so, their chances of escapting Friday without an offer were very slight. MLB Trade Rumors disagrees, pegging Mercer as a non-tender candidate.
Adam Berry of MLB.com agrees with us, citing the Pirates’ comfort with Mercer in light of the club’s not-quite-ready-for-prime-time middle infield prospects.
Also, just one curious note on Shohei Ohtani this morning.
Shohei Ohtani development: Multiple @MLB team execs believe Ohtani may actually prefer to sign with a club that doesn’t already have a Japanese star; Ohtani’s camp has not commented on that. @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 1, 2017
3:30 PM EST We hardly knew you Sam Moll.
The Pirates lost recently claimed left-hander Sam Moll off waivers this afternoon to the Seattle Mariners.
The Bucs only claimed Moll off waivers from the Oakland A’s on Monday, but did so with the hop that they could sneak him through waivers and keep him in the organization without having to use up a spot on the 40-man roster.
As it turns out Moll’s stay with the Pirates lasted less than 72 hours.
9:45 AM EST– Bucs in on Shohei Ohtani?
Given the Pirates financial restrictions, the thought of the Pirates landing, or even being involved in the bidding, for Ohtani is a bit laughable.
But for what it’s worth, Huntington at least made it seem like the Pirates would be players, although minor ones, in the Ohtani sweepstakes.
In the same interview on the The Starkey and Mueller Show, he said:
“We are going to do everything in our power, and hopefully, have him honor us with the ability to get beyond the written presentation, get beyond the initial 30-club presentation and really dig into why it would be an honor for us to have him become a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This great fan base that we have, the facilities that we have, the history that we have here, why we think we would be a great fit for him, and we will absolutely do everything in our power to bring him here. On the field, we had a lot of success with Jung Ho Kang, we have a lot of young, international players that have transitioned well, and we believe we can help this young man become a superstar over here.”
9:40 AM EST- Does Neal Huntington even know what he wants to do?
He certainly waffles a lot more than he used to. One month he is committed to Andrew McCutchen, stating that he is going to be the teams center fielder in 2018 and a few short weeks later Huntington is listening to trade offers, basically saying he has to listen to offers for everyone.
While that is true of all GM’s in every city, with Huntington it seems more as of late he is throwing darts blindly and seeing if anything sticks.
Huntington did tell The Starkey and Mueller Show:
“We fully recognize that our best 2018 offensive club has Andrew McCutchen in that lineup and Gerrit Cole in our rotation, but again, as I just said before, we will have to make some hard decisions for an organization as we go forward. We’ve had to make some in the past, so for me to make a blanket yes-or-no statement doesn’t make a ton of sense, but we do recognize that sitting here today, our best club has those two players on it, but what about the best club in ’19, ’20, ’21 and beyond, so those are hard questions to answer.”
You can listen to the full interview here:
1:57 PM EST: Could Andrew McCutchen be on the move? McCutchen’s name came up for the first time this offseason in trade rumors today when MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported that the San Francisco Giants and the Pirates have “remained in contact” regarding McCutchen.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 29, 2017
McCutchen’s story is not an old one. He is owed $14.5 million this season in the final year of his contract. It is likely the Pirates trade McCutchen at some point. It just remains to be seen whether or not it is during the offseason or around the trade deadline.
Even though Cutch may not bring back the haul of talent he may have a couple of years ago, the Pirates will likely be asking a lot for their star center fielder.
More on this story to follow.
9:04 AM EST: All has been quiet on the Pirates front the past 24 hours. The only minor news that former Pirates Jhan Marinez and Joely Rodriguez signed minor-league deals with the Baltimore Orioles. We will have your latest rumors and updates as they break through the day.
11:36 AM EST: Could Jordy Mercer become a non-tender candidate? Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors listed Mercer as a possible non-tender candidate for the Pirates. If Mercer is going to get a bump to over $6 mil through arbitration, it’s something the front office will likely have to consider.
But with Kevin Newman not quite ready yet, the likely scenario is that Mercer is tendered. But the Bucs could always look for cheap stop gaps on the open market as well.
9:07 AM EST- The Pittsburgh Pirates announced that they have released reliever Angel Sanchez. He then signed with Korea’s SK Wyverns for $1.1 mil.
Sanchez made his MLB debut last season and allowed 12 earned runs in 12.1 innings pitched.
His release gives the team two free spots on the 40-man roster after adding LHP Sam Moll yesterday.
9:00 AM EST– Jung Ho Kang‘s stint in the Dominican Winter League didn’t go as planned as Kang was released after just 24 games by Aguilas Cibaenas.
Kang hit just .143/.219/.202 with one homer, two doubles and a 31-to-8 K/BB ratio in 92 plate appearances.
The Pirates should still be active in pursuing infielders on the free agent market as they have to plan on Kang not being around until he actually is. As for the production, one would think Kang would struggle being away from live pitching for a complete year, but the struggles don’t make his situation any better in the short term.
2:30 PM EST – The Pittsburgh Pirates have announced that they have claimed LHP Sam Moll off of waivers from the Oakland Athletics. Moll is a 2013 third-round pick of the Colorado Rockies, who came to professional baseball after playing for the University of Memphis.
Moll was routinely ranked in the bottom rungs of the Rockies’ Top 30 prospect list according to MLB Pipeline, and was traded to the Athletics last season. He made his major league debut as a September callup for Oakland last season and….did not fare well. He posted a 10.8 ERA/6.31 FIP/2.4 WHIP in 11 games.
In 54.1 Triple-A innings last year, Moll posted a 3.64 FIP while striking out 7.8 hitters per nine. He actually was able to strike out 9.5 per nine in the major leagues last September, so it is possible that the Pittsburgh Pirates view Moll as a buy-low candidate to add some strikeout ability in a bullpen depth role.
9:00 AM EST – All has been quiet on the Pirates’ front, with nary a rumor gaining steam.
In all reality, the report amounts to nothing more than due diligence on Minnesota’s part. The report raises more questions than answers provided. Should the Pirates actively shop Cole? Is now the right time to do so?
One thing is clear…with Cole carrying two years of control, the Pirates could drive the trade market for starting pitchers…should they choose to.
NL CENTRAL UPDATES
- MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the Cardinals are in the mix to potentially land Tampa closer Alex Colome. He didn’t have a great 2017 campaign, with a 3.24 ERA, significantly up from the 1.91 ERA he posted in 2016. That being said, the price may not be too high and the Cardinals could potentially get a potentially dominant arm with three years of control still.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 29, 2017
- Many expect the Cubs to deal from their glut of position players to upgrade the starting rotation, but ESPN’s Jesse Rogers doesn’t believe that to be the case. Rogers points out that the depth Chicago has is valued, especially with injuries, and the Cubs are more likely to target rotation help in free agency instead.
- According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, if the Cardinals and Marlins get close to a Giancarlo Stanton deal, the Marlins could grant the Cardinals an exclusive negotiation window of roughly 48 to 72 hours to make a pitch directly to Stanton.
- If the Cards don’t land Stanton, could they turn their attention to Toronto’s Josh Donaldson? Donaldson has been linked to St. Louis a couple of times now, the latest being Fangraphs Dave Cameron. While the Blue Jays haven’t made it known that Donaldson is available yet, Cameron notes that the return for his services may be greater now than at the deadline. Most contending teams are set at third base and baring an injury, wouldn’t be in the market for Donaldson. A team like the Pirates could certainly use an upgrade over David Freese at the position, but there’s no way the Bucs would be in the mix, having to pay a large price for a July rental.
- Of course, the biggest storyline in the National League Central is the Cardinals’ pursuit of Giancarlo Stanton. MLB Trade Rumors has a nice roundup of everything we know about their pursuit so far. If the Cardinals do land Stanton, it would drastically alter the central landscape.
- On the north side, the Cubs have been named as one of the finalists in the Alex Cobb sweepstakes. Cobb performed well as a mid-rotation type starter last year for the Tampa Bay Rays after missing most of the previous two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Still, the payday Cobb is expected to receive — Fangraphs pegs him at a 4-year/$60 million deal — as a hurler who does not miss many bats is indicative of how highly valued starting pitching is and will always be.
- In Beertown, all reports to date indicate that the Brewers have put starting pitching at the top of their priority list. That’s not exactly a surprise with their ace Jimmy Nelson expected to miss most of 2018. Their latest flirtation is with Jake Arrieta, who has seen his market fall precipitously from where many thought it would be after his fantastic 2015 season.
- The Reds are still far from contending, though they are doing the right thing by keeping Joey Votto. Their primary focus right now is making smart trades with the assets they have, most notable Raisel Iglesias
Below is a list of current, guaranteed contracts on the books for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017. All players listed have a high likelihood of at least spending some amount of time on the club’s 25-man roster at some point in 2018.
Pittsburgh Pirates Contracts Overview
|Gregory Polanco||26||$4.1M||$6.1M||$8.6M||$11.6M||$3M [FA-*]||$0 [FA-*]|
|Starling Marte||29||$7.83M||$10.33M||$2M [FA-*]||$0 [FA-*]||FA|
|Josh Harrison||30||$10.25M||$1M [FA-*]||$0 [FA-*]||FA|
|David Freese||35||$4.25M||$500k [FA-*]||FA|
|Jordy Mercer||31||Arb-3 (~$6.5M)||FA|
|George Kontos||33||Arb-2 (~$2.7M)||Arb-3||FA|
|Gerrit Cole||27||Arb-2 (~$7.5M)||Arb-3||FA|
|Felipe Rivero||26||Arb-1 (~$3.1M)||Arb-2||Arb-3||Arb-4||FA|
*Note – the minimum salary for a Major League player sometimes changes from year to year. Last year, the minimum was $507,500.
Hat/Tip to Baseball Reference for payroll data
As noted above, the Pittsburgh Pirates carry four notable arbitration eligible players. Here now is a quick snapshot look at each of of their cases. Note: all arb estimates as per MLB Trade Rumors’ Matt Swartz.
Cole enters his second year of arbitration with a $7.5 million estimate. Cole was demonized by the long ball last season, but had solid marks in H/9 (8.8), K/9 (8.7), and total strikeouts (196).
The venerable Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop might actually eclipse his arbitration estimate of $6.5 million based on career high marks in home runs and a near-career mark in OPS. This while providing his trademark steady defense.
Kontos will enter his second year of arbitration, projected to make $2.7 million in the process. Kontos’ primary contribution to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen is his deception.However, the club has made a point to stockpile cheap, easily discard-able high-strikeout bullpen arms in Jack Leathersich and Nik Turley. This could lead to the Pirates’ lone non-tender possibility, should they balk at the projected figure.
Rivero will easily pin down the $3.1 million figure he is projected to earn in arbitration, and he deserves to. If the Pittsburgh Pirates want to get a litlte crazy, they can approach Rivero about a deal throughout his arbitration years to buy a little bit of cost certainty. The club normally would not even flirt with such an idea, but Rivero is a special case as a Super Two player. He will thus receive a fourth arbitration go-round.
Pirates Breakdown will have more in-depth analysis on each arbitration case in the coming weeks.
Here, Pirates Breakdown will link to all of our free-agent target profiles, along with snapshot analysis.
With many positions set and not much wiggle room in terms of payroll, the Pittsburgh Pirates will look to maximize value on any and all free agent signings this winter.
We recently took a look at three bargain infielder options for Pittsburgh, and there are some interesting buy-low cases to be had.
The Trade Market
As the trade market develops, Pirates Breakdown will house all of our trade target profiles here, along with snapshot analysis.
Here are the important dates to remember for the Pittsburgh Pirates and all of Major League Baseball.
December 1: Deadline to tender contracts to players on the 40-man roster who find themselves arbitration eligible or have zero to three years of service time. As noted below, the Pittsburgh Pirates have four arbitration eligible players as well as many players with zero to three years of service time. The non-arbitration contracts are a mere formality, though it is customary for MLB clubs to offer token raises to its under-contract personnel.
December 10 through 14: The yearly Winter Meetings, held in Orlando, Florida.
December 14 – The Rule 5 Draft is held.
“Rule 5” and the Rule Draft aims to prevent teams from stockpiling too many young players on their minor league affiliate teams when other teams would be willing to have them play in the majors. More: Wikipedia
January 12, 2018: Players and teams may begin exchanging salaries during the arbitration process
February 2018: Arbitration hearings are held throughout the month.