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Bucs Dugout - All Posts

An unofficial Pittsburgh Pirates blog

Updated: 2016-10-26T19:37:28-04:00


Arizona Fall League Update



The Pirates have seven players with Surprise in the AFL.  It's not quite as interesting a contingent as it was slated to be originally.  Austin Meadows and Dovydas Neverauskas were dropped, Meadows because of an injury suffered on the last day of Indianapolis' season, Neverauskas because of his arrest in a Toledo bar.  Still, there are several players who could be options for the major league team in the fairly near term.

Two of them, third baseman Eric Wood and catcher Jin-De Jhang, are eligible for the Rule 5 draft and may be auditioning for 40-man roster spots.  Both are in the AFL's top five in batting average.  Wood has been seeing time in left field, mainly due to the presence of Connor Joe on the team.  Through thirteen games, of which he's played in nine, Wood has been the team's best hitter.  He's posted a 400/462/600 line, with two HRs.  Jhang has also been one of the team's best hitters, with a 400/429/500 line, and he's drawn praise from a former scout for his defense.  (it'd be pretty funny if Jhang ended up with a better major league career than Reese McGuire.)  Joe is hitting 211/400/368 in six games.  He doesn't have the AA experience of the other two, so it's not surprising they'd be hitting better.

Of the four pitchers the Pirates have in the AFL, Edgar Santana is the most interesting and is having the most success.  Through six and two-thirds innings, he's allowed no runs, seven hits, and no walks.  He's struck out ten.  Santana signed at a relatively late age (nearly 22) out of the Dominican, but made it to AAA in just his third pro season.  He could be a bullpen option in 2017, even early in the season.  Alex McRae, who finished the year in AA, has a 3.86 ERA in seven innings.  He's allowed seven hits and two walks, and struck out four.  Tanner Anderson has a 5.23 ERA in three starts, with a 1.35 WHIP.  Montana DuRapau has struggled, with an ERA of 11.25 and WHIP of 2.50 in four innings.

Joey Cora to serve as Pirates’ third base coach



Cory Giger tweets that the Pirates will hire Joey Cora to replace Rick Sofield as their third base coach. Sofield was dismissed this weekend. Cora served as the Altoona Curve’s manager this year, leading them to a 76-64 record while coaching prospects like Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, Harold Ramirez, Clay Holmes and Brandon Waddell.

From the outside, who can really tell, but this move certainly looks like it makes sense. Cora appears to be very qualified, and having already worked in the Pirates’ system, he’s likely already familiar with how they do things. Cora previously served as a third base coach and a bench coach for the White Sox. He also served as bench coach (and, briefly, interim manager) of the Marlins, and worked for the MLB Network.

Cora played 11 seasons in the majors as a second baseman and shortstop, suiting up with the Padres, White Sox, Mariners and Indians. The Padres drafted him in the first round in 1985.

Pirates fire Rick Sofield, reassign Nick Leyva



The Pirates had previously indicated that their coaching staff would return for 2017, but today there's news that their base coaches will not return.

I hesitate to comment on what's going on with Leyva -- for all we know this is his choice, and I'd bet the Pirates will put him to good use in his new role, since he was known for being a key liaison between the team's analytics staff and its players. If there turns out to be an interesting backstory behind the change, I'll update this post.

As for Sofield, well, he wasn't a very good third base coach. Third base coaches rarely attract much attention unless they do something stupid (or just take a justifiable risk that ended up looking stupid), but let's just say Sofield attracted more than his fair share of attention in recent games like this one. Sofield was also the Pirates' baserunning and outfield coach, and those weren't strengths for the Bucs this season. It's been a hard fall for Sofield in the past year -- last October, he interviewed for the Padres' managerial position.

Ask Bucs Dugout: The 2016 season, youth, and potential trades


Hey everyone, thanks for your questions. Chiburgh: Despite the wins total, was Neal Huntington wise to switch from a team with home run potential to an OBP-based team? How will the approach change for 2017, if at all? Was the down season all due to weak pitching? As others pointed out in the comments, the Pirates scored 32 more runs in 2016 than they did in 2015. They also had a slightly higher slugging percentage, in addition to a higher OBP. And, of course, a lot of their key offensive players were the same. They surely did acquire some players for whom OBP was a key part of their skill sets, but that trend wasn’t a decisive one. The real problem was that the 2016 team allowed a full run per game more than the 2015 team did. Some of that might have been a slight difference in defensive performance, but yes, if you want to understand the gap between the two teams, I’d start with the pitchers. The 2015 team had Gerrit Cole pitching at an ace-caliber level, plus Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett firing on all cylinders. The 2016 team didn’t have those things. 2010 Will Be The Year: Do you expect that the organization will rely on young players much more in 2017 than in past years? It seems the Pirates always bring in a number of veterans to weigh out the experience levels. I’m sure they’ll acquire a few veterans, but yes, I think their 2017 roster will skew a bit younger than it has in the past. Instead of Mark Melancon, they’ll have Felipe Rivero; instead of Matt Joyce, they’ll have John Jaso, and instead of Jaso they’ll have Josh Bell; instead of Sean Rodriguez, they’ll have Adam Frazier; and so on. The sheer number of players coming up from Indianapolis to play their first full year or something close to it (Bell, Frazier, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and so on) will have a meaningful effect on the age of the roster. Guapo: Would you be more surprised if Andrew McCutchen or Gregory Polanco had a 5+ WAR season in 2017? Polanco, but it’s close. If you’d asked me in June, I would have said McCutchen. Given their respective second halves and McCutchen’s long track record of excellence, I’d bet on him being the better player in 2017. That written, I’m not sure either of them has a great chance at it. Five wins is a lot, and they’re each coming off non-superstar-caliber seasons. IAPiratesFan: Can we pencil in Kevin Newman for second base around midseason next year? It’s not impossible, but I’d pump the brakes on that one. Newman only has 740 career minor league plate appearances and has batted a mere .295/.362/.396. That’s a great OBP, and his .389 OBP last season between Bradenton and Altoona was even better, but it won’t necessarily translate well to big-league pitching unless he continues to improve. Newman also hasn’t yet gotten to Triple-A, and he hasn’t played a professional inning at second base. He could yet become the Pirates’ everyday second baseman, but there’s some work to do before that happens. Joey Mooney: Is Steven Matz a possible target for the Pirates? I would imagine the front office has an idea of arms that throw 94+ mph but do you think they will need a lefty? I think handedness (as opposed to effectiveness) is overrated for rotation arms, and I haven’t seen any indication that the Mets would seriously consider trading Matz. JRoth95: So, any thoughts in the Liriano trade? I feel as if that whole thing has gotten swept under the rug, but in my mind, it was a controversial move. I’m sure it’ll turn out great. BMcFerren: Why can't the Pirates do a superstar for superstar trade, like Starling Marte to the Mariners for King Felix, or McCutchen to the Red Sox for David Price? Well, first you’ve got to consider what the other team needs. It would make no real sense for the Red Sox to acquire a starting outfielder right now. Then there’s the fact that trading one superstar for another dramatically changes how both franchises are constructed. Not only[...]

Ask Bucs Dugout: Potential Pirates pitching targets, and Andrew McCutchen's declining defense


Thanks, everyone, for the questions, and feel free to keep them coming. Bourgmic: Is there any scenario where the Pirates trade prospects or current MLB starting position players in order to acquire pitching going into 2017? Sure. They're not going to trade Austin Meadows, Gregory Polanco or someone like that. But I could see them trading Andrew McCutchen, and if they do, they could seek a controllable starter in return. It's also possible they could trade lower-tier prospects for a pitcher, since the free agent market is thin. I was talking to Tim Dierkes about this earlier this week, and he mentioned Tyson Ross, Drew Smyly and a few others as pitchers who could become available at reasonable prospect prices because of their increasing salaries. Ross, of course, spent most of the year on the DL and recently had surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, so his health is obviously an enormous question mark. He made $9.6 million in 2016 and appears set to make a similar amount in 2017; perhaps that's too much for a team that just dumped Francisco Liriano's contract. I've been pointing to Ross for years, though, as the sort of pitcher the Pirates would probably love to have around. Someone like Smyly, who only made $3.8 million last season, might be a more realistic target. Speaking of which ... TheRickSays: Is Shelby Miller worth a slight overpay compared to his current relative value? New Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen should have some familiarity with Pittsburgh’s farm, and I would certainly like for the Pirates to make a move for Miller. Hazen might be more willing to deal Miller than Dave Stewart was simply because it was Stewart’s lopsided overpay that brought Miller to Arizona, and Hazen could be more likely to cut bait. Since the Diamondbacks kept Miller in the minors for much of the season, he still has three more years of service time before he hits free agency. That might mean the Diamondbacks hold onto him, since they would be selling low and there's still time for him to recoup value. There's a big difference between three years and two, which is the number of years of control the Pirates have over McCutchen. That said, I think you're right that Hazen is likely to be more open to trading Miller than Stewart was. And as reclamation projects go, Miller would get a big thumbs up from me, as a hard thrower who's still young and has had MLB success. (He also pitched well in the minors this season and looked like a solid percentage of his former self after the Diamondbacks recalled him in late August, throwing in the mid-90s and avoiding walks.) Trading Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair for Miller was ridiculous, but dealing a couple mid-grade prospects for him would make a lot of sense. Brian O': To what do you attribute the huge decline in McCutchen's defensive numbers? It is common to hear of infielders "losing a step" or outfielders slowing down as they age but it doesn’t seem like Cutch has lost much, if not any, speed. For those who haven't wrung their hands about this already, McCutchen's UZR fell from -4.5 in 2015 to -18.5 in 2016, and his Defensive Runs Saved dropped from -8 to -28. To me, it looks like he's lost speed. Every time he would try to steal second this year, I'd cringe. He only stole six bases this season, and got caught seven times. That's a huge difference from even two years ago, when he attempted a lot more steals and was much more successful -- in 2014, he stole 18 bases and got caught three times. If going from 18-for-21 to 6-for-13 isn't a sign of diminishing speed, I don't know what is. That doesn't mean he's lost enough to look slow to the naked eye. After all, he's still capable of doing this: width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0"> It's just that he's slowed down enough that he's narrowly missing being able to beat the ball to second base. The same is true in the outfield, and that's going to [...]

Ask Bucs Dugout: October edition



Hey all, you know the drill — leave your questions for me and I’ll pick the ones I’m best able to answer in a series of upcoming posts. Questions about the Pirates’ winter plans? Ideas for wacky free agent signings? Bring them on.

A look at the Pirates’ arbitration-eligible players



Here are the eight Pirates who are eligible for arbitration this offseason, with projections via MLBTR:

Tony Watson (5.101) – $5.9MM

Juan Nicasio (5.084) – $4.6MM

Jared Hughes (4.162) – $2.5MM

Jordy Mercer (4.095) – $4.0MM

Jeff Locke (4.020) – $4.2MM

Drew Hutchison (3.165) – $2.2MM

Wade LeBlanc (3.131) – $1.6MM

Gerrit Cole (3.111) – $4.2MM

If it were me, I would non-tender Hughes, Locke, Hutchison and LeBlanc. The Pirates’ decisions, though, might be somewhat different.

Cole, Watson and Mercer will be easy tenders. I would also tender Nicasio, although, as I noted in my Offseason Outlook piece on the Bucs for MLBTR, that doesn’t seem to be the consensus around town. Nicasio whiffed 138 batters in 118 innings this season, generally kept his walks in check, was very tough on righties, was successful as a reliever, and can pitch multi-inning stretches or start as needed. He’s well worth keeping around, in my view, even at $4.6 million, which is relatively expensive for a reliever. I’d tender him and feel pretty good about it.

Hughes and Locke should be non-tenders. I addressed Hughes’ case here. He pitched pretty well for a few weeks after I wrote that, but his overall performance this season was weak. Unless the Pirates feel his pitching down the stretch indicated a rebound, I’d probably pass on him, even though he would be relatively cheap to bring back.

The Pirates’ decision to non-tender Locke will probably be one of the easiest calls they make. He was terrible this season by any metric you’d care to name, he costs a non-trivial amount of money, and the Pirates now have several younger and more interesting rotation options.

Hutchison would be a non-tender, too, had the Pirates not received him as their only return in the Francisco Liriano trade. He’d already spent most of the year in Triple-A when he was acquired, and he did nothing since the trade to justify the Pirates’ supposed faith in him. As it stands, though, I expect the Pirates to tender him. And, hey, maybe they really do like him for some reason, and next year perhaps we’ll get to see what that is.

That leaves LeBlanc, who will almost surely be non-tendered, although I think it’s a slightly more interesting decision than it might initially appear. True, he’s 32, he throws 87 MPH, his pedigree is nothing to write home about, and the Pirates acquired him in a free-talent deal in mid-September. That is, he looks like the very definition of a replacement-level player. Then again, he pitched well for the Pirates, he has a career 3.55 ERA as a reliever, he limits walks and he’d cost very little to keep. The more obvious decision is often the right one, though, and the Pirates already have three lefties in Watson, Felipe Rivero and Antonio Bastardo penciled into their 2017 bullpen.

Pirates want John Jaso to try third base, outfield



The Pirates want John Jaso to work on playing third base and the outfield this offseason, Adam Berry reports.

Berry cites a comment from Clint Hurdle at the end of the season, but if this was reported before, I missed it. I'm a little wary of random attempts by first basemen to try third base. Third base is a tougher position, and the move usually doesn't work out. You'll sometimes hear about teams telling first basemen to try third -- if I recall correctly, there were some rumblings that the Pirates wanted Steve Pearce to do that, and then Gaby Sanchez. But the move rarely sticks, and it will sometimes turn out to have been the team's way of saying, "We don't know what to do with you." (Doug Mientkiewicz did sort of make the transition with the Pirates in 2008, so there's that.)

Jaso's case might be different, though. It's probably true that the Pirates don't really know what to do with him right now. But until 2016, he played catcher, a more demanding position than third base. He also took to first like a fish to water, and now, between the two positions, he has experience with most of the skills required to play third (throwing, catching flying baseballs, handling grounders, and so on). He might be able to play third pretty capably, and I'm sure he can handle right field as well.

Of course, the Pirates already have Josh Bell and David Freese to play first, and Jung Ho Kang and Freese to play third. Jaso is still somewhat of a square peg in a round hole, and it wouldn't shock me if the Pirates tried to trade him. He did have a .353 OBP last year, though, and with Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce potentially heading elsewhere, it would be nice if Jaso could settle into a bench role where he provided some combination of Rodriguez's versatility and defensive ability and Joyce's patience against righties.