How Will the Pirates Address their Lefty Logjam in the Bullpen?

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates began the 2016 season with three left-handed relievers in their bullpen, which were Tony Watson, Cory Luebke and Kyle Lobstein. As the season went along, Luebke was released by the Pirates, while Lobstein was optioned to AAA Indianapolis, and eventually traded to the Baltimore Orioles in August.

Just days before the trade deadline, the Pirates sold high on Mark Melancon, as he was dealt to the Washington Nationals for lefty pitchers Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn. Watson assumed the duties as closer, while Rivero pitched the seventh inning. Following an injury to Neftali Feliz, Rivero was placed in the setup role. On the day of the deadline, Antonio Bastardo was brought back to Pittsburgh from the New York Mets in exchange for Jon Niese. 

Last week marked the non-tender deadline for teams to offer or not offer contracts to arbitration eligible players. After being acquired by the Pirates from the Seattle Mariners to serve as an extra bullpen arm in September, Wade LeBlanc returned on a one-year deal, which was somewhat surprising, given that he was considered a non-tender candidate. On Thursday, Major League Baseball held their annual Rule 5 Draft. The Pirates made a selection on Tyler Webb, a left-handed pitcher from the New York Yankees organization. With the Pirates now having five lefty arms in the bullpen, how will they address the logjam? – Here are a few options that the Pirates could consider. 

Antonio Bastardo is due to make $6.5 million for 2017, and the Pirates reportedly have him on the trade block. It certainly seems likely that they would move Bastardo, not just as a salary dump, but also to make a lefty reliever expendable in general. Tyler Webb will look to compete for a bullpen spot, while Wade LeBlanc is out of options. If Webb performs well and is able to open some eyes in Spring Training, then perhaps there’s a scenario where the Pirates designate or trade LeBlanc to make room for Webb on the 25-man roster. The third option would simply be Webb not making the team out of Spring, getting sent back to the Yankees, and LeBlanc being on the Opening Day roster. Whichever route the Pirates choose to address the overcrowded lefties, it appears that a couple won’t be in the picture come the start of next season.

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Plan to Keep Andrew McCutchen; Offseason Plan in Focus?

By Jared Lankes

The Pirates were reportedly very close to dealing Andrew McCutchen to the Washington Nationals for Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning, and a third piece. The Nationals eventually gave up those two as well as Reynaldo Lopez for Adam Eaton from the White Sox instead. Now the Pirates expect to keep McCutchen and possibly move him to a corner outfield spot.

Now we can all exhale knowing that McCutchen will likely go to Bradenton with the Pirates and be penciled into that Opening Day lineup. The team’s franchise guy is still around. But now that the McCutchen saga is past, we can look towards the future and what this means for Pirates in 2017.

A McCutchen trade would have at least signaled a reload for the Pittsburgh Pirates. A restocking but not totally starting over. But instead, McCutchen not being dealt is a strong indicator that the team can now look to build up a competitive roster for 2017 around a core that includes the former MVP.

There appeared to be a hold up of all of the Pirates offseason plans until McCutchen saga was solved. And it’s obvious why because the difference in directions between trading him and not trading him is immense. I fully expect now the Pirates will feel relief and continue on with all the other offseason plans they have waiting for them.

I believe the direction has now been clearly set. The Pirates will add to this core and set sail for the 2017 season as they look to compete in a very tough National League to navigate through. However, we now know captain McCutchen will still be steering the ship through whatever dangers await them.

Pirates Select Tyler Webb in Rule 5 Draft

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jake Danna Stevens

p/c: Jake Danna Stevens

For the first time since 2011, the Pirates have made a selection in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft, as they select pitcher Tyler Webb from the New York Yankees.

Webb was selected by the Yankees as a tenth round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft out of the University of South Carolina. The 26-year-old left-hander spent the entire 2016 season pitching for their AAA club Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he posted a 3.59 ERA, a .245 batting average against and a 10.2 K/9 in 36 games, five of which were starts.

With the selection of Webb, the Pirates now have five lefty relievers, which would seem to indicate that someone could be moved, perhaps Antonio Bastardo, who is reportedly on the trade block. Like with any Rule 5 player, the Pirates would have to keep Webb on the 25-man roster for all of next season, or send him back to the Yankees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Showing Interest in Daniel Hudson

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Carlos Herrera - Icon Sportswire

p/c: Carlos Herrera – Icon Sportswire

The Pirates are said to be interested in free agent reliever Daniel Hudson, this according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bill Brink. 

Hudson was once a highly touted prospect in the Chicago White Sox organization. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus each rated the former fifth round pick as a Top 100 prospect prior to the 2010 season. 

A day before the 2010 trade deadline, Hudson was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal for Edwin Jackson. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012, he had another elbow procedure done in 2013.

This past season, Hudson pitched exclusively in relief with the Dbacks, as he posted a 5.22 ERA in 70 appearances. Advanced metrics however point to the fact that his BABIP was .331, while the Fielding Independent Pitching was at 3.81. He also displayed terrific fastball velocity at 95.7 mph, which was Top 10 among NL relievers with at least 50 innings pitched. Last offseason, the Pirates signed Neftali Feliz, who was coming off a down year, and he bounced back in 2016, so perhaps they could go the same route with Hudson this offseason. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Still Pursuing Ivan Nova

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Charles LeClare - USA Today Sports

p/c: Charles LeClare – USA Today Sports

On Wednesday, Clint Hurdle was on MLB Network Radio, and mentioned that the Pirates are still actively talking with Ivan Nova. 

Nova began the 2016 season with the New York Yankees where he pitched between the rotation and bullpen. In 97.1 innings for the Yankees, he had a 4.90 ERA with an 89 ERA+. 

The Pirates addressed their rotation at the trade deadline by acquiring Nova from the Yankees in exchange for two players to be named, which ended up being pitcher Stephen Tarpley and outfielder Tito Polo. 

Nova pitched extremely well with the Pirates, as he posted a 3.06 ERA along with a 2.62 Fielding Independent Pitching and had an ERA+ of 137 in 11 starts. Heading into the offseason, the asking price for Nova was said to be five years at $70 million. The other day, Rich Hill, perhaps the top name in a watered down free agent market for starting pitching, signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a three-year deal worth $48 million, so it’s likely that Nova’s contract would be on that same level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Reportedly Looking to Trade Antonio Bastardo

By Jason Shetler

 

p/c: Jared Wickerham - Getty Images

p/c: Jared Wickerham – Getty Images

According to Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pirates are willing to pay some of Antonio Bastardo’s $6.5 million salary for 2017 in order to trade him.

Prior to the 2015 season, Bastardo was acquired by the Pirates from the Philadelphia Phillies. In 66 appearances, he put up a 2.98 ERA with a 131 ERA+, and was a vital part of a bullpen that helped lead the Bucs to a 98-win season. 

Bastardo signed with the New York Mets last offseason on a two-year deal for $12 million. He pitched in 41 games for the Mets before being dealt back to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline for Jon Niese. Bastardo then made 28 appearances with the Pirates. Combined with both teams, he posted a 4.52 ERA along with an ERA+ of 92. On Friday, the Pirates signed Wade LeBlanc to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. Because there is currently four lefty relievers in the bullpen, it’s certainly fair to assume that Bastardo could be traded.

 

 

 

 

Bucco Nation: Week in Review 11/28-12/4

By Jason Shetler

As we head into the Winter Meetings, here is a recap of the moves and rumors from this week.

Monday: The Pirates are open to trading Josh Harrison, this according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. This past season, Harrison was subpar offensively with a .699 OPS, but was one of the better defensive second basemen in the National League.

Tuesday: It was announced by the Pirates that Jeff Locke had been designated for assignment. Locke was acquired from the Atlanta Braves in 2009 as part of the Nate McLouth deal. He spent parts of six seasons pitching in Pittsburgh, and was an All-Star in 2013.

Also on Tuesday, the Pirates signed pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla, as well as added him to the 40-man roster. Bonilla spent 2016 in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, pitching for AA Tulsa and AAA Oklahoma City, where he posted a combined 3.97 ERA along with a 1.34 WHIP and a 9.6 K/9. General Manager Neal Huntington said Bonilla will compete for a rotation or bullpen spot in Spring Training.

Wednesday: The Pirates signed pitcher Jason Stoffel to a minor league deal. Stoffel spent this year pitching in the Baltimore Orioles system, posting a 2.44 ERA with an impressive strikeout ratio of 11.9 combined for AA Bowie and AAA Norfolk.

Ken Rosenthal reported that Matt Joyce agreed to sign a two-year deal with the Oakland Athletics worth $11 million. Joyce signed a minor league deal with the Pirates last offseason to be their fourth outfielder. The 32-year-old is coming off a career year, in which he put up an .866 OPS with a 131 OPS+. Joyce was arguably the best pinch-hitter in baseball this year, as he posted an OPS of .873 in that role.

Friday: The Pirates avoided arbitration with Wade LeBlanc by signing him to a one-year deal for $750,000, which includes a 2018 club option at $1.25 million. LeBlanc was acquired by the Pirates from the Seattle Mariners in September, and pitched very well in a small sample size (0.75 ERA in eight relief appearances). It’s possible that the Pirates could use him in a long relief role in 2017.

The Pirates tendered Gerrit Cole, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, Juan Nicasio, Drew Hutchison and Jordy Mercer. Jeff Locke and Eric Fryer however were non-tendered, and both are now free agents. Fryer was claimed off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals in July, once Chris Stewart was placed on the disabled list. In 36 games played with the Pirates, Fryer had just a .569 OPS, and struggled to throw runners out from behind the plate, with a 14% caught stealing rate.