Why the Pirates Should Bring Back Gaby Sanchez

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Anthony Gruppuso - USA Today Sports
p/c: Anthony Gruppuso – USA Today Sports

This week is when all Major League clubs have to tender or non-tender a contract with their arbitration eligible players. The Pirates currently have 12 players who are eligible, and perhaps the most interesting player will be first baseman Gaby Sanchez. For the past two seasons, Sanchez has been in a first base platoon for the Pirates as a right-handed option. In 2013, he completely owned left-handed pitching, posting a .987 OPS against them. This past season, his numbers fell off pretty substantially against lefties, as he posted a .746 OPS. However, the MLB average for right-handed batters against LHP this year was .731, so even in a down season, Sanchez was still an above average performer vs left-handers.

Last year, I did a post on how Sanchez was a “Moneyball” player for the Pirates, because his ability to hit left-handed pitching consistently has been undervalued by most. I also mentioned that the acquisition of Sanchez a couple years back is one of Neal Huntington’s better trades that he doesn’t get enough credit for. Pedro Alvarez will be making the full time transition to first base in 2015, so having a more experienced and better defensive first baseman around in Sanchez would make sense. If Sanchez is given a contract for next season by the Pirates, he’ll probably get around $3 million, which would still be a bargain for someone who continues to be above league average vs left-handed pitching.

Pirates Payroll for 2015 Likely to Exceed $90 Million

By Jason Shetler

According to Dejan Kovacevic, Pirates team president Frank Coonelly says that the team’s payroll for 2015 is likely to exceed $90 million.

The Pirates payroll for this year wound up being $82 million. Even with the loss of Russell Martin, they brought in A.J. Burnett for $8.5 million, and their likely to spend significant money by either re-signing Francisco Liriano or Edinson Volquez. If not, they should be able to sign someone in free agency. In addition, they’ll be giving arbitration players like Neil Walker and Josh Harrison big salary boost as well. Since 2010, the Pirates have more than doubled their payroll budget, and should they reach the $90 million mark, it’ll be the largest in franchise history.

How Good Was Brian Giles With the Pirates?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Brad Mangin
p/c: Brad Mangin

The 2015 Hall of Fame ballot was announced on Monday. The most notable first time players are Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz. Also appearing on the ballot for the first time is former Pirates outfielder Brian Giles. Although Giles obviously won’t be Cooperstown bound, here are some numbers that will have you look at him completely different among some of the Pirates greats.

In his five seasons with Pittsburgh, Giles batted .308, had a 1.018 OPS and compiled a 26.0 WAR.

He’s just one of two Pirates in franchise history to have an OPS of at least 1.000 three times, Ralph Kiner the other.

In 2002, he posted a 1.072 OPS, which is fourth best in Pirates history.

His 158 OPS+ was better than Barry Bonds as a Pirate (147).

He’s the Pirates career leader in on base percentage at .426.

His 165 home runs are sixth most on the Pirates all-time list.

While Giles didn’t have a long career in Pittsburgh, as well as playing on some bad Pirate teams, he certainly made his mark. His average WAR was roughly 5.5, so he not only performed at an All-Star level, but he wasn’t too far off from being an MVP caliber player. When you hear the name Brian Giles as a Pirates fan, you associate him with being a solid player. But if you look at the statistics that I just mentioned, you can make a valid argument that Giles is among the all-time great players in Pirates history.


Starling Marte Ranked Sixth Best Left Fielder by Buster Olney

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Matt Sullivan/ Getty Images
p/c: Matt Sullivan/ Getty Images

ESPN’s Buster Olney put out his rankings for left fielders, and had Starling Marte sixth best on that list.

Marte has certainly been productive in his first two full seasons with the Pirates, hitting .285 while posting a .796 OPS, a 127 wRC+ and a WAR of 8.7. Defensively, Marte has put himself in the Gold Glove conversation for NL left fielders the past couple seasons with a combined 23.0 UZR/150.

Bucco Nation Q & A

By Jason Shetler

Here is the offseason edition of Bucco Nation Q & A. You guys were kind enough to give me your Pirates questions, and so I will now answer them.

Do you think the Pirates will sign a second tier free agent pitcher? – Steve from Pittsburgh, PA

It’s possible, especially if they’re unable to re-sign either Francisco Liriano or Edinson Volquez. They certainly have the money to pursue someone like Brandon McCarthy, or they could go more cost effective with someone like Justin Masterson, who is coming off a down year and has a good chance to rebound in 2015.

What does the international money the Pirates received from the Athletics do for them? – Jack from Munhall, PA

It basically just gives the Pirates a better chance of signing top tier amateur free agents, which they’ve certainly put a ton of emphasis on since Neal Huntington took over as Pirates general manager.

What are the odds that Clint Barmes is playing for the Pirates next season? – John from Belle Vernon, PA

As you know, Barmes is currently a free agent. A month ago, the Pirates signed Justin Sellers to a minor league deal, and claimed Pedro Florimon off waivers this past week. Both Sellers and Florimon rate out as above average defensive shortstops, and one of them could be the primary backup to Jordy Mercer. That being said however, Barmes could always be re-signed, and let’s face it, he’s a favorite of Clint Hurdle. Odds of Barmes returning would be 50/50.

What can Pirates fans expect from Jameson Taillon if anything this season, and how much can we expect to see Tony Sanchez? – Tom from Troy, NY 

From what I’ve heard and read, Taillon has been rehabbing down in Florida and hasn’t had any issues as he recovers from the elbow surgery. There’s a good chance that he could begin the 2015 season with Indianapolis right on schedule. Assuming he pitches well and has no setbacks, I could see him called up to Pittsburgh in July at the earliest with August being more realistic.

In regards to Sanchez, he could be the Pirates backup catcher to Francisco Cervelli, unless Chris Stewart returns. If that happens, Sanchez would head back to Indy to catch on days that Elias Diaz needs a rest, but most of his playing time could be spent at first base and DH. Should Cervelli or Stewart get hurt, Sanchez will be the first catcher recalled.

What is the one position that the Pirates need to improve the most on? – Seth from Pittsburgh, PA 

I know it doesn’t count as a position, but the rotation needs the most improvement. The return of A.J. Burnett makes for a nice addition, but they’ll have to add another starter, should Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez sign elsewhere, as well as with the health of Charlie Morton and the inconsistencies of Jeff Locke.







Pirates Trade Ike Davis to Athletics

By Jason Shetler

According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Athletics have acquired first baseman Ike Davis from the Pirates in exchange for international slot money. 

Davis was designated for assignment by the Pirates on Thursday, effectively ending his stay in Pittsburgh. It’s not a surprise that Oakland would acquire Davis, since A’s general manager Billy Beane values on base percentage, which Davis can provide. 

Buster Olney Ranks Josh Harrison Tenth Best Third Baseman

By Jason Shetler 

p/c: Ed Szczepanski - USA Today Sports
p/c: Ed Szczepanski – USA Today Sports

Earlier today, ESPN’s Buster Olney came out with a list that ranked the Top 10 third baseman, and Josh Harrison was named tenth best. 

Harrison had a remarkable 2014 campaign in which he batted .315, good for second best in the National League, along with an .837 OPS and a 4.9 WAR. While his offensive numbers were solid, his defense was also steady at the hot corner, as he posted a .984 fielding percentage and a 7.0 UZR/150. Very high praise from Olney naming Harrison a Top 10 third baseman considering he was just a utility player a year ago at this time. 

Why the Pirates Need to Re-sign Francisco Liriano

By Jason Shetler 

p/c: zimbio.com
p/c: zimbio.com

Two weeks ago, Francisco Liriano rejected the $15.3 million qualifying offer that was made to him by the Pirates. Reports are that the veteran lefty is seeking a three or four-year deal with an annual salary of at least $12 million. Liriano will be the second best left-handed starter on the open market behind Jon Lester. Let’s compare both starters over the past two seasons. 

Liriano: 3.20 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.3 H/9, 4.0 BB/9, 9.4 K/9, 53% groundball rate, 34% O-Swing (outside swings), 13% SwStr (swinging strikes), 69% contact rate

Lester: 3.11 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.3 H/9, 2.0 BB/9, 8.2 K/9, 43% groundball rate, 32% O-Swing, 9% SwStr, 80% contact rate 

Lester certainly has much better control numbers, but look at some of Liriano’s figures. He’s limited fewer hits, induced more groundballs, racked up more strikeouts and has gotten weaker contact from hitters than Lester. While Lester is expected to make over $100 million in free agency, the Pirates meanwhile can re-sign Liriano, who stacks up pretty well to Lester, for practically half of that amount. The Pirates currently have Jeff Locke penciled in the rotation, and it’s unclear how he’ll perform after another mediocre second half showing. Also, they lack impact left-handed pitching in the system. Those are also a couple reasons why they should try to bring Liriano back. 




Pirates Sign Sebastian Valle

By Jason Shetler 

According to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects, the Pirates have signed catcher Sebastian Valle to a minor league deal. He is not related to former big league catcher Dave Valle. 

Valle was once considered the Philadelphia Phillies top catching prospect, but his offensive numbers have fallen off over the last few seasons. He spent this year playing for both AA Reading and AAA Lehigh Valley where he batted .238 and posted a .608 OPS in 75 games. His work behind the plate was very strong, throwing out 48% of runners between the two affiliates. The Pirates could either use Valle as the regular catcher with Altoona or as the backup to Elias Diaz at Indianapolis. 

Unprotected Players Who the Pirates Could Lose in the Rule 5 Draft

By Jason Shetler

Yesterday, the Pirates placed pitchers Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham, catcher Elias Diaz and outfielder Willy Garcia on the 40-man roster in order to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft on December 11th at the Winter Meetings. With every team comes players who weren’t protected that could be selected. Here are some of the Pirates minor league players who potentially could be taken.

A.J. Morris: The Pirates selected Morris in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft last offseason from the Chicago Cubs. Morris pitched pretty well this year all told, as he posted a 2.92 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 26 games (16 starts) total for Altoona, Indianapolis and the GCL Pirates (rehab stint). He doesn’t strikeout many batters, but he does induce a ton of groundballs. A team could easily use Morris in long relief to pitch mostly in low leverage situations.

Andy Oliver: In December of 2012, the Pirates acquired Andy Oliver from the Detroit Tigers. A former Baseball America Top 100 prospect, Oliver had a good season for Indianapolis this year. In 48 appearances, he put up a 2.53 ERA along with a 1.28 WHIP and a 12.0 K/9. Although he racked up a ton of strikeouts, his BB/9 was very high at 6.6. The strikeout numbers are certainly intriguing enough to where a team could take Oliver and use him either in long relief or as a lefty specialist.

Gift Ngoepe: After spending 2013 with Altoona, Ngoepe returned there this past season. The native of South Africa hit .238 and had an OPS of .699 in 131 games for the Curve. Ngoepe did a good job of getting on base with a 10% walk rate, and showed off his speed with nine triples. Defensively, Ngoepe has been very good, posting a 4.25 RF (Range Factor) at shortstop and a 5.25 RF at second base. With his speed and defense, as well as being a switch-hitter, Ngoepe could be looked at to serve as a backup middle infielder.

Keon Broxton: The Pirates acquired Broxton from the Arizona Diamondbacks late in Spring Training for cash considerations. The 25-year-old outfielder had a strong season for Altoona, hitting .275 while posting an .853 OPS and stealing 25 bases in 127 games. His power and speed combo could make him a sure bet to be taken.

Mel Rojas: After a breakout season in 2013, Rojas picked up where he left off this past season. In 130 games combined with Altoona and Indianapolis, he batted .288 and posted a .794 OPS. Defensively, Rojas is above average at all three outfield spots. It wouldn’t surprise me to see both Rojas and Broxton get selected.

Stetson Allie: Allie had himself a productive season this year for Altoona, as he hit 21 home runs while putting up an .801 OPS (.867 vs LHP) in 117 games. He also drew a ton of walks, posting them at a 15% clip. Perhaps a team who’s looking for a right-handed bat in a first base or DH platoon could take Allie as an inexpensive option, as well as someone who can pinch-hit primarily against left-handers.