CBS Sports Jon Heyman, who is also an insider for MLB Network, mentioned on MLB Tonight last night that the Pirates are among the teams interested in free agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cabrera began last season with the Cleveland Indians before getting dealt to the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline. In 146 games combined with the two teams, he batted .241 while posting a .694 OPS and a 1.7 WAR.
Last week, the Pirates won the rights to negotiate with Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang. The fact that they’re now linked to Cabrera is a surprise. Perhaps the Pirates are viewing Cabrera as a Plan B, if he’s still available and they don’t reach a deal with Kang.
Jack Wilson’s 2005 season is not only his personal best, but also it’s the greatest defensive season of any Pirates shortstop in franchise history. The Pirates that year won just 67 games, and for them to win close to 40% of those games on Wilson’s defense alone is absolutely insane. Wilson enjoyed nine seasons in Pittsburgh making incredible plays, and in my opinion, is the greatest defensive shortstop never to win a Gold Glove.
The Pirates have had themselves a pretty busy offseason compared to last year at this time. With the number of moves made to this point, I’m going to grade each of the notable transactions.
A.J. Burnett signing: After contemplating retirement last offseason, A.J. Burnett decided to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies for $16 million. The veteran right-hander made 34 starts this past season where he posted a 4.59 ERA, a 1.41 WHIP and a K/9 of 8.0. The high WHIP resulted in Burnett allowing the most walks in the National League with 96. Despite the down year, Burnett had a 1.0 WAR, so at least he was still above replacement level. The Pirates brought back Burnett by signing him to a one-year deal worth $8.5 million. While his numbers were down in 2014, Burnett did have a 3.95 xFIP while Edinson Volquez had a 4.20 xFIP, meaning that Burnett is less likely to regress compared to Volquez next season. Grade: B
Antonio Bastardo trade: The Pirates were in a search of a left-handed reliever, and they went out and acquired Antonio Bastardo from the Phillies for minor league left-hander Joely Rodriguez. In 67 appearances last season, Bastardo posted a 3.94 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, an 11.4 K/9 and held opponents to a .183 batting average against. Rodriguez projects at best as a back of the rotation starter, so for the Pirates to trade him for an established strikeout heavy lefty reliever is a very good deal. Grade: B+
Corey Hart signing: With Pedro Alvarez expected to get majority of the playing time at first base in 2015, the Pirates were looking for a right-handed bat to compliment Alvarez. After making a pretty surprising decision by non-tendering Gaby Sanchez, the Pirates decided to sign Corey Hart to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million with incentives. Hart struggled with the Seattle Mariners in 2014, as he posted just a .590 OPS. For his career, he’s put up an OPS of .866 vs left-handed pitching. Also, he had a .244 BABIP last season, which could result in a bounce back year in 2015. Even though Hart may not be a productive everyday regular now, that doesn’t mean he can’t be an above average platoon bat vs lefties. Grade: B
Francisco Cervelli trade: After being unable to re-sign Russell Martin, which was pretty much expected, the Pirates chose to go the trade route for a backstop by acquiring Francisco Cervelli from the New York Yankees in exchange for lefty reliever Justin Wilson. Last season, Cervelli put up a .370 on base percentage. During his big league career, he’s posted a .348 OBP in 785 plate appearances, so he does a good job of getting on base. Defensively, Cervelli threw out 25% of baserunners, which was 18% less than Martin threw out in 2014. He is however similar to Martin in terms of being a very good pitch framer behind the plate. While Cervelli won’t be an upgrade over Martin, he could at least be a decent replacement. Grade: B-
Francisco Liriano re-signing: Francisco Liriano entered the offseason as a candidate for a qualifying offer. The Pirates gave Liriano the QO, which was worth $15.3 million, but the offer was rejected by the veteran left-hander. The rejected offer didn’t seem to phase the Pirates much, as they re-signed Liriano to a three-year deal worth $39 million. In his two seasons with Pittsburgh, Liriano has posted a 3.20 ERA, a 9.2 K/9 and a 53% groundball rate in 55 starts. Liriano continues to be one of the top pitchers in baseball in terms of strikeout ratio, and compared to the other contracts that top of the rotation type starters are getting now, the Pirates deal for Liriano is an absolute bargain. Grade: A
Radhames Liz signing: Over the last few seasons, the Pirates have taken on reclamation project pitchers such as A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley. This time around, the Pirates will go outside the box with Radhames Liz. The 31-year old right-hander hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2009. He was once a top prospect in the Baltimore Orioles system, but he struggled mightily with his control. Liz pitched a few years over in Korea, and was showing improved control of his fastball. He’s currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League where his fastball has been at 97-98 mph. The Pirates signed Liz to a one-year deal worth $1 million, and he will likely pitch in long relief. If Liz can demonstrate his improved fastball command against Major League batters, the Pirates may have rediscovered a diamond in the rough. Grade: B
Sean Rodriguez trade: Sean Rodriguez was designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason, after posting just a .701 OPS in 96 games. With Clint Barmes becoming a free agent, the Pirates acquired Rodriguez from the Rays in exchange for minor league pitcher Buddy Borden. Rodriguez does have some decent pop in his bat, but doesn’t get on base much. Defensively, he can play every position except for catcher, and is above average overall for the most part, so he’s an upgrade over Barmes in terms of versatility. Borden had a strong year pitching for the West Virginia Power last season, so it was a surprise that the Pirates would deal a potentially good pitching prospect for a player who was DFA’d from another team. Grade: C+
The Pirates have re-signed utility infielder/outfielder Andy Vasquez to a minor league contract, this according to Pirates Prospects John Dreker.
Vasquez has been in the Pirates organization since the Dave Littlefield administration, signing with them out of the Dominican Republic back in 2006. During his eight seasons in the system, he’s posted a .684 OPS, and has played every position except for catcher. This past season, Vasquez put up a .768 OPS in 295 plate appearances for the Altoona Curve. He will likely head back to Altoona in 2015.
According to Baseball America, the Pirates have signed pitcher Adam Miller to a minor league deal.
Miller was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 2003 MLB Draft as a first round supplemental pick (31st overall). The 30-year-old right-hander was a Baseball America Top 100 prospect from 2005 to 2009, ranking as high as 16th overall. Miller had a finger injury that required multiple surgeries, causing him to miss most of 2008, as well as the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons. Before the injury, Miller’s fastball reached 101 mph while his slider was regarded as one of the best in the minors. Since 2011, Miller has pitched mostly as a reliever. He was in the Indians organization this past season, where he posted a 5.44 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and a 9.4 K/9 in 28 appearances with AA Akron, and also pitched one game for AAA Columbus. The Pirates will likely use Miller in relief with either Altoona or Indianapolis depending on which affiliate needs bullpen help.
On Monday, the Pirates opened up a ton of eyes and also raised some eyebrows by winning the rights to negotiate with top international free agent shortstop Jung-Ho Kang. The 27-year-old native of Korea is coming off a monster season, in which he blasted a career best 40 home runs. The thing to keep in mind is that the KBO (Korea Baseball Organization) is a very offensive-hitting environment, which means that his success there may not completely translate at the Major League level. Kang will most likely be in Pittsburgh come Opening Day, if he does get signed within the next month. The Pirates then would have a difficult decision to make on who would be moved for Kang. In my opinion, the most logical scenario would be trading Neil Walker.
Walker has been manning second base for the Pirates since 2010. He’s been one of the more underrated second baseman in baseball, posting a .777 OPS and a 2.9 WAR in that span. As good as the numbers have been for Walker, there are a couple concerns. First off, Walker will be due a significant salary raise from the $5.75 million he received in 2014, which at this point would make it difficult to extend him. Second, Walker has been dealing with some ongoing back issues the past couple seasons, which is another reason why the Pirates should avoid extending him. There seems to be a general consensus that Walker won’t get an extension, and if that’s the case, why not trade him while his value is still high? -I personally think the Pirates could obtain a solid mid-rotation starter to solidify the pitching staff even more, should they decide to move Walker. With Jordy Mercer having the potential to be a good all-around shortstop, as well as Pedro Alvarez’s trade value being low, selling high on Walker appears to be the best option, as unpopular as it sounds.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Pirates have won the bidding for Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang. The bid for Kang was at $5 million, and the Pirates will have 30 days to negotiate a contract with him.
Kang is considered the top international position player free agent this offseason. He’s coming off a career year in 2014 for the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization, in which he hit .356 with 40 home runs while posting a 1.198 OPS in 116 games. The KBO is considered a very hitter friendly league, so Kang’s numbers may not translate completely in the Majors. Even if the Pirates don’t sign Kang to a contract, the fact that they won a bid for a legitimate international free agent is a big step for an organization who never went that route in the past.
According to Pirates Prospects John Dreker, the Pirates have signed three international amateur players. Those players are infielders Melvin Jimenez, William Calderon and outfielder Eddy Vizcaino. All three are from the Dominican Republic. Terms of the signing bonuses are unknown.
Jimenez is a left-handed contact hitter. He has good hands at shortstop, and his overall defense at the position is considered solid.
Calderon is a switch-hitter who hits for contact. He plays both shortstop and second base, but his defense isn’t as good as Jimenez.
Vizcaino is considered the best of the three. He’s a left-handed hitting corner outfielder, who has a line drive swing with some pop. Defensively, he has a good arm and his range is above average.
Back in November, the Pirates obtained $269,900 in international slot money from the Oakland Athletics in the Ike Davis trade, so it appears that money has been used to sign the three players.
When Neal Huntington entered his first season as Pirates general manager in 2008, his objective was to restock a depleted farm system. In July of that year, Huntington made his first notable trade by acquiring Jose Tabata from the New York Yankees. He was at one point a former top prospect in the Yankees system. Tabata was called up in June of 2010, and he performed pretty well. The Pirates signed him to an extension the following year, but he’s been struggling ever since. Let’s compare the numbers from 2010 to what he’s done the past few seasons.
2010: .346 on base percentage, .746 OPS, 106 wRC+, 1.9 WAR
2011-2014: .330 on base percentage, .698 OPS, 98 wRC+, 0.3 WAR
Tabata’s numbers have definitely fallen off over the last four seasons combined, with a lesser on base, OPS and ability to create runs. After being about a two-win player his rookie season, Tabata has been a replacement level player since. In addition to his subpar offense, his defensive stats have also taken a hit as well.
2010: .995 fielding percentage (.987 league average), 1.9 UZR/150, -0.9 dWAR
2011-2014: .985 fielding percentage (.986 league average), -9.2 UZR/150, -0.3 dWAR
The Pirates designated Tabata for assignment earlier this offseason, which may be an indication that he’s fallen out of favor in the organization. The outfield depth has also improved with the likes of Travis Snider, Andrew Lambo, Jaff Decker and Corey Hart, who will play some games out there along with being in a first base platoon. Over the next two seasons, Tabata will be making $8.5 million. It’s no shock that another club didn’t claim him off waivers, with being owed that much for being a below league average player. At this point, the Pirates should eat the remainder of Tabata’s contract, wash their hands clean, and just move on.