Pittsburgh Pirates

Free Agents: Blue Jays Open the Vault for R-Martin

rmartin

Russell Martin has $82 million reasons to smile.

 

by Drew Sarver

Few things these days can make my head explode. Having to hear about that family with the woman with the big ass. That’s more of a nagging headache actually. But things like what the Toronto Blue Jays did on Monday was definitely a “cranial cramper”.

Catcher Russell Martin, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates the last two seasons, agreed to terms with the Toronto Blue Jays on a reported five-year, $82MM. (Even Linda Blair’s head would stop spinning after hearing about that contract.)

Except for the ability to hit the long ball, Martin had struggled at the plate for four straight seasons (2010-2013) and with three teams – the LA Dodgers, New York Yankees, and the Pirates. Martin’s OPS during that stretch ranged from a low of .679 to a high of .732.

With free agency pending, Martin had his best season at the plate in six years. A .290/.402/.430 slash line helped him finish 13th in the National League MVP voting. Defense and pitch calling has never been an issue for Martin, who threw out 39% of would-be base-stealers, second only to his personal best of 40% in 2013. It was also well above his career mark of 32%.

It all sounds good, right? Someone coming off a season like that and will be 32 when the 2015 season begins, should get a good contract. Maybe three years, $36MM. If you want to go five years you pay him $60MM. Apparently Blue Jays ownership and GM Alex Anthopoulos thought otherwise.

The deal falls just a few million dollars short of the five-year, $85MM deal the Yankees gave Brian McCann prior to last season. I thought that deal was a bad one too when it was announced, as in too much money and too many years.  Once a catcher has passed 30, a five year contract is a big gamble.(McCann will be 31 when the 2015 season begins).

The Blue Jays know they have an opportunity to win the AL East or gain a wild card in 2015, and signing Martin was a smart move. An average salary in excess of $16MM makes no sense though. Blowing everyone out of the water to sign a player should only be done if you have a major shot at competing for the World Series and that player better be a damn good one.

Are the Blue Jays there? Let’s take a look at last year’s team and what the team is shaping up to be in 2015.

The Blue Jays offense is powered byright fielder Jose Bautista (35 HR, 103 RBI) and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (34 HR, 98 RBI) and set up by shortstop Jose Reyes (94 runs, 30 steals, .328 OBP).

Outfielder Melky Cabrera is likely to leave as a free agent and third baseman Brett Lawrie’s young career has been marred by injury and inconsistency.

The starting rotation is not one that jumps out you. 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey is the ace of the staff (14-13, 3.71 215.2 IP) and manager John Gibbons will be counting on second year hurler Marcus Stroman, who didn’t receive any AL Rookie of the Year votes despite an 11-6, 3.65 record and a four to one strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

The rest of last year’s rotation was mediocre. Veteran Mark Buehrle won nine of his 10 decisions and allowed less than two and one-half runs per game. But his ERA was closer to six in July and August and dropped eight of nine decisions after his tremendous start.

J.A. Happ and Drew Hutchinson were no better than .500 pitchers, though Hutchinson presents a much bigger upside than Happ and was a year removed from Tommy John surgery.)

Antropolous made a good low risk/possibly high reward move by sending first baseman Adam Lind to the Milwaukee Brewers for starter Marco Estrada. While the 30-year old didn’t have the best 2014 season, he’s worth a shot to compete for a rotation spot. The Blue Jays are also said to be looking to sign one of the bigger name free agents (e.g. Jon Lester).

The bullpen needs improvement as well. Closer Casey Janssen isn’t your prototypical closer – he recorded just 28 strikeouts in 45.2 innings pitched and is a free agent. While Janssen kept his walk total down, the remainder of the pen struggled with their control.

Youngster Aaron Sanchez looked solid in relief in September – he saved three games – but Antropolous wants him in the starting rotation next season. As for a set up man/lefty specialist, the Blue Jays are also thought to be interested in free agent Andrew Miller. The  reliever, who has averaged better than 14K’s per nine innings over the last four seasons, is said to be seeking closer money. Considering the money the Blue Jays gave Martin, it’s not out of the question for them to go overboard with a contract offer to Miller.

So what have we gleaned from this? The Blue Jays have a pretty nucleus and are looking to strengthen their weaknesses. Which means they probably should have spent money on the bigger fixes to the team before doling out money, crazy money at that, for a catcher.

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

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Lester Scratched as MLB Deadline Nears

Will Lester get the ball back in Boston?

Will Lester get the ball back in Boston?

by Drew Sarver

We’re less than two days away from the Major League Baseball trade deadline and the number of rumors is starting to add up. The biggest name among them is Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester. The veteran left-hander has been scratched from his Wednesday start, which means Boston will be making a heavy push to trade him for a boatload of prospects and/or Major Leaguers prior to Thursday’s 4 pm EDT deadline.

With the team and Lester unable to agree on a new contract to keep the left-hander in Boston beyond this year – he becomes a free agent after this season – a trade is now very likely.

Lester’s a grade ‘A’ player; a top performer, team leader, and whose departure would leave a major vacancy in the Red Sox rotation. The 30-year old, who beat anaplastic large cell lymphoma eight years ago, holds a 110-63 (.636) record as of this writing and is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. His K’s per nine innings (9.4) is the highest in four years and he has career bests in ERA (2.52) and WHIP (1.119).

He’s also been solid in the post-season. Last year he helped lead the Red Sox to their third World Series title in 10 years. He won four games, including two in the World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. It will be difficult to cut the cord, but if the Red Sox truly feel they cannot resign him, they might as well try to deal him. Needless to say, they’ve getting calls from many teams. That includes the Pittsburgh Pirates, who last night emerged as a “dark horse favorite”.

Lester could be part of a Boston fire sale now that the Red Sox have dropped 12 games out in the AL East and 9.5 games out of the second wild card position. The team, which dealt starter Jake Peavy to San Francisco on July 26, has been fielding calls on John Lackey, Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller, and Jonny Gomes.

The Red Sox are also rumored to be interested in Matt Kemp, which makes no sense whatsoever. The injury-plagued LA Dodgers outfielder is owed $107MM over the next five seasons. The Red Sox would be better off spending money on starting pitcher. They don’t have to look that far back to see how injured and/or overpaid players (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez) failed in Boston.

The next best pitcher available is Cole Hamels. After not being able to pull off a Cliff Lee deal so far, the Phillies have reportedly either been shopping Hamels or steadfastly refusing to trade him. Even if Hamels is dealt, the Phillies would like to deal Lee and the minimum $37.5MM he stands to make the next two years. He’s also owed the remainder of $25MM this season. Lee will not command the return of players he once was able to unless Philly eats the majority of the salary.

Hamels stands to make $90MM through 2018, with a possibility of making an addition $20MM-$24MM in 2019. Like Lester, Hamels is 30-years old and is having a very good season. Tuesday night he tossed eight shutout innings in a win against the New York Mets. It lowered his career-best ERA to 2.55 and a very good ratio to 1.128 His 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings is his highest total since 2006. The Phillies certainly won’t give him away and are probably going to hold on to him.

Like the Red Sox, the Phillies could move several players. Outfielder Marlon Byrd is in high demand and inquiries have been made about A.J. Burnett. The Phillies would love to rid themselves of Ryan Howard’s remaining $60MM over the next three years (the last year is an option with a $10MM buyout.), but that’s not likely to happen.

Other pitchers that could move today are the Mets’ Bartolo Colon, who has one year and $11MM remaining on his contract. The Minnesota Twins would part with Kevin Correia, though there isn’t much demand for a pitcher who leads the AL in losses and whose ERA is over 5. The Twins have also been fielding calls for catcher Kurt Suzuki and outfielder Josh Willingham.

The Kansas City Royals will likely lose James Shields to free agency after the season, but with the team five games behind Detroit in the AL Central and 3.5 games behind Toronto for the second wild card, how could they not keep him?

The Cleveland Indians face a similar dilemma. They’re 6.5 behind Detroit and sit five games in back of Toronto. Do they think they can make a run and become buyers or do they go ahead and become sellers? The Indians are a team that might try to do a little of both. Rumor has it they are trying to move starting pitcher Justin Masterson, who is having a disastrous season. Another player having a bad year is Nick Swisher (.615 OPS as of this writing), though the two years and $30MM will make it harder to move him. Add on his failure in several post-seasons, and Swisher won’t bring much return at this point. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera could be in a new home by Friday, as he enters free agency after this season.

The Padres are reportedly shopping reliever Joaquin Benoit, who can either set up or close. Other players that could move on are pitcher John Danks, outfielder Dayan Viciedo, and 1B/DH Adam Dunn of the White Sox, pitcher Colby Lewis and outfielder Alex Rios of the Rangers, Cubs’ Pitcher Edwin Jackson, Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, and Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra.

Stay tuned!

Done Deals

Cleveland sent Justin Masterson to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfield prospect James Ramsey. Masterson has been having an off-year in a contract year, but the Cards are hoping he can be the second coming of Jake Westbrook. The Cardinals depth in the outfield allowed them to deal Ramsey, the 23rd overall pick in the 2012 draft.

The Red Sox have traded a left-handed pitcher, but it’s not Jon Lester..yet. They’ve sent Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later.  A Cubs official told Peter Gammons that Doubront was getting “One more change to grow up.”

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

MLB Preview: Will the Pirates raise the Jolly Roger in 2014?

Andrew  McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to go deeper into the postseason in 2014.

by Brandon Karsten

Key acquisitions: IB Chris McGuiness, RHP Edinson Volquez, C Chris Stewart.

Key losses: RHP A.J. Burnett, 1B Justin Morneau, 1B Garrett Jones, OF Marlon Byrd

The Pittsburgh Pirates created a buzz througout Major League Baseball in 2013. The Bucs not only had their first winning season since 1992 (When a player named Barry Bonds was patrolling left field at Three Rivers Stadium), but also locked up the NL Wild Card with a one-game winner-take-all victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

The Pirates lost the Division Series in five games to the eventual National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals, but the season’s achievements gave the team new confidence. With the off-season dapartures of some of the players that got them over the hump last season, the Pirates will have to rely on some of their home grown talent keep that buzz alive in the Steel City.

To continue to build on last year’s success, Pittsburgh will have to turn to its mega-star, Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen won the National League MVP after finishing third in the MVP voting in 2012 and got his second straight Silver Slugger Award. But while McCutchen is the rock of the outfield, who’ll be helping him out?

With the free-agent departure of Marlon Byrd to the Phillies, the Pirates have three other experienced outfielders on the roster: Starling Marte, Travis Snider, and Jose Tabata. The lack of outfield depth may force the Bucs to pick up another player off the end-of-Spring Training waiver wire.

The infield has undergone some changes as well. Pedro Alvarez will continue to be a mainstay at the hot corner and in the heart of the lineup. Although Alvarez struggled at the plate with a .296 on-base-percentage, he led the National League in home runs (36) and cracked the 100 RBI plateau for the first time in his career. With Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau gone, Gaby Sanchez will get the bulk of the at-bats at first base. Travis Ishikawa will spell him from time to time.

Russell Martin returns as the starting catcher, but the Bucs need find a solid back-up catcher after Michael McKenry was designated for assignment. The Pirates got veteran backstop Chris Stewart in early December from the Yankees in exchange for a player to be named later. However, Stewart suffered a knee injury during a Spring Training on March 12 and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. He’s expected to miss four-to-six weeks. For now, Tony Sanchez will back up Martin.

LINEUP
C: Russell Martin
1B: Gaby Sanchez
2B: Neil Walker
SS: Jordy Mercer
3B: Pedro Alvarez
LF: Starling Marte
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Jose Tabata

The starting rotation looks almost similar to 2013 with the exception of A.J. Burnett. Burnett went across the state of Pennsylvania to Philadelphia for a one-year, $15 million deal with an option for 2015.1 New to the rotation is Dominican righty Edinson Volquez, who signed a one year and $5 million contract 2 The Pirates will be counting on Gerrit Cole, who made his major league debut in the middle of the season, to build off his 12-game debut. (5-3, 2.91)

ROTATION
SP: Francisco Liriano
SP: Charlie Morton
SP: Gerrit Cole
SP: Wandy Rodriguez
SP: Edison Volquez

The bullpen remained pretty much the same from last year. Jason Grilli proved last year he was a reliable closer with 33 saves in 35 chances. When Grilli was injured in midseason, the Bucs showed they had a solid replacement in Mark Melancon.

BULLPEN
Jason Grilli
Mark Melancon
Tony Watson
Justin Wilson
Jeanmar Gomez
Stolmy Pimentel
Bryan Morris

BENCH

Clint Barmes and Josh Harrison are the utility infielders, with Harrison also the fifth out fielder for now.

Pittsburgh’s top prospect, outfielder Gregory Polanco,  was sent down to AAA Indianapolis aftera decent showing  in Spring Training. He’ll start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis, but could join the Pirates during the season.

Also waiting for a major league call-up this year will be Jameson Taillon. The righty Taillon spent most of 2013 at Double-A Altoona with some starts in Indianapolis. Taillon, the 2010 second overall draft pick, was one of the first cuts in the Pirates Spring Training camp and will start the year in Indianapolis.3

OUTLOOK

Just like last year, Pittsburgh will have to fight with St. Louis to win the NL Central. The defending NL Champion  Cardinals lost Carlos Beltran to free agency and traded away 2011 World Series hero David Freese, but still maintain a solid rotation in Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.

With most of the key players back and a taste of the postseason in their mouths, the Pirates appear to be hungry and are primed to continue where they left off in 2013.

1 – mlb.com

2 – mlb.com

3 –  wtae.com

Brandon Karsten is a contributor to Designated Four Assignment. He can be found on Facebook or contacted by email at bkarsten2009@hotmail.com.