- In another trade involving the minor league phase of yesterday’s Rule 5 Draft, the Pirates acquired righty Cristofer Melendez from the Padres, who had selected him out of the White Sox organization. The 21-year-old Melendez spun a terrific 1.54 ERA through 70 1/3 innings last season, though he did so as a 20-year-old pitching against vastly younger and less-experienced competition in the Dominican Summer League. He averaged 11.9 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 to go along with a 50.3 percent grounder rate.
- Having lost Jordy Mercer in free agency, the Pirates have spoken to the Diamondbacks about shortstop Nick Ahmed this week, Adam Berry of MLB.com reports. The defensively adept Ahmed, 28, is coming off a career-best offensive season, albeit one in which he still hit just .234/.290/.411 (84 wRC+) in 564 plate appearances. He’s under control for two more years and will make a projected $3.1MM in 2019. That would be an affordable sum for Pittsburgh, but Berry explains that the team’s content to roll with in-house shortops Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman if it doesn’t land Ahmed or another veteran option.
- The Dodgers have been in touch with the Pirates about catcher Francisco Cervelli, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports. Coming off a solid 2018 season, Cervelli has received trade interest from several teams. The 32-year-old is only under contract through 2019 (at $11.5MM in salary), so that type of short-term fit could appeal to a Dodgers team that has top catching prospects Keibert Ruiz and Will D. Smith getting closer to cracking the MLB roster. In addition to starters like Cervelli, Gurnick notes that L.A. is also looking at “fallback options” like veteran catcher Nick Hundley.
TODAY: Lyles will earn $2.05MM in 2019, as per Heyman (Twitter link).
11:57pm: Lyles’ deal is a one-year pact worth upward of $2MM, Robert Murray of The Athletic tweets.
1:45pm: The Pirates are reportedly in agreement on a deal with right-hander Jordan Lyles. Joel Sherman of the New York Post (via Twitter) reported that the sides were close, with Jon Heyman of Fancred tweeting that a deal was in place pending a physical. Terms are not yet known.
This move seems to represent a bid to backfill the Bucs’ pitching depth after trading Ivan Nova in a just-announced deal with the White Sox. Lyles likely won’t be promised a rotation spot in Pittsburgh, but he could compete for one in camp and will at least function as a long relief or swingman option. With Pirates GM Neal Huntington saying that the organization is dabbling with the idea of an opener, Lyles could be a particularly interesting fit for the roster.
Lyles turned in a somewhat interesting 2018 season, though his broader track record isn’t all that impressive. The 28-year-old posted a personal-high 10.3% swinging-strike rate on the year, with a modified pitch mix seemingly help to boost that aspect of his game.
That’s not to say the results were universally positive; Lyles didn’t quite turn the corner in an eight-game run as a starter with the Padres. But he was rather effective in a relief role, with a 3.32 ERA over 40 2/3 total innings in 28 appearances. Some kind of multi-inning role other than that of a traditional starter could maximize Lyles’s skillset.
12:10pm: The Pirates will receive a “young pitcher” and an unstated amount of international bonus pool availability, per Jon Heyman of Fanced (via Twitter).
10:55am: The White Sox have struck a deal with the Pirates to acquire righty Ivan Nova, according to Ken Rosenthal and Robert Murray of The Athletic (via Twitter). The return is not yet known; the deal will not be finalized until the teams have completed a review of medicals.
At first glance, this is quite an interesting swap owing to its potential downstream ramifications. Moving Nova will clear $8.5MM of payroll for the Bucs, who could put those funds to use in pursuing other players. The White Sox, meanwhile, have continued to make good on their stated intention to bolster their MLB roster in the near term.
Nova, who’ll turn 32 early next year, has been a sturdy rotation piece since landing in Pittsburgh at the 2016 trade deadline. He re-signed with the club in the ensuing winter on a three-year deal that expires at the end of the 2019 campaign.
Over the past two campaigns, Nova carries a 4.16 ERA with 6.3 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 over 348 frames. He’s not generating as many grounders as he once did, but still has drawn worm burners on over 45% of the balls put in play against him. Meanwhile, Nova has been hurt by the long ball, allowing more than 1.4 per nine since the start of 2017.
It’s not a terribly exciting profile, but it’s one with value. Nova is still working in the 93 to 94 mph range with his pair of fastballs, while his swinging-strike rate has sat above eight percent — right in line with his career average. There’s good reason to anticipate that he’ll mostly be the same pitcher in 2019.
For the Chicago organization, adding Nova will help bolster a staff that has bid adieu to veteran James Shields. The club could certainly stand to add more arms, though it’ll also continue to decade at least two or three spots to its preexisting rotation options. Previously, the South Siders added veteran reliever Alex Colome to anchor the bullpen.
Interesting as it will be to see what else the White Sox do the rest of the way, the Pirates are now a potentially intriguing wild card on the market. Having dealt for Chris Archer and Keone Kela over the summer, the Bucs certainly seem positioned to add more pieces. After today’s trade, they’ll have more free payroll space to work with than they did at the outset of the offseason, even after having already signed Jung Ho Kang and Lonnie Chisenhall. Of course, moving Nova also leaves the Pittsburgh rotation with one less reliable arm. The organization could fill the opening from within (with Nick Kingham and eventually top prospect Mitch Keller) and/or pursue cheaper depth pieces via free agency.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Ivan Nova, Francisco Cervelli, and Corey Dickerson have all been mentioned as possible trade candidates for the Pirates, though “it’s going to have to be something that makes sense for us in the big picture to have us entertain” offers, GM Neal Huntington told MLB.com’s Adam Berry and other media. The trio will all be free agents after 2019, so it makes sense that Pittsburgh would explore trades if none seem likely to sign extensions or re-sign after the season. That said, since the Bucs are aiming to compete this year, quality players on short-term commitments aren’t necessarily a major issue, even though payroll concerns are always a factor for the team.
Let’s round up the latest trade chatter from the central divisions:
- Though he had previously indicated otherwise, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (subscription link) that the Indians are exploring trade scenarios in which they’d dump a big contract (likely Jason Kipnis or Edwin Encarnacion) while dealing a top starter (Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer). Clearly, the Indians are still working through scenarios that’ll increase their roster flexibility. Infusing young talent and enhancing payroll flexibility would both be of interest, and it’s not clear that either is a particular priority. It’ll certainly be fascinating to see how the market develops for those high-end righties.
- In talks with the Dodgers, per Jon Morosi of MLB.com (Twitter link), the Indians are showing interest in highly regarded prospect Alex Verdugo. The Los Angeles outfielder is clearly due for a full crack at the big leagues after turning in consecutive strong seasons at the Triple-A level. Still just 22 years of age, Verdugo is noted for his high-end left-handed hit tool and contact ability — not unlike Michael Brantley, who recently wrapped up a successful tenure with the Cleveland organization and who is expected to land a large contract elsewhere.
- The Tigers are “determined to move on” from outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, Antony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. There’s initial interest from other clubs, per MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). It seems the Braves have at least “checked in” on the 26-year-old, who is projected by MLBTR to earn a $11.3MM salary in his final season of arbitration eligibility. The Atlanta organization has an opening in right field and has plenty of assets that’d be of interest to Detroit. Castellanos certainly has produced the kind of offensive output that’d be of interest — he’s slashing .285/.336/.495 over the past three seasons — but comes with anything but a sterling defensive reputation.
- Pirates backstop Francisco Cervelli emerged recently as a possible trade chip, but Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets that the market situation may not be ripe for a move. With a $11.5MM salary and history of concussions, Cervelli seems not to be drawing the kind of interest that the Bucs would need to see to make a deal. While the Pirates obviously have confidence in their internal replacement options, Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings, they surely also value Cervelli. After all, he just turned in one of the best seasons of any backstop in the game in 2018 and the Bucs made a notable pair of win-soon moves at the ’18 trade deadline.
- The Giants hired Farhan Zaidi as their president of baseball operations a month ago, but Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was among the candidates they spoke with before then, according to Heyman. It’s unclear how serious the Giants’ interest in Huntington was, but it is known that he’s under contract in Pittsburgh through 2021. Next season will be Huntington’s 12th as the Pirates’ GM.
- The Dodgers are also “all in” on the catcher market, as are the Astros and Mets, Olney reports. Any of those teams could find its answer with Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cervelli, for whom the Pirates are willing to consider offers, according to Olney. Cervelli is coming off an impressive 2018, but as a soon-to-be 33-year-old who’s expensive ($11.5MM), down to his last season of team control and has a startling history of concussions, the low-budget Pirates may be willing to go in another direction.
- Unsurprisingly, the low-payroll Pirates aren’t in position to make any splashes at the Winter Meetings, Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic writes (subscription required). Still, general manager Neal Huntington has interest in shortstops and left-handed relievers, per Biertempfel. Notably, though, it doesn’t appear the Pirates’ longstanding union with shortstop Jordy Mercer will continue, according to Biertempfel. Mercer has been with the Pittsburgh organization since it selected him in the third round of the 2008 draft, but the two sides have had almost no contact since the end of last season, Biertempfel reports.