- The Pirates have voided their minor league contract with right-hander Roberto Gomez after concerns arose following his physical exam, the team told reporters (Twitter link via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bill Brink). The 29-year-old spent the past two seasons with the Giants organization and tossed 14 2/3 innings at the big league level, though he was roughed up to the tune of a 7.98 ERA in that tiny sample. Gomez, to his credit, notched a much more impressive 14-to-2 K/BB ratio in that time. He also owns a respectable 4.21 ERA with 8.0 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 in 115 1/3 innings of Triple-A ball — all coming in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The exact nature of his injury remains unclear, but he’ll no longer be vying for a job with the Buccos.
1:09pm: The Pirates announced the signing.
1:02pm: The Pirates have reached an agreement to bring right-hander Rookie Davis aboard on a minor league contract, per The Athletic’s Emily Waldon (Twitter link). He’ll be in Major League camp as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.
Now 25 years old, Davis was one of four players the Yankees sent to the Reds in exchange for Aroldis Chapman in the 2015-16 offseason. (None of the four are still in Cincinnati.) He made his big league debut with the Reds in 2017 but allowed 23 earned runs with a 20-to-14 K/BB ratio in 24 innings of work. Davis had hip surgery following the 2017 campaign and was limited to just 26 1/3 minor league innings with the Reds last year. Davis posted solid numbers in the minors up through Double-A before he began to struggle in Triple-A and, eventually, the Majors. He’s not likely to factor into the Pirates’ pitching plans early in the season, but he’s a relatively youthful depth addition that could emerge later in 2019 if he’s back up to full strength.
- Right-hander Rookie Davis is close to a new minor league contract and Spring Training invite with an unknown team, The Athletic’s Emily Waldon reports (Twitter link), adding that the Pirates have been in touch with Davis. Perhaps best known as one of the prospects sent by the Yankees to the Reds as part of the Aroldis Chapman trade in December 2015, Davis tossed 27 innings for Cincinnati in 2017 and then underwent hip surgery that October. He pitched only 26 1/3 innings in the Reds’ farm system last season and became a free agent in November.
Contract extensions, including deals for right-handers Aaron Nola (Phillies) and Luis Severino (Yankees), have been a dominant story across Major League Baseball this week. Sooner than later, the Pirates should follow the Phillies and Yankees in inking their own excellent young righty, Jameson Taillon, for the long haul, Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review opines. Unlike Philly and New York, both of which secured their aces to four-year guarantees worth $40MM or more, Pittsburgh’s not a big spender, perhaps making it all the more important for the Bucs to lock up Taillon at an affordable price in the near future. However, Taillon – who still has four years of control remaining, including three arbitration-eligible seasons – revealed this week that he and the club “haven’t talked about anything” yet. Barring an unexpected change, the 27-year-old will pitch this season for a relative pittance after logging a 3.20 ERA/3.46 FIP with 8.43 K/9 and 2.17 BB/9 over 191 innings in 2018.
Junichi Tazawa is set to arrive in Cubs camp on Monday after working out visa issues that delayed his arrival, per the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales. Tazawa remains a long shot to make the Cubs Opening Day roster, as he hasn’t been an asset to a major league bullpen since 2016 with the Red Sox. After posting a 7.07 ERA for the Marlins and Angels last season, Tazawa looks to re-establish himself in Cubs camp for former employer Theo Epstein, though again, the window of opportunity in Chicago is slim. Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Mike Montgomery, Brandon Kintzler, and newcomer Brad Brach all figure to hold down spots in the Chicago pen, leaving Tazawa to compete for the final remaining innings with Xavier Cedeno, Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills, Brian Duensing, Dillon Maples, Randy Rosario, and a few others. Brandon Morrow’s injury provides a limited-time opportunity for someone, but he’ll obviously take over one of those open spots when he returns for the injured list. Here are a few more notes from the Cubs bullpen and the rest of the NL Central…
- A couple weeks before being traded from the Orioles to the Braves last season, reliever Brad Brach noticed his arm slot had shifted higher than usual, writes the Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. When his release point shifts over-the-top, Brach loses some of the deception in his delivery and changes the plane of his pitch movement. He is cognizant, however, that he’s more effective as he stays closer to a three-quarters delivery. The mechanical adjustment certainly seemed to help as he turned in 23 2/3 innings of 1.52 ERA ball after joining the Braves. His peripherals don’t wholly buy the shift in performance, but his fastball command certainly improved and that’s the foundation of his arsenal. Of course, the revelation is only one part of the process, as refining and automating the lower arm slot will continue to be a process as he starts throwing again this season. If Brach can repeat his delivery consistently, he may prove to be a significant addition to a Cubs pen who needs the help.
- Brach should have no trouble keeping his competitive edge with the Cubs, who are facing a dogfight in a tight National League Central. There’s no tanking here, where the Reds have raised the floor with marked improvements to their rotation this offseason. The Cardinals and Brewers have made obvious win-now additions this winter as well, and while the Cubs have largely stood pat (excepting additions like Brach above), there’s little doubt they will be in the competitive mix once again. The sleeper in the division and maybe the league is the Pirates, per Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The PECOTA projection system has the Pirates ahead of the Cubs, and though they’ve been quiet this winter, their biggest additions were made at least year’s deadline when they traded for Chris Archer and Keone Kela. It would certainly be a surprise for the Pirates to steal the NL Central from such a crowded field, but they’re only three years removed from the most successful stretch in recent franchise history and they finished above .500 last season. A Pirates division title would be surprising, for sure, but it’s not inconceivable.
- In a video for CBS Sports, Jim Bowden expresses optimism that Paul Goldschmidt will outperform both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado en route to an MVP-type season. Goldschmidt should certainly bolster the Cardinals offense in 2019, though his long-term future with the club remains uncertain. The Cardinals are pursuing an extension with Goldschmidt, and given the current free agent market, Goldy would be wise to at least consider locking up his long-term future now if the offer is fair.
At the time of his tragic death in 2017, Yordano Ventura was playing on a long-term deal with the Royals that still included $20.25MM in guaranteed future salary. Sam McDowell and Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star provide an update on the status of that contract and the remaining loose ends of his estate, which has claimed insolvency. Ventura’s daughter, now five, is the sole heir. Fortunately, she did already receive a significant recovery under a life insurance policy. But the estate, which has had to pay down obligations that Ventura incurred while supporting family and friends in his native Dominican Republic, is still pursuing the balance of his contract with the Royals. It appears to present some potentially novel (and likely also fact-intensive) issues. According to the piece, there does not appear to be a prior instance of a player dying during a long-term contract. Those interested in learning about the full story and potential factors in the still-unresolved contract situation will certainly want to read the Star’s full report.
Here are some more notes from the game’s central divisions:
- The Cardinals made clear that they intend to seek a long-term deal with new star Paul Goldschmidt, and the opening of camp also starts the clock on pre-season conversations. That said, there are indications that the St. Louis organization will not impose any timing restrictions on talks, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted in a recent article regarding a host of Spring Training issues. The team is evidently prepared to hold discussions in whatever time and manner Goldschmidt himself prefers, even if that means keeping the line open in the midst of his first (and potentially only) season in St. Louis.
- Pirates righty Jameson Taillon enters the 2019 season facing big expectations, as Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. He also has his eye on the broader player market as a union rep and student of the business of the game. The 27-year-old starter says he’s not only hoping for free agents to earn big salaries, but rooting for those that do to perform well under their contracts. As Gorman notes, the Bucs hold Taillon in high esteem and would surely be interested in working out an extension — particularly given that he’s still a full season away from arbitration. It stands to reason, though, that the former second overall draft pick will not sell his future campaigns for anything less than full value.
1:46pm: Cabrera will earn a guaranteed $1.15MM if he makes the Pirates’ roster and could make $850K in performance bonuses, Jeff Passan of ESPN tweets.
10:13am: The Pirates and outfielder Melky Cabrera have agreed to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training, Ken Rosenthal and Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic report. Cabrera will have a chance to earn up to $2MM in the majors, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
Cabrera follows major league signing Lonnie Chisenhall and minor league pickups JB Shuck and Patrick Kivlehan as the fourth veteran addition to the Pirates’ outfield this offseason. The 34-year-old Cabrera will have an opportunity to earn a role on a team that will open the season without one of its starting outfielders, Gregory Polanco, who likely won’t return until at least mid-April after undergoing shoulder surgery in September. However, until Polanco comes back, Chisenhall figures to receive the lion’s share of playing time alongside holdovers Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson.
A big league regular throughout most of his career, which began with the Yankees in 2005, the switch-hitting Cabrera settled into a reserve role with the Indians in 2018. Cabrera went to the plate 278 times last year and matched both his lifetime wRC+ (102) and on-base percentage (.335), also posting a .280 batting average, a .420 slugging percentage and six home runs. Along the way, he offered passable production from both sides of the plate while limiting strikeouts – both of which have been staples for Cabrera over his career. On the other side, Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating have each pegged Cabrera as a minus outfielder across his time in the majors, though he nonetheless hasn’t seen much action at DH in AL stints with the Yankees, Royals, Blue Jays, White Sox and Indians.
6:35pm: Though the contract is a minor league pact, there’s a club option for the 2020 season attached to the deal, tweets Robert Murray of The Athletic. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweets that the deal comes with an $850K base salary and $250K of incentives in 2019, while the 2020 option is for a guaranteed $1.25MM with another $1.25MM worth of incentives.
The lack of a spring invite isn’t really an indication of Koehler’s ability level so much as it is a reflection of his health status. As Biertempfel notes, the 32-year-old is still on a lengthy rehab timeline after undergoing shoulder surgery in July. There’s no clear timetable for his return at this point.
This time last year, Koehler looked to be an intriguing addition to the Dodgers’ pitching staff. Long a useful but underwhelming starter, Koehler had a nice run upon moving to the bullpen and altering his pitch mix late in the 2017 campaign. He ultimately turned in a 17-inning stretch over which he racked up an 18:6 K/BB ratio and permitted only five earned runs, which prompted Los Angeles to add him on a big league deal. However, a spring shoulder injury prevented him from logging a single inning during the 2018 season.
If Koehler can get back to full health, he could be a worthwhile asset for the Bucs — likely in the bullpen at this juncture. For the time being, the focus will simply be on rebuilding physical strength and putting the shoulder injury behind him to the extent possible.
The Pirates have signed utilityman Nick Franklin to a minors pact, per a club announcement. It comes with an invitation to participate in MLB Spring Training, where Franklin will do battle with a number of other infield/utility candidates.
Franklin, a former first-round draft pick, has appeared all over the field at the MLB level, but the bulk of his time has come at second base. He has seen time in the corner outfield, at short, and at first as well (in addition to one frame a piece at third base and on the hill).
While he showed promise upon cracking the majors with the Mariners in 2013, and again ticked upward in 2016 with the Rays, Franklin has failed to establish himself at the game’s highest level. He has struggled in limited MLB action in the past two seasons with the Brewers and Angels. Through 923 total plate appearances in his six seasons in the majors, Franklin carries a .214/.285/.359 batting line with 24 home runs and 17 steals.
2:43pm: Robert Murray of The Athletic tweets that Liriano would earn a $1.8MM base salary if he makes Pittsburgh’s big league roster and could also earn another $1.5MM worth of incentives.
2:35pm: It’s a minor league deal for Liriano, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
2:31pm: The Pirates have agreed to terms on a contract with left-hander Francisco Liriano, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link). He’ll return to Pittsburgh, where he pitched from 2013-16 before being traded to the Blue Jays in a 2016 deadline deal.
Liriano, 35, spent the 2018 campaign with the Tigers, for whom he pitched to a 4.58 ERA with 7.4 K/9, 4.9 BB/9 and a 48.3 percent ground-ball rate in 133 2/3 innings. Liriano worked as a starter in 26 of his 27 appearances last season, though he also has some experience working out of the bullpen — namely a 2017 stint with the Astros.
Pittsburgh already has numerous rotation options in house, with Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, Jordan Lyles and the out-of-options Nick Kingham comprising the top current options. Of that bunch, Taillon, Archer and Williams are assured of spots. Looming beyond that grouping in the upper minors is top prospect Mitch Keller, who figures to make his debut at some point in 2019.
The Pirates are thinner in terms of left-handed bullpen depth. Beyond closer Felipe Vazquez, the lone 40-man lefty option for the bullpen is former starter Steven Brault, although Tyler Lyons will be in camp as a non-roster invitee and could provide some competition if the team’s plan is to try Liriano in the bullpen.
Liriano was a mainstay alongside Gerrit Cole in the Pirates’ rotation over the course of that 2013-16 run and, at one point, was one of the organization’s most successful reclamation projects. The southpaw burst onto the scene as both a Rookie of the Year and Cy Young candidate with the Twins in 2006 but saw his stock drop substantially following Tommy John surgery. The Pirates organization helped Liriano reestablish himself, resulting in a 3.26 ERA over his first 510 innings with the Buccos. He’ll look to rediscover there once again if he’s able to crack the 25-man roster in camp.
The initial version of this post mistakenly listed the Padres as the team to sign Liriano. MLBTR apologizes for the error.