Welcome to the last installment of my 2020 Summer Camp Preview series. Part One on the Chicago Cubs is here. Part Two on the Cincinnati Reds is here. Part Three on the Milwaukee Brewers is here. And you can catch up on the transactions leading up to the Cardinal summer camp here. Today, we examine the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have had major shakeups in their coaching staff and front office.
40-MAN LOSSES FROM 2019
ARTICLE XX-B FREE AGENCY (6 or more years of MLB service)
OF Lonnie Chisenhall, LHP Francisco Liriano, OF Melky Cabrera
C Elias Diaz
OUTRIGHTED TO MINORS
IF Corban Joseph (elected free agency in lieu of outright assignment), IF Jake Elmore, C Steven Baron (elected free agency in lieu of outright assignment), LHP Williams Jerez, RHP Luis Escobar, RHP Montana DuRapau, RHP James Marvel, RHP Yefry Ramirez (automatically declared Rule 55 minor league free agent), LHP Wei-Chung Wang (automatically declared Rule 55 minor league free agent) RHP Alex McRae (elected free agency in lieu of outright assignment), UT Pablo Reyes
** Of the subtractions, only Elmore, Jerez, Escobar, DuRapau, Marvel and Reyes remain in the organization. Reyes received an 80-game suspension back in February for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs (boldenone), and was placed on the AAA restricted list.
40-MAN ADDITIONS FOR 2020
CONTRACTS PURCHASED FROM MINORS
RHP Blake Cederlind, RHP Cody Ponce, 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, 1B Will Craig, SS O’Neil Cruz
OUTRIGHT ASSIGNMENT WAIVER CLAIM
LHP Sam Howard (from Colorado Rockies)
FREE AGENT SIGNINGS
C Luke Maile, non-tendered by the Toronto Blue Jays. Signed a 1-year split contract calling for a $900,000 salary in the major leagues and $300,000 in the minors. Originally drafted in the 8th round of the 2012 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, he broke into the majors with that club briefly in 2015. Claimed on waivers at the beginning of April 2017, he eventually found himself stuck behind Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. Never has earned a starting job (maxed out at 58 starts in 2018), likely because he is a complete cipher at the plate. He does, however, receive excellent marks on defense, especially framing. The 29-year old will compete for the job with Jacob Stallings, who also is developing an excellent defensive reputation and has hit better over the course of his career. Maile is arbitration eligible, and Stallings, who is actually one year older at 30, should be eligible for arbitration as a Super Two, assuming he sticks on the roster all year.
OF Guillermo Heredia, non-tendered by the Tampa Bay Rays. Signed a 1-year, $1 million deal. The Seattle Mariners signed Heredia, who had defected from Cuba, to a major league contract as a 25-year old undrafted free agent in March of 2016. At the time of 2016 spring training, he had been out of baseball for almost two years, but ended up making his major league debut in late July. He started over 100 games in the outfield in 2017, splitting time almost equally between CF and LF. Heredia had shoulder surgery after that season, and since then, his playing time has diminished. He is excellent on defense at all 3 outfield positions, and doesn’t strike out much, but hasn’t been able to hit, as his .240/.317/.342 career slash line in 1101 career PA indicates. On most clubs, he’s probably a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement, but the Pirates are looking to have him start in right field, where he has the least amount of experience. He’s arbitration eligible and has 2 minor league options remaining.
SS JT Riddle, non-tendered by the Miami Marlins. Signed a 1-year, $850,000 deal. The Marlins drafted Riddle in the 13th round of the 2013 draft, and purchased his contract before the 2017 season. He was called up in April, and ended up starting 65 games at shortstop—due to injuries to Adeiny Hechavarria—before being shut down in July to have surgery to repair a torn labrum. He split time at short in 2018, and was actually the club’s primary center fielder for about a month before again losing the rest of the season to an injury, this time a forearm strain. Another player who hasn’t shown he can hit major league pitching, he owns a career .229/.269/.368 line in 718 PA that was drug down by an abysmal .189/.230/.371 with 42 SO to only 5 BB in 139 PA last year. A major factor in his non-tender was likely the fact that at 2 years and 118 days of major league service he just barely qualified (by 3 days) for Super Two status, combined with the fact that he is now out of minor league options. With offense-minded Kevin Newman set to start at short, the 28-year old Riddle is projected to be bench help, although when healthy, Riddle is the better defender by far. With the DH in play, the Pirates may be able to get his glove into the starting lineup more than they otherwise would.
OF Jarrod Dyson, Article XX-B free agent. Signed a 1-year, $2 million deal. Drafted in the 50th round (!) of the 2006 draft by the Kansas City Royals, Dyson was a September call-up in 2010, and played for the Royals until he was traded to the Seattle Mariners before spring training in 2017. For the longest time, Dyson has been one of the fastest and best base runners in the game with plus defense, but he couldn’t hold down a regular job because he just couldn’t hit major league pitching. The Mariners decided to start him a record 99 times in 2017, and he recovered a bit towards the second half after a disastrous first two months. Signed to a 2-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, his 2018 season ended in early July with a groin strain that required surgery. Last season as a 34-year old, he had the most plate appearances of his career, started 90 or more games in the outfield for just the second time in his career, and posted the best BRR (Baseball Prospectus Base Running Runs metric, which is incorporated into its WARP) number of his career, which was good for 5th in the majors. Dyson, who will turn 36 in mid-August, has not lost enough of anything in the speed department, but his defense has been on the decline for a couple of years. The Pirates are looking for him to at least fill part of the hole in center vacated by Starling Marte.
FIRST SPRING TRAINING
The Pirates opened the first spring training in February with a roster of 62 players, which included a full 40-man roster and 22 non-roster invitees. In addition, the club had put RHP Jameson Taillon on the 60-day IL due to his recovery from August 2019 Tommy John surgery.
3/2/20: RHP Tom Koehler retired.
3/9/20: Optioned RHP Cody Ponce, 1B Will Craig, RHP JT Brubaker and RHP Blake Cederlind to AAA Indianapolis. Optioned SS O’Neil Cruz to AA Altoona. Assigned C Jason Delay, RHP Montana DuRupau, RHP Luis Escobar, RHP James Marvel, C Arden Pabst and LHP Blake Weiman to minor league camp. 50 left in camp (35 40-man roster players + 15 NRIs). Note that the team announced before this that RHP Clay Holmes (fractured right fibula) and LHP Steven Brault (left shoulder strain) had been shut down due to injuries, but I still include them in camp total because they are 40-man roster players that have not been optioned or put on an injured list.
3/20/20: Optioned RHP Geoff Hartlieb, 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, LHP Sam Howard, OF Jason Martin, RHP Yacksel Rios, RHP Edgar Santana and SS Cole Tucker to AAA Indianapolis. 43 left in the now non-existent camp (28 40-man roster players + 15 NRIs.)
6/9/20: Indianapolis Indians released IF Jake Elmore, RHP Luis Escobar and OF Charlie Tilson. 40 left in the now non-existent camp (28 40-man roster players + 13 NRIs.
By this point, spring training had been cancelled, and the roster for a non-existent camp was at 40, which consisted of 28 40-man roster players and 13 NRIs. The 13 NRIs left over were LHP Miguel Del Rozo, RHP Hector Noesi, OF Socrates Brito, IF Phillip Evans, C John Ryan Murphy, C Christian Kelley, OF Jared Oliva, RHP Nick Mears, LHP Nik Turley, LHP Robbie Erlin, C Andrew Susac, LHP Derek Holland and LHP Williams Jerez.
PIRATES ANNOUNCE 59-MAN CLUB PLAYER POOL
The Pirates not only announced separate rosters for Summer Camp and their Alternate Training Site (which they misnamed as the Taxi Squad), they filled their Club Player Pool (which they called the Spring Training 2.0 Roster) to the brim of 59 players, leaving just one spot open. But in conjunction with announcing the the list, they also announced a couple of transactions.
6/28/20: Outrighted RHP Yacksel Rios to AAA Indianapolis. Placed RHP Edgar Santana on the Restricted List. Placed RHP Chris Archer (recovering from neck surgery) and OF Kevin Kramer (recovering from right hip surgery). The same day, transferred OF Kevin Kramer from the 10-day IL to the 45-day IL.
Edgar Santana was placed on the restricted list because he got popped with an 80-game suspension for testing positive for Boldenone, a performance-enhancing drug. While he is on the restricted list, he is not part of the 40-man roster or the 60-man CPP, he does not earn MLB service time, and does not get paid. This is a serious blow to both Santana and the Pirates. A key cog in the Pirates’ bullpen in 2017 and 2018, he missed the entire 2019 season after recovering from Tommy John surgery, and is now done for this year as well. An unresolved issue is whether, since the suspension is expressed in number of games, Santana will be required to miss 20 games next season.
I don’t understand the outright of Yacksel Rios, especially in conjunction with the other moves. He was still made part of the CPP at the Alternate Training Site, and he could have been assigned to either the summer camp roster or the ATS. The move just cleared more space on the 40-man roster, which they must figure they need. Do they really think 4 NRIs are going to make the big club out of camp?
The Injured List moves of Archer and Kramer are curious as well. Archer and Kramer are going to be out for the season. The 10-day injured list does not typically apply during spring training because the traditional rule is that injured list stays can be made retroactive to only 3 days at most. This is why you either see clubs wait until 3 days before opening day to make a normal IL move or wait until opening day and then make it retroactive to 3 days earlier. The 2020 MLB Operations Manual allowed clubs to make 60-day IL moves at any time, even if the 40-man roster was not full, so if the club knew Archer and Kramer would be out for the year, there was no reason not to put them on the 60-day IL to start with, especially if they needed 40-man roster space or 60-man CPP pool space. I am just reporting here what the transaction pages on MLB.com say. There was no announcement on Twitter for these moves, as is the club’s custom. Either there was a mistake on the transaction pages, or the club decided to correct its own error. This is why the next move makes even less sense.
6/29/20: Placed Chris Archer on the 45-day IL, retroactive to 6/28.
Huh? Supposedly this transaction was announced the day after the club released its 59-man CPP. If Archer was actually placed on the 10-day IL on 6/28, why didn’t they say he was transferred from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL? Neither Archer nor Kramer were made a part of the CPP on 6/28 anyway, so why the need to make this move retroactive? Were they ever really placed on the 10-day IL to begin with? Why not just put them both on the 60-day IL on 6/28 when everyone knows they’re out for the year? Were there just clerical mistakes here? Do the people over there know the transaction rules?
The club’s Alternate Training Site is located in Altoona, Pennsylvania, the home of the Pirates’ AA affiliate, the Altoona Curve. Altoona is roughly 2 hours east of Pennsylvania along U.S. Highway 22.
The players listed in italics below are non-40-man roster players. The pitcher’s handedness is listed in parentheses. Also in the parentheses is the number of minor league options remaining, if the player is on the 40-man roster. If there is no number in parentheses for a 40-man roster player, that indicates he is out of options. If “N/A” is in parentheses, that means that he technically has minor league options remaining, but because he has 5 years of more of MLB service time, he may not be assigned to the minor leagues without his consent.
SUMMER CAMP ROSTER (40)
Steven Brault (L, 1), JT Brubaker (R, 2), Nick Burdi (R, N/A Rule 5), Blake Cederlind (R, 3), Kyle Crick (R, 1), Miguel Del Pozo (L), Robbie Erlin (L), Michael Feliz (R), Geoff Hartlieb (R, 2), Derek Holland (L), Clay Holmes (R), Keone Kela (R, N/A), Mitch Keller (R, 2), Chad Kuhl (R, 2), Joe Musgrove (R, 2), Dovydas Neverauskas (R), Hector Noesi (R), Richard Rodriguez (R, 3), Chris Stratton (R), Jameson Taillon (R, 1, 60-day IL), Nik Turley (L), Trevor Williams (R, 3)
Luke Maile (1), John Ryan Murphy, Jacob Stallings (1)
Josh Bell (2), Phillip Evans, Adam Frazier (2), Erik Gonzalez, Ke’Bryan Hayes (3), Colin Moran (1), Kevin Newman (3), Jose Osuna (1), JT Riddle, Cole Tucker (2)
Socrates Brito, Jarrod Dyson, Guillermo Heredia (2), Gregory Polanco (N/A), Bryan Reynolds (3)
ALTERNATE TRAINING SITE (19)
Cody Bolton (R), Sam Howard (L, 2), Max Kranick (R), James Marvel (R), Nick Mears (R), Braeden Ogle (L), Cody Ponce (R, 3), Yacksel Rios (R), Aaron Shortridge (R)
Christian Kelley, Andrew Susac
Ji-Hwan Bae, Rodolfo Castro, Will Craig (3), O’Neil Cruz (3), Mason Martin
Jason Martin (2), Jared Oliva, Travis Swaggerty
ROSTER ANALYSIS AND NOTES
*The first thing to note is that the after the outright of Yacksel Rios, the suspension of Edgar Santana and the placement of both Chris Archer and Kevin Kramer on the 45-day IL, the Pirates’ 40-man roster is now at 36 players.
*None of the club’s 40-man roster players have been excluded from the CPP. The Pirates have split the group with 31 40-man roster players and one player on the 45-day IL on the summer camp roster and 5 40-man roster players assigned to the ATS. The 5 40-man roster players assigned to the ATS (Howard, Ponce, Craig, Cruz and J. Martin) had all been optioned to AAA before the March transaction freeze, and I am treating them as still on option. Brubaker, Cederlind, Hayes, Hartlieb and Tucker had been optioned before the freeze, but are now on the summer camp roster, so I am treating them as being recalled.
*If you look at the chart the club released, you might think it took a protractor just to figure out exactly who’s on the CPP. They list the players in 3 different columns, one by position, another by jersey number and another by alphabetical order. In the first column, there’s a listing for “injured,” and Jameson Taillon is listed with Chris Archer and Kevin Kramer. So you might think none are on the CPP. But then, if you examine the other columns, you notice that Taillon is listed, but both Archer and Kramer are excluded, and then only do you figure out that Taillon is on the CPP and the others are not. Taillon, like Jordan Hicks of the Cardinals, is listed on the CPP despite being on the 45-day IL, a designation which does not take up a spot on either the 40-man roster or the CPP and which allows players to engage in club workouts. But he’s listed on it anyway. The chart also fails to distinguish between non-roster players and 40-man players on the ATS roster, so one has to look that information up or know it already.
*40-man roster pitcher Nick Burdi presents a very tricky, unusual and as yet unresolved situation. The Minnesota Twins selected Burdi, a college closer with a triple-digit fastball and wipeout slider in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft. He stalled in AA for 3 years due to command issues and had Tommy John surgery that would wipe out most of 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies drafted Burdi in the major league portion of the December 2017 Rule 5 draft and traded him to the Pirates. The rule for Rule 5 draftees is that they must spend one year on the active roster, and they can’t be sent to the minor leagues without first clearing the player through outright assignment waivers and then offering the player back to his original club for half the draft price. There is an exception for disabled list stays. You can place a drafted player on the injured list, but if he does not spend at least 90 days on the actual active roster, then his Rule 5 restrictions as a “selected player continue season after season until he has spent a total of 90 days.
*So here is what happened with Burdi. When the Pirates got him, they put him on the 60-day IL at the earliest possible opportunity and didn’t activate him until September 1, 2018. He was only on the active roster for 30 total days in 2018. Burdi’s Rule 5 restrictions carried forward to 2019, and he was placed on the Pirates’ opening day roster. Then on April 22, 2019, in a game against the Diamondbacks, Burdi threw a pitch to Jarrod Dyson in the top of the 8th inning, grabbed his right bicep and went writhing on his knees in pain. At first, it was diagnosed as a strained tendon and a nerve injury. He avoided a second Tommy John surgery, but his rehab didn’t take and he ended up having surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, being shut down for the year after only 26 days on the active roster. According to the Rules, the same Rule 5 restrictions that applied to Burdi in both 2018 and 2019 apply to him this season until he spends another 34 days on the active roster. For this season only, the normal 90 day proviso has been reduced to 50 days, but this is a carryover situation. The question is whether in a shortened season, the 34 days remaining will be pro-rated in some way. If not, Burdi will have to spend the first 34 days of the 2020 season on the active roster before he can be sent to the minors, and this is true even though he was taken in the Rule 5 draft almost 3 years ago.
*Of the 13 NRIs left over when the first spring training was cancelled, only LHP Williams Jerez and C Andrew Dusac were not invited back to either roster and were left off of the CPP. Most of the original NRIs to the first camp were invited back, even those who were cut from camp the first time before it closed. RHP Tom Koehler retired, and the AAA club released IF Jake Elmore, OF Charlie Tilson and RHP Luis Escobar. The only other NRIs not invited back to either camp this time were LHP Blake Weiman, C Jason Delay, C Arden Pabst and RHP Montana DuRapau.
*To fill the gap in the CPP, the club invited 8 new players that were not invited to the first spring training and assigned them all to the ATS: IF Ji-Hwan Bae (A), LHP Braeden Ogle (A/A+), OF Travis Swaggerty (A+), RHP Cody Bolton (A+/AA), RHP Max Kranick (A+), RHP Aaron Shortridge (A+), 1B Mason Martin (A/A+) and Rodolfo Castro (A/A+).
The Pirates organization is one in transition. Last season the club finished last in the division amidst a second half meltdown. There were brawls with other clubs and fights amongst players and coaches in the clubhouse. Manager Clint Hurdle was fired a couple of hours before the final game of the season, with the timing making no sense. Then the Club President was replaced, and then the replacement fired General Manager Neil Huntington, who was supposed to be looking for a new manager. The pitching coach and bench coach were also let go.
To add insult to injury, the club probably lost closer Felipe Vazquez forever, as he was arrested on felony sex offense charges, and is currently being held without bail pending trial in two different states, with another misdemeanor charge awaiting him in St. Louis. According to published reports, he confessed to at least some of the charges, most of which involve sex with a minor and exchanging nude pictures. Promising starter Jameson Taillon is on rehab for having his 2nd Tommy John surgery, and it is unknown if he will be ready to come back before the season ends. Promising bullpen contributor Edgar Santana just got hit with an 80-game PED suspension. They’ve also lost their number #1 starter Chris Archer for the year to throracic outlet surgery, and he will almost certainly conclude his disappointing tenure in Pittsburgh on the injured list.
Now maybe at the end of this the front office will get credit for getting creative and saving money, but of the 4 outside acquisitions this offseason, 3 were non-tendered from other clubs, and the 4th is a defense only player who will turn 36 before the season is over. Their starting pitching this year could be brutal, and you would be forgiven for thinking that the front office is just doing what is necessary to tread water until their prospects in the lower minors advance.