Sunday Pirates Notebook: Waivers, Liz, Call-ups, Burnett

Neal Huntington met with the media today to discuss many different topics concerning the major league club.

Liz Could Be Ready for Return to Pittsburgh:

Radhames Liz was DFA’d by the Pirates on May 25th to make room for Charlie Morton on the 25-man roster following his rehab stint at the beginning of the year. Liz accepted his assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis and has since made 15 appearances for the Indians. After coming out of the bullpen three times, the Pirates chose to stretch Liz out as a starter for Indy. Recently, though, Liz has made two consecutive appearances from out of the bullpen, throwing four scoreless innings.

Neal Huntington commented on Liz, saying that they stretched him out as a starter with the thought that he could contribute at the major league level. The addition of J.A. Happ and the expectation of A.J. Burnett returning, as well as Vance Worley still being available, has ruled out that happening.

“When we put him back into the rotation, the thought was he could be a depth starter for us if we had a need,” Huntington said. “We ended up not having a need. We went and got J.A. Happ, and he’s done a nice job for us. Our expectation is that A.J. [Burnett] is on the right track to come back. Vance [Worley] cleared waivers and accepted the outright assignment.”

With the need for a starter not present, the hope is that Liz can utilize his fastball, which has maxed out at 99 MPH this season, in a relief role. Armed with that fastball, a slider, two-seamer, and changeup, a September call-up for Liz to work out of the bullpen is probable.

“We’ve given him a couple of relief outings,” Huntington said. “He still throws the ball really hard, the breaking ball has gotten better, and we do think that he can come up here and pitch the middle innings for us.”

Other September Call-up Needs

There is a lot more than meets the eye for September call-ups, including respecting the players currently in the clubhouse.

“You want to be absolutely respectful of the clubhouse,” Huntington said. “As a general manager, I walk that fine line between making sure I do everything in my power to give Clint as many weapons and as many tool sets and skill sets to win a game. At the same time, there can be a point where you get too many bodies and guys aren’t quite as engaged as the 25 that have been battling through it all year long. You have to be sensitive to it.”

Otherwise, Huntington pinpointed a few different areas that he will certainly look to add players to the major league club including another catcher, middle inning relievers, and players with the ability to pinch hit. No matter who is called up, it is usually for a lesser role than they previously had at the Triple-A level.

“You’re looking for how that player is going to fit in your clubhouse and how he’s going to accept the limited role,” Huntington said. “Most of the guys we bring up are going to be in limited roles – middle-inning relievers, an emergency catcher, and a pinch-hit opportunity. Sometimes guys don’t take well to that. We’ve had some guys in the past that have come up and have not gotten opportunities. They haven’t been very happy with it. This is a good club, and we need to be sensitive to the fact that they believe in each other, and they understand where they are right now.”

On the same note, Huntington took time to praise to current infield core – Mercer, Harrison, Walker, Kang, and Ramirez – for putting their personal agendas aside for the sake of the team.

“We’ve got a group of infielders that are putting their egos aside and putting their personal ambitions aside for the betterment of the team. We need to respect that as well.”

August Waiver Trading Period Coming to a Close

People will often forget about the opportunity for waiver trades to be made in August, as the July 31st trade deadline passes. Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd, and John Buck were all acquired via waiver trade in late August, 2013, for example.

In August, the majority of players on a team’s 40-man roster are put on waivers. Many teams have no intentions of ever trading certain players; however, they are put on waivers in case another team inquires and is willing to give up something monstrous in return. Other teams will look to try to move a player after the trade deadline. When a claim is placed, the team can either work out a deal for the player or simply revoke the waiver request. If the latter happens, the general public would usually never know.

Neal Huntington commented on this year’s waiver trade market, saying that the Pirates haven’t been able to place claims on a ton of players simply because they aren’t getting to them in the waiver order. The Pirates have the second best record in the National League and third best overall.

“The challenge is – and I feel like I’ve said this for the last four years – amazingly few players are getting to us,” Huntington said. “Guys we’ve placed a claim on, maybe they were claimed before us and so it is few and far between that are getting to us.”

Huntington did say that they have placed claims on some players that got to them in the waiver process; however, no deals were able to be worked out. They have also placed claims on players as to prevent other teams (cough Cardinals cough) from acquiring someone.

“We’re as guilty of it as the next team – we’re placing a lot of claims, as well. We want to make sure that we have an opportunity to try to acquire somebody or prevent our competition to acquire somebody. Few and far between are guys that are clearing at this point in time.”

No Decision on Rotation Once Burnett Returns

Neal Huntington declined to comment on how the Pirates will set up their rotation once A.J. Burnett is deemed healthy enough to pitch again. They will have the option to move someone to the bullpen from the current rotation, or they could go to a six-man rotation.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Huntington said. “We’ve got guys that deserve to be in the rotation. We’ll have a challenging decision to make, and one that we don’t have to discuss publicly until we get to the point where we have an extra starter.”

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