PITTSBURGH – The Pirates have started giving some of their younger players additional playing time in September. Elias Diaz has started every non-Gerrit Cole outing so far this month. Max Moroff has received the bulk of the time at second since Josh Harrison went down. Jordan Luplow is getting regular starts in the outfield. When the team needed a backup first baseman, they turned to Jose Osuna over John Jaso.
The trials are also extending to the rotation. We saw Steven Brault make a spot start for Ivan Nova this week. That will be a one time thing for now, as Nova will return to the rotation on Sunday. Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington discussed that process on Sunday with reporters in Pittsburgh, including our own Alan Saunders.
“It’s something we’ve done a handful of times if not several times in the past seven years,” Huntington said of the spot starts. “Take a guy who’s had an extended period of struggles and give him a breather. In some cases it’s worked really well, even if the player might not acknowledge it. We have a handful of guys we’re contemplating that kind of move, part of it to give them a breather. Part of it, we’re interested to see Tyler Glasnow once Indy’s season ends and to get Steven Brault some starting opportunities.”
Huntington also noted there are other motivations for giving guys rest. In Nova’s case, it could help him get back on track after some struggles in the second half.
“The primary [motivation] was: Extended struggle, so let’s see if we can get the crispness back, get him down in the zone,” Huntington said of Nova. “Get the changeup back down in the zone and back on track to help us next year.”
We’ll see if that works out when Nova returns this weekend. The Pirates could also take this approach with other starters, and the biggest candidate seems to be Jameson Taillon. Alan Saunders talked with Taillon recently, who indicated he’d rather finish the year strong than take a breather. Huntington noted that it will all come down to workload for guys like Taillon.
“Any of our young starters, the focus is on workload,” Huntington said. “Jameson has had a very unique year. Out of respect to him, we want him to be able to battle through this. Very positive signs last night. Not sure there’s a script for the year he’s gone through. We work that balance of what’s the best thing for them and the best thing for us. Do we go to a six-man rotation, do we try to give extra days? We have discussions for September.”
Bostick in the Outfield
It seems that Diaz. Luplow, and Moroff will be getting the bulk of the available playing time for younger players. That could leave other players searching for spots at various positions. Chris Bostick was called up to replace Josh Harrison, and could benefit from his versatility with the limited playing time available.
“He’s played some second, some third and I think, all three outfield spots,” Huntington said. “He’s gaining. Some guys, they take to it. We could put Gift Ngoepe in the outfield and he’d probably be a great defensive outfielder. He’s just gifted defensively, instinctively. In Chris’ case, it’s probably been a little more of a work in progress and he’s continued to grow and develop. We like what he’s done offensively and he’s positioned himself to come in here next year and compete to make this club in a role and like other guys, have the opportunity to earn more.”
Winter Ball Notes
Jung Ho Kang is currently slated to play winter ball in the Dominican, which Huntington discussed on Sunday.
“There are still some variables we’re working through,” Huntington said. “Aguilas (Kang’s Dominican club) is interested, Kang’s interested, we’re interested. There are some administrative details that need to be cleared up and worked out. We’re working through that. Winter ball agreements are between the player and the club. In some situations we can stop. The player is interested and we’re supportive. We’re working through some of the administrative details.”
Austin Meadows is also slated to play with the same team, although this was before his recent injury shut him down for the year. That may have his winter status up in the air.
“Rather than push it and injure it more significantly, he’s most likely done,” Huntington said of the 2017 season for Meadows. “What’s best? To make up for lost time and lost at-bats, or put him in the best possible position physically coming into ’18. This has added a different dynamic to that discussion. We’ll see how he recovers. It becomes more challenging to place a player as we go into winter ball.”
Huntington commented on the Juan Nicasio situation on Sunday, breaking down what happened and responding to any regret over the situation.
“Around the trade deadline, we still believed we were in the hunt, still believed we could fight our way back into it,” Huntington said. “Even on Aug. 11, we were three games out, so we waited on the trade waiver request until the end of the month, intentionally, as we shifted to the mindset that we’ll probably look to go younger in September. One regret I have is that confidential information was leaked. Somebody was unethical. It’s not just us. It happens throughout the industry every time we see trade waivers leaked or every time we see outright waivers leaked. Somebody breached confidence and somebody acted unethically.”
The thing about the leak is that it’s pointless. It allowed everyone to know that Nicasio was on waivers, but everyone would have known that when Nicasio was claimed by the Phillies, so the leak only made the information public a few days earlier. And that wouldn’t have impacted the process, since all teams would have known Nicasio was on waivers anyway.
Since the move, reports have come out that the Cubs were the team to block the Pirates, and we’ve heard the same information. That would mean that the Cardinals — who recently traded for Nicasio — weren’t in on him when the Pirates placed him on revocable waivers. As for why they let Nicasio walk, Huntington broke that down.
“For a number of reasons we talked about,” Huntington said. “Out of respect to Juan, we were going to go younger. We were going to go with some of our guys that were still under control or under contract for next year in waiver situations. Juan’s been unbelievable for us, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. Our hope was that, instead of taking somebody’s 52nd-best prospect and place (Nicasio) with a contender that may help them win in the postseason and generate revenue for next year, our thought was that we try to place him in the American League, because trade waivers go league first. it was a calculated gamble. A club stepped in that we knew could, so we didn’t fulfill that part of it, getting Juan to an American League contender.”
Once the Pirates declined that marginal prospect (if it really was the number 52 prospect in a system, we’re talking about a guy who might have a shot at a bench or bullpen role one day, which is a dime a dozen prospect that wouldn’t really matter), then their choices were down to saving $600,000 or keeping Nicasio. I don’t think it’s an issue that they opted to let him walk. I think the bigger issue you could argue would be their approach with keeping him at the deadline, assuming they could have gotten a decent return for him at that time. I think it would be easier to argue that point after seeing a decent return for him in the Cardinals trade.