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.”

Nicasio Fallout

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.

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  1. The Nicasio situation certainly has a lot of twists.

    It looks like the Cards decided he wasn’t worth the claiming the first time and the decided he was worth it after the deadline.

    – Maybe their need wasn’t as great a few weeks ago
    – Maybe they thought NH would ask for more than their 19th best prospect

    I’m leaning towards the first since it certainly seems like they would pay more for a guy they could use in the playoffs vs. just in September.

  2. I still don’t understand how it could be the Cubs blocking. They’ve been in first place since late July. As I understand it, the order is based on standings on the day of the waiver claim, so wouldn’t the Cards get to Nicasio before Cubs could?

    • Yes they would. It could be the Cubs actually wanted Nicasio and rightfully concluded the Pirates would break and give him up for nothing

  3. I agree 100% with your last paragraph.

    As for the Cubs, teams have often claimed guys to block them from being claimed by a competitor but this is the first time I’ve heard of a team claiming a guy simply so one of their competitors couldn’t work out a trade for future help (assuming the Cubs weren’t blocking him from the Nats, Dbacks, or Dodgers and really just didn’t want the Pirates to benefit in any way). That seems just a little unsavory to me, but then most things about the Cubs seem unsavory.

    But there’s also a lesson for Huntington–move guys on expiring contracts (and therefore cheap) by July 31 or expect to lose them for nothing.

    • I am curious if there is any animosity between the Cubs and the Pirates. Joe Maddox seemed to hate them for the day he took over. I wondered if he was jealous that the Pirates were beginning to succeed at the “Rays” model right when the Rays were failing at it.
      But the take out slides, Maddox’s snide remarks about us, the Kang event, and this all seem to be oddly coincidental.

      • There does seem to be animosity. It was clear that Maddon had instructed the Cubs to go after Kang because Schwarber had tried the same slide on the play before Coghlan’s slide. And then, of course, Maddon joked about the injury. I’ll always think we would have had a good chance to win that WC game had we had Kang–iirc, there was a situation when Arrieta appeared to be on the ropes and Kang’s spot in the order was up.

        Also, last year, Maddon said at the All Star break that the Pirates were the team the Cubs had to worry about. So even if there isn’t animosity, they seem to think of the Pirates as their biggest threat to winning the Central. (That may have changed given how we played down the stretch last year and the problems we’ve had this year. )

  4. Sounds like Meadows won’t play this season anymore, including winter ball. That’s a bit disappointing. I wish he plays full season next year…

  5. Assuming Kang doesn’t come back. I cant see them keeping both Freese and Harrison next year, trading one of them opens a lineup spot for Frazier plus they could use the money saved on Freese/Harrison to improve in other areas. Personally I’d keep Harrison even those he is the more expensive and move Harrison to third and play Frazier at second. That still leaves a bench with Sean Rod and Moroff.

    • Freese seems like a logical trade candidate to go to some team that swings and misses on Moustakas in free agency. Doubt the return would be much but clearing the roster spot as you mention seems like a decent idea.

      • Frazier needs to add pop if he’s looking for regular playing time. Pretty much only positions you can accept a sub .750 OPS are SS and CF. And Frazier plays neither. In fact, he doesn’t have a position he plays well enough to offset his power deficiencies.

        He’s basically a current day version of Dave Magadan.

    • I think this team is going to go into a full blown rebuild. The contract lengths of both the GM and the manager lead me to believe this. I really think we may be back in the 60 million or 70 million range for next year once we unload Cutch, Harrison, Cole, Freeze and maybe Marte.

  6. Nats just called up V. Robles. He was in A ball when the Pirates were trying to trade for him. I doubt he would be beyond AA with them if we did get him. I’ll curiously be keeping an eye on him.

    • He got called up to the majors from AA so he never spent a day in AAA with the Nats either. And if I remember correctly the rumors were that the Pirates’ insistence on him being the centerpiece of a Cutch deal was what effectively ended negotiotations and cause the Nats to shift to trading for Adam Eaton. I’m interested in him too but not because there was ever a chance he’d be a Pirate but because everyone who has seen him play thinks he’s going to be very good for a very long time.

    • I thought all players needed at least 350-300ABs at AAA or at least two and half months before they could possibly be ready for the majors

      • Tim, I looked at VR’s stats real quick. He has 37 doubles and 10HRs between A+ and AA. He is only 20 years old. Tells me that perhaps as he gets older and if he fills out the right way he could add more HR power. Right? He will probably be in AAA next year.

  7. On Kang, nothing Huntingdon said was informative in any way. There’s simply no information there at all. Why does he have to talk like that? What’s the secret?? We’re left to assume it’s about getting him competitive playing time. I presume it will have zero impact on his prospect of getting a Visa in the spring. Does his contract simply lapse so that if he gets a Visa in future, he has to serve out the remainder of his contract? How about Osuna getting some starts at 3B since we’re experimenting with youngsters?

    • Is it a secret? I am reading between the lines and believe that a Visa hasnt been issued for him there yet. (Administrative details) Not sure that I disagree about not telling everyone your business until it is finalized. Perhaps Kang has asked for privacy in that issue. It is also an HR issue disclosing personal information like that.

  8. Wow, he literally pulled a Trump! Blame the leaker instead of taking personal responsibility for his own actions.

    Somebody please return pre-2016 Neal Huntington. I miss that guy.

    • It will be an interesting off season. I believe they need to create financial flexibility. Using Cots, I have them at 23 players with an estimated 94.6m payroll next year. With decreasing attendance, not sure I see them breaking 95m. My # includes Kang.

      • Dealing Cutch frees up $14 million. The question is, what is his value after fading and only playing well for 2 months in the last 2 years. We may not get anywhere near the haul that we hope for.

          • I thought trading Cole, keeping Cutch would be the better move for 2018. With Cole hopefully you get a young, controllable position player who can help now. Let the young SPs battle out to see who starts. And even for two months, they cant replace Cutch’s bat.

        • And only one year of control left. See Walker, Neil for return example. GM NH has butchered up trading bigger names.

    • Wouldnt that be Frazier at this point or are you considering him the starting 2B in that case? He also seems to be behind Moroff on the depth chart as well as SRod.

      • Ya. i can’t imagine they like Chris Bostick *that* much.

        unless maybe by “the next JHay” Lee means the 2013 version of JHay.

        i bet they like Moroff more than Frazier and Bostick

        • I still see that as Frazier though. If we dont get a 3b he will have to be the starting 2B as Jahy will have to play 3rd. I dont see Kang returning.

          • they will still have Freese and SeanRod though

            id rather they keep JHay too. but if they have to spend <100 million and want/need to reallocate JHay's money to… say… the bullpen, then i'd be fine with Freese,SeanRod,Moroff,Frazier (and maybe even osuna) covering 2b and 3b

            • In the long term I dont see them here. Freese is limited to 1B and 3B. I think SeanRod is the backup at SS due to his defensive ability and most likely to be the Supersub. I would love to see us get a 3B under 30, move Jayhay to 2B and be able to deal Freese.

      • or is the better option to deal him, reallocate his dollars to a really good reliever, and let Freese, SeanRod, Frazier, Moroff, and maybe Osuna absorb his role.

        not necessarily advocating that path. but i dont think keeping JayHay is necessarily as easy a decision as you make it sound. Then again, maybe you hate Frazier and Moroff a lot more than i do.

        • I think JayHay was great for them this year and one of the more entertaining players that they have. Do I think they’d actually reallocate the dollars? No but not necessarily a bad idea you have there. Hudson left a bad taste in their mouths. I suspect they won’t spend up on a reliever again. they have a long history of dumpster diving for those slots and I think they’ll continue to do that.

          • I don’t disagree, but JHay has somewhat quietly been awful in the second half. This club feels light years away from an average offense right now.

            • I agree the offense is weak but I think that’s mostly due to power. This management team has purposefully drafted guys who are OBP guys, not power guys. This offense is a reflection of that philosophy. Moroff isn’t really a power guy. He’s just a utility guy with some pop. Kang’s absence didn’t help but he wouldn’t have made the whole thing work by himself. The philosophy is a bad one.

              • Do you just ignore the presence of Bell in the 4hole showing decent power for a rookie? Or that Luplow looks to have some power?

        • I cant imagine we will find another really good RP like Hudson for a measly 6 million. If Neal still wants to use the “we want to see our young RP BS line, it might help if Hudson were to not pitch and blow every opportunity he gets. I could argue that had we had Nicasio throw one shut out inning yesterday, maybe our young relief pitchers would have had an opportunity to pitch multiple High leverage extra innings since we looked like we would never score.

        • I thought that they gave Osuna some at 3B in the minors, and have given up on the possibility that he can be a MLB 3B??

  9. It was easy to argue they would have got a decent return for Nicasio before the Cards acquired him(as many people argued at the time). Defining Nicasio as a “middle reliever” without any value at the August 1 deadline never made any sense.

    NH simply failed to commit to a direction which he so often does and this idiocy is the end result.

    • Seems to me by holding him they were committed to trying to contend. The additions of Kontos and SeanRod seem to indicate that as well.

      • If they were committed to contending they would have added a left handed bat, a reliever in late July as opposed to waiting until a week into August…

        Rodriguez is more about 2018 then 2017. NH probably hopes to move someone. He never showed any inclination to committing to 2017.

        • I always question what was available and what was the price? ($ and propsects) Srod was not a cheap acquisition with his remaining contract for a bench piece. If it was money they dont make that move. The Kontos move was more abut the future as he will be 1st year arbitration in 2018. I also think that he was a good pickup for 2017 if he hadnt gotten injured.

          • Based on a number of transactions the cost for some quality upgrades was very cheap. Look what it took Arizona to get JD Martinez as only one example.

            • Yeah, but at that point (7/18) you are going on the hook for an added $6million, no control to retain next year and benching Polonco to use him? If Polonco stays healthy, that is an expensive piece which I dont see getting us over the top anyway.

              • This is the game where any player is either not good enough to get them over the top or too expensive to acquire, right?

                Even taken at face value, this means you’re not a contender! This makes the decision easy!

                • Not a game, but, probably a fact that we were not a contender in 2017. We lost that status with the loses of Kang and Marte in April.

                  • Gotcha, and agreed. It seemed like you may have been supporting Huntington’s process, but I see now you weren’t.

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