Pirates agree to terms with Donnelly

The Pirates have agreed to terms with another reliever. This time it is Brendan Donnelly. Donnelly has been a very productive reliever over the past several years. He struggled in 2008 as he returned from Tommy John surgery, but rebounded nicely last year, posting a 1.78 ERA and a 2.82 FIP in 30 appearances with the Marlins. He also spent part of the year pitching with Houston’s Triple-A team and was equally effective. For his career, he has struck out just under a batter an inning with a manageable walk rate. His ground ball rate is below average, but he keeps the ball in the ballpark by inducing a large amount of infield pop-ups.

Not long ago, the Pirates were looking at a bullpen of Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan and…Steven Jackson? In a very short amount of time, Neal Huntington has added several quality options.


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Pirates come to terms with Carrasco on minor league deal

Dejan reports that the Pirates have reached an agreement with reliever D.J. Carrasco on a minor league contract. Carrasco has been solid the past two years, so he should have a good chance to make the team out of spring training. The 40-man roster is currently full.

This is a solid signing.  According to Dejan, the Pirates are also close to signing Octavio Dotel and another major league reliever. If all of that happens, the bullpen would suddenly look fairly strong.


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Pirates agree to terms with Ryan Church

It was reported this morning that the Pirates are talking to free agent Ryan Church, with one report stating that a deal is close. I wrote last week that the Pirates should explore internal options over signing a free agent. For some reason, I never considered Church while writing that post. Church has a very good corner outfield glove and a league average bat. He is essentially an average player when he is healthy.

Church would be an upgrade over anyone the Pirates have to play right field at this point. If signed, he should push Garrett Jones to first base and Jeff Clement to the bench, a role he is best suited for. That would provide a marginal improvement to the Pirates lineup. Church is a much more interesting option to me than Rick Ankiel or Xavier Nady.

UPDATE (7:45 PM):
Dejan reports that the Pirates have agreed to terms with Church. His signing will depend on the results of a physical later in the week. Due to his past injury issues, that physical will be significant.


Pirates add three minor leaguers

Per Dejan:

The Pirates have agreed to terms on minor league contracts with pitchers Brian Burres, Neal Cotts and Tyler Yates. All will be invited to spring training.

Yates is a familiar face. He has been mostly mediocre in his career, but he was extra terrible last season before going down with Tommy John surgery. This is his second experience with the surgery, which does not give much reason for optimism. He would represent solid Triple-A bullpen depth, but the Pirates really like him for some reason, so I am sure he will find his way back to Pittsburgh.

Cotts is essentially a carbon copy of Yates, performance-wise. Decent strikeout rates with a lot of walks, Cotts also succumbed to Tommy John last season. Both Yates and Cotts will be out until at least mid-season.

Burres has bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues for the past several years. He has posted some decent minor league numbers, but has struggled at the major league level. His stuff is mediocre at best. He is a decent addition, strictly as Triple-A depth.

As is the case with most non-roster invites, none of these guys really belong in the major leagues.

Dejan also adds this note in the same post:

UPDATE 2:49 p.m.: The Pirates’ total number of non-roster invitees is up to 16, as the team added several names without a formal announcement.

In addition to the three above, the list has pitchers Jimmy Barthmaier, Vinnie Chulk, Craig Hansen, Jeff Karstens, Wil Ledezma, Jean Machi, Jeremy Powell, Jack Taschner, Justin Thomas and Virgil Vasquez; catchers Tony Sanchez and Erik Kratz; and outfielder Jonathan Van Every.

I was pleased to see Barthmaier’s name included. He was a decent prospect before undergoing elbow surgery and being subsequently released last season. As a 24 year old in 2008, he posted FIPs of 3.74 in 10 Double-A starts and 3.40 in 16 Triple-A starts. He turns 26 on Wednesday and is coming off a major arm injury, but he is definitely worth a flyer.

Van Every is also an intriguing option. He has posted some decent minor league numbers, albeit with a very high strikeout rate, and he can also play a competent center field. He is clearly Triple-A depth at his age, but he could probably hold his own in Pittsburgh in an emergency.


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Pirates sign Javier Lopez

The Pirates signed left-handed reliever Javier Lopez today. Lopez posted some very good ERA’s with Boston in 2006-2008 before imploding in a short stint with the Red Sox last season. He did pitch well upon a demotion to Triple-A in May.

Lopez has produced some pretty poor strikeout/walk rates over the years. He has struck out 5.61 and walked 4.17 per nine innings in his career. Those are some uninspiring numbers. Lopez creates value by keeping the ball on the ground and in the park. In his career, he boasts a HR/9 of 0.59 and a 54.8% ground ball percentage. He also has had a large platoon split over the years, indicating that the Pirates will likely use him mostly in a LOOGY role.

The deal is a one-year major league contract worth $775,000. If Lopez can rebound from his brief 2009 struggles, he should be an effective, cheap middle reliever. This is a good low risk signing by the Pirates, as they fill a huge left-handed void in the bullpen.

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Pirates non-tender Capps

In a surprising move, the Pirates non-tendered Matt Capps last night, allowing him to become a free agent. Neal Huntington explained his reasoning, stating that he felt the money saved could be used to replace Capps. I’m not sure that’s accurate, but one quote from Huntington stuck out to me:

If you’re talking about the Matt Capps of ’07 or ’08, that would be very, very difficult to replace. He’s probably not somebody we non-tender. The second half of ’08 and into ’09 … it’s not that hard to replace a reliever with a 5.00 or 6.00 ERA. We’ll miss Matt, and we wish him well. The only reason we had interest in him is that we felt he’s due to have a bounce-back year.

Let’s compare the “old” Capps and the 2009 version, and see if we can expect him to bounce back in 2010.

2006 3.79 4.25 3.97 4.77
2007 2.28 3.16 4.31 3.24
2008 3.02 3.28 3.95 4.07
2009 5.80 4.90 4.37 5.19

In each season from 2006 to 2008, Capps’ ERA was some degree lower than each of his fielding-independent statistics. This indicates that he was not pitching quite as well as his ERA would lead us to believe. This past season, Capps saw a decline in each number. However, the ERA increase of nearly three runs was disproportionate with the other numbers, indicating some bad luck.

2006 6.25 1.34 1.34 0.287 12.20%
2007 7.29 1.82 0.57 0.271 4.40%
2008 6.54 0.84 0.84 0.272 6.80%
2009 7.62 2.82 1.66 0.370 13.50%

Last year, Capps had a career high strikeout rate. Unfortunately, his walk and home run rates were also career highs. The spike in home runs can be explained by a large increase in his home run per fly ball rate. Most pitchers see a HR/FB ratio between 10% and 12%, so I wouldn’t count on Capps’ rate returning to the level of the previous few years. That, along with a soaring BABIP, explains the substantial increase in ERA.

Therefore, Capps was not nearly as bad as he appeared this season. However, he also was not as good as he seemed in previous years. He probably should not be a major league closer, but he can still be an above average reliever. That is what makes it surprising that Huntington non-tendered him, especially considering the lack of depth in the Pirates’ bullpen.

I advocated trading Capps before the 2008 season, while his value was high. Instead, the Pirates waited until his value was at an all-time low, and then lost him for nothing. Not a good move, in my opinion.

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Pirates add OF Raynor in Rule 5 draft

In a somewhat surprising move, the Pirates selected outfielder John Raynor in the Rule 5 draft this morning. Raynor will be 26 next season, and has produced some pretty successful offensive seasons in the Marlins’ minor league system. He mashed in 2007 and 2008, albeit with high strikeout rates. Baseball America rated him as Florida’s 11th best prospect one year ago. He came back to earth this past season, struggling at Triple-A. His walk rate, which hovered above 12% for two seasons, dropped under 9%. He also saw a significant drop in his BABIP, which had been very high in his first two full seasons. Those two factors, along with decreased power, led to a disappointing .255/.326/.357 line in 2009. With other outfield options in the system, the Marlins chose not to add him to their 40-man roster.

Raynor has elite speed, a true 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He uses it to his advantage on the basepaths, stealing bases at an 83% clip in his minor league career. His speed allows him to cover a great deal of ground in the outfield, but erratic routes and a weak arm have limited him to left field for the most part. He should be able to play a capable centerfield, but may need to improve his breaks to become an above average defender in center. His speed allows him to hit for a solid average despite the contact issues, which gives me reason to believe that his BABIP will rebound from its lower 2009 level. Raynor’s isolated power dropped significantly last season, potentially the result of a pitch that broke his left hand during the 2008 fall season.

Raynor will have to beat out a few players in spring training to make the roster, as the bench is becoming very crowded. Three of the five spots are already taken by Bobby Crosby, Ramon Vazquez and Jason Jaramillo. That leaves two available spots for Raynor, Brandon Moss, Delwyn Young and Steve Pearce/Jeff Clement. A Pearce/Clement or Pearce/Garrett Jones platoon would be nice, and both Young and Moss are decent options off the bench. But there isn’t room for everyone, and I would assume Raynor has a leg up on the rest due to his ability to play centerfield. I wish we could just get rid of Crosby or Vazquez.

I like the selection of Raynor. He can take a walk, has solid gap power, and can run like the wind. He should be a solid bench option this year, and has the potential to become a starting outfielder down the road. There is nothing wrong with adding a player like that for $50,000.

The Pirates also selected shortstop Rodolfo Cardona in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. He appears to be an organizational player, which is usually what this segment of the draft is used for.

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