Taillon, Sands among Bucs’ first cuts

The Pirates have finally made their first roster moves of the spring, announcing that eleven players will be headed back to minor league camp.

Jameson Taillon, Jerry Sands, Clint Robinson, Vic Black, Stolmy Pimentel, Hunter Strickland, Duke Welker, Erik Cordier, Matt Hague, Darren Ford, and Anderson Hernandez are the players departing from big league spring training.


Jameson Taillon, one of the club’s top prospects, will be headed to minor league camp. He just arrived back to Bradenton after participating in the World Baseball Classic, but he won’t be getting anymore action with the big league team this spring. Taillon will most likely start in Altoona, but a promotion to Indianapolis is likely at some point in 2013.

Two pieces from the Joel Hanrahan trade, Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel, were optioned to Triple-A Indy. The other new players acquired in that deal, Mark Melancon and Ivan De Jesus, are still in camp. Melancon is expected to be part of the Bucco bullpen; De Jesus is battling for a bench job.

Another player acquired via trade this winter, Clint Robinson, was sent to Triple-A this morning. Robinson has been a classic “AAAA” player in his career, as he’s put up big numbers in the minors, but has yet to contribute in the majors.

Vic Black, Hunter Strickland, and Duke Welker are pitchers with the potential to help the Pirates down the road, but will start the year in the minors.

Matt Hague, who made the Opening Day roster in 2012 with a huge spring training, was also among today’s cuts. He’s hit .364 (8 for 22) in Grapefruit League play this year, but there simply isn’t a spot on the team for him.

Erik Cordier, Darren Ford, and Anderson Hernandez didn’t have much of a chance to make the club. They were reassigned to minor league camp as well.

Photo: Matt Burton/MiLB.com

The Pirates & Minor League Options

Click HERE to access our minor league options page.

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UPDATE: Changes have been made (ex: Bryan Morris was awarded an extra option for 2013) so please visit our options page for up-to-date information.

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January 18, 2013

Two common questions heard throughout the Major League Baseball season:

“How do minor league options work?”

“How many options does (insert player name here) have remaining?”

Since the Pirates’ 40-man roster features plenty of capable players for a limited number of roster spots (primarily corner outfield & bullpen), we expect both questions to be tossed around quite often by Bucco fans, including ourselves.

Here’s some basic information on how options work:

– A player receives three options when officially placed on the 40-man roster.

– One option counts for an entire year. The option is registered after the player stays in the minors for more than 20 days. Any less than 20 days will not count.

– The player can be sent to the minors multiple times in a season, but it will still only count as one option. This relates to the Pedro Ciriaco situation in 2011, when the Pirates optioned him to Triple-A Indianapolis on six different occasions between March and September. It seemed to be happening so often that Pirates fans hoped Ciriaco was collecting his frequent flyer miles.

– Once all three options are used, the player cannot be sent to the minors without going through waivers, where the other 29 teams can claim him.

For quick reference, we have added the options remaining for each player on the 40-man roster on our depth chart page.

By applying the rules above, here’s a look at where the Bucs stand:

Vic Black, Phil Irwin, Hunter Strickland, and Tony Sanchez were added to the 40-man back in November, so they each have three options attached to them. If they don’t make the club out of spring training and spend more than 20 days in the minors (which is expected), then one of their options will be used.

Andrew McCutchen actually still has all three of his options because he was not on the 40-man roster when he got called up in June of 2009, plus he was never sent back down. This is relatively unimportant, as Cutch won’t have to deal with those three options.

– Pitching candidates Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Chris Leroux, and Bryan Morris do not have any options remaining, so they can’t head to Indy unless they pass through waivers. Gomez and Mazzaro aren’t highly regarded, but Leroux and Morris still have some potential.

– The Bucs certainly have their hands full with first basemen and corner outfielders. Starling Marte has two options left, but is expected to be penciled in as the starting left fielder. Jerry Sands still has one remaining, and so does Gaby Sanchez, who spent 34 games in the minors for Miami. Another Pirate with one option is Clint Robinson, who was acquired from Kansas City in November. Coming off a poor year that featured a couple of trips to Indianapolis, Alex Presley could see more minor league time with the one option he holds. Neither Travis Snider nor Jose Tabata possess any options, so the Pirates are almost forced to keep them, unless a trade is worked out. Snider has more upside of the two; Tabata has just been relatively disappointing thus far in a little over two years of MLB service time.

– Backup infield candidates Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, and Chase d’Arnaud all have two options left. J-Hay seems to be the favorite to make the squad since he can adequately play second, third, or shortstop, and even a little right field. Since the Pirates have an affinity for keeping two backup infielders, Mercer and d’Arnaud may battle in spring ball.

Options are just one of the many odd wrinkles in Major League Baseball’s set of rules. It’s difficult to keep up with every twist and turn, but options are definitely important in order to build a strong 40-man roster from top to bottom. The Pirates will have plenty of decisions to make, especially with players like Gomez, Mazzaro, Leroux, and Tabata that don’t have any left. There are only 25 spots for 40+ players; it’ll certainly be interesting to watch how the Pirates handle the roster down the road and through spring training.

Filling out the Bucco Bench

The Pirates currently possess a plethora of corner outfielders and first basemen, as they have now stockpiled eight capable players at those positions. The players include Starling Marte, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley, Travis Snider, Jerry Sands, Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez, and Clint Robinson; a trade involving one of these players could very well be in the works. Since there are only three starting spots for these eight players, we can’t help but look ahead to Bucs’ bench for the 2013 season.

Charlie Wilmoth at Bucs Dugout recently updated his hypothetical 25-man roster, taking the Joel Hanrahan trade and Francisco Liriano signing (which looks like it will fall through) into account. He predicts the bench will consist of Sanchez, Sands/Snider (based on platoon), Michael McKenry, Jordy Mercer, and Josh Harrison. Marte would start in left, Sands and Snider would share time in right, and Jones would get the nod at first. This seems pretty logical at the moment; a roster move could  potentially foil the plans. As we’ve mentioned before, we could see the Pirates trading Jones, even though that wouldn’t be the best move.

The hypothetical roster leaves Tabata, Presley, and Robinson on the outside looking in. Tabata is out of options, so the Bucs could deal him or try to slide him through waivers. Presley struggled through most of 2012 and fell out of favor, but could still be a decent bench piece. Robinson, who turns 28 in February, has been a career minor leaguer to this point; he’ll probably see time down at Class AAA Indianapolis.

If the Pirates somehow retain all eight of these first basemen/outfielders, nearly all of them may get the chance to contribute in 2013. There are plenty of injuries, slumps, and other issues to go around over the course of 162 games. This also applies to Chase d’Arnaud and Tony Sanchez, who are the only other two position players on the 40-man roster that haven’t been discussed in this post yet. With that, here’s a look at these potential bench players for the upcoming season…

Gaby Sanchez came to the Bucs at the trade deadline last year after spending the start of his career in his hometown of Miami. He crushed 19 homers while hitting .273 in his first full season in 2010. Sanchez followed that up with another strong campaign in 2011, as he represented the Marlins in the All-Star Game. He struggled for Miami last year, hitting just .202 before coming to Pittsburgh. After the trade, he hit .241 with four home runs in 50 games. Gaby has decent potential to be a solid right-handed bat off the bench. He has been better against lefties in his career (.291 avg, .869 OPS vs. LHP), so splitting time at first with Garrett Jones should help him. Here’s Sanchez belting his first homer as a Bucco:

Travis Snider was also dealt to Pittsburgh at last year’s deadline. He hit .250 with one home run in 50 games for the Pirates, while dealing with hamstring issues down the stretch. Snider has upside and raw power, so plenty of people around baseball like what he has to offer. His amazing catch at Citi Field was one of the plays of the year:

Jerry Sands is the latest addition to the team, coming over from Boston in the Joel Hanrahan trade. Like Snider, Sands offers that potential upside, so he’s an intriguing bench player. While their upside comes with risk, they make a formidable platoon in right field. Sands still has a minor league option remaining, so the Bucs could stick him in Indy. However, they probably view him as the type of player that may figure things out over the course of a full season. Here’s his rookie hazing with the Dodgers in 2011:

Michael McKenry comes off a 2012 season that almost landed him the starting job. However, Russell Martin will assume that role, so McKenry will slide to the bench. He showed surprising power last year, knocking 12 bombs and 14 doubles in 88 games. The Fort has potential to be a solid backup catcher, assuming he can contribute both offensively and defensively when he gets his chances. Despite being the backup, McKenry will still be an important piece to the 2013 club. His crucial RBI double against Aroldis Chapman in June was one of our top ten most memorable Pirates moments of 2012:

Jordy Mercer appeared in 42 games for Pittsburgh last season, but had just 10 at-bats after taking a paternity leave in August. His bat needs some work at the big league level, but he’s currently the best backup shortstop option. His first and only MLB home run came against the Diamondbacks on August 8th:

Josh Harrison doesn’t have much of a bat or glove, but he’s a gritty spark plug that Clint Hurdle seems to be a fan of. He made the highlights at the end of August when he barreled Yadier Molina (but Molina held on to record the out):

Jose Tabata, who is apparently 24, hasn’t lived up to his hype and has yet to show any sort of power. He also struggled stealing bases last year, going just 8 for 20 in stolen base attempts. One plus to Tabata’s game is his strong arm; here he is gunning out Asdrubal Cabrera last June:

Alex Presley possesses a much weaker arm than Tabata, but clearly has more speed and has shown more pop (10 HR last year). His walk-off infield single on April 7th helped the Pirates notch their first victory of the 2012 season:

Clint Robinson was acquired from the Kansas City Royals a few weeks back. As mentioned earlier, he’ll probably see some time at Indianapolis in 2013. He’s been successful in the minors, but was blocked in the Royals system. Robinson has just four MLB at-bats under his belt, three of which came at PNC Park last year. Here’s former Pirate Joel Hanrahan striking him out to close out a Bucco win:

Chase d’Arnaud appeared in 48 games in 2011, compared to just eight in 2012. He hit .252 with six homers, four triples, 24 doubles, and 34 stolen bases for Indy last year. He’s not much of a hitter, but he does have some wheels. Here he is nailing a triple into the North Side Notch back in 2011:

Tony Sanchez, already labeled a “bust” by some Bucco fans, hasn’t been spectacular in the minors after being draft fourth overall in 2009. However, he’s still next in line if either Russell Martin or Michael McKenry go down with an injury this season. A quick scouting video on Sanchez:

Assuming they all remain with the club, most of these guys will get their chances in Pittsburgh in 2013 at one point or another. While not all of them can make the squad at once, there should be some openings between April and September where these role players can step up. Without much star power after Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates must rely on each and every player, from starters to bench players. These guys are going to have opportunities, but they must make the most of them. There should be a few solid battles for roster spots on the Bucco bench.

Pirates acquire three; Russell Martin on radar?

Neal Huntington and his staff shuffled the roster a bit today by acquiring three players.

First, they picked up RHP Zach Stewart from the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later. Stewart, 26, has a career 6.82 ERA in 33 games.

Next, the Bucs got 1B Clint Robinson and RHP Vin Mazzaro from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Luis Rico and Luis Santos (both minor league pitchers). Robinson, who will turn 28 in February, hit .292 with 13 HR last season for Triple-A Omaha. He’s been blocked in the Royals’ system, mostly by young first baseman Eric Hosmer. Robinson seems to be a decent pickup; his name was brought into discussion last spring when the Bucs lacked offense. The 26 year old Mazzaro had a 5.73 ERA in 44 innings last year for KC. He pitched against the Pirates on June 9th, lasting just three innings and surrendering four runs.

To clear room on the 40 man roster, they designated “The Hit Collector” Matt Hague and Yamaico Navarro for assignment.

Rob Biertempfel of the Trib brought up some good points about these pickups. He writes, “Pirates today made two trades that could figure into plans for who is tendered/non-tendered Friday… Vin Mazzaro could be either back-end starter or long reliever, just like arbitration-eligible Jeff Karstens. Clint Robinson makes it 3’s a crowd at first base with arbitration-eligible Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez.” It’ll be interesting to see how the Bucs handle this. Both Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez should betendered contracts, but you never know. If Jones and Sanchez are on the Opening Day roster, Clint Robinson would most likely be replacing Matt Hague and Jeff Clement as the first baseman at Indianapolis.

In other news, it looks like the club is aggressively pursuing catcher Russell Martin. Jon Heyman wrote that the Bucs are trying to pry him away from the Yankees. Heyman says that the Pirates may be offering around 3 years/$25 million. Many of the people who have weighed in on the situation are not too excited about this deal. Martin hit just .211 last season and his power numbers will most likely decline at PNC Park. Is he an upgrade over Rod Barajas? Yes. Is he worth the money he’s asking for? Probably not.

Biertempfel had this to say – “There’s a sense among some in industry that Pirates will overpay if necessary for a FA this year. Will it be C Russell Martin? Management must show it’s serious about avoiding another second-half breakdown. And the club desperately needs a catcher.”

Ken Rosenthal with a few thoughts:

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Go Bucs