Let’s catch up on the minor signings the Pirates have made since the beginning of the year. These signings are all similar in the fact that they’re low risk pickups, at one point all were productive (and some dominant), but were injured or stunk last season and now are looking to bounce back. That’s basically been the Pirates M.O. in their signings in recent years. They love their reclamation projects especially with pitchers for Ray Searage and many have worked out—Liriano, Happ, Burnett and others. Let’s break down each move:
Neftali Feliz, RHP
Feliz signed with the Pirates on Jan. 6, but it might as well have been a late Christmas present to Uncle Ray. Searage needed a toy to work with in the offseason and Feliz was it. Coming through the minors, Feliz was a big prospect for the Rangers. He debuted in 2009 out of the bullpen and dominated in a short season, posting a 1.74 ERA in 31 innings and an eye-popping 11.3 K/9. He followed it up with two similar seasons with a 2.70 ERA in 60+ innings of work in each season. His 2010 season earned him All-Star honors and he ended up recording the most saves by a closer in a rookie season with 40, which earned him the AL Rookie of the Year award. It was a dominant year for a rookie closer. In 2011, he saved 32 games for the Rangers and came within one strike of winning the World Series until he blew a save on David Freese’s two-run triple in Game 6 (damn Cardinals). The Rangers transitioned him to the rotation in 2012, but after an okay performance (3.16 ERA in 7 starts), he hit the DL with a sprained UCL, which led to undergoing Tommy John surgery and ending his season and basically most of his 2013 season as well. He returned to the bullpen in 2014 with a 1.99 ERA with 13 saves in 31 innings. Last season after putting up mediocre numbers in the pen and hitting the DL again, the Rangers DFA’d Feliz and he signed with the Tigers the next week. Like most bullpen outings in Detroit, his time there was a disaster and he finished the season with a 6.38 ERA. That’s where the Pirates come in taking a chance on the oft-injured, but dominant reliever when healthy. Feliz is still just 27 years old, owns a career 8.2 K/9 and could really flourish in the Bucs pen if Searage can get him right. The Pirates need someone to slide into that 7th inning role before Watson/Melancon after the loss of Soria to free agency. I think Feliz can be that guy if he shows he’s healthy in spring training.
Daniel Bard, RHP
Bard is more of a low risk signing as he signed a minor league contract with the Bucs. Bard is the former reliever of the Red Sox from 2010 where he was dominant that year, posting a stingy 1.93 ERA in 70+ innings of work. A 3.1 WAR from a reliever shows how great his 2010 season actually was. Just like Feliz, the Red Sox tried Bard as a starter and the results were disastrous. Bard struggled with his command, his velocity dropped and he was sent to the minors where he continued to struggle. In 2013, he was actually the player that was sent to the minors to make room for Joel Hanrahan when the Pirates traded him for Melancon and others. He was non-tendered by the Sox at the end of that season and bounced around in the minors with the Rangers and most recently the Cubs since then. I’m sure Bard was interested in Pittsburgh because he’s seen the magic Searage with guys like Caminero, Liriano, Happ, etc. There are spots open in the bullpen for Bard to earn, but I think he’ll need a great spring to make it with O’Flaherty and Feliz looking for spots as well.
Eric O’Flaherty, LHP
First, O’Flaherty is great because he’s from Walla Walla, Washington. Second, here’s his ERA totals from 2009 to 2014:
Those numbers jump off the page. Low ERAs in full seasons don’t happen by accident. The 31-year-old southpaw knows how to pitch and does so with mostly with a sinker and is just the kind of pitcher the Pirates love to have. Something went wrong in 2015 as he fell off a cliff with a poor performance (8.10 ERA, 5.4 BB/9) with the A’s and then the Mets after he was DFA’d. But he was dominant for a long period of time, and you can bet on Uncle Ray turning him around to the O’Flaherty prior to 2015. With the number of lefties lacking in the pen after Watson, I think O’Flaherty is just about a lock for the Opening Day bullpen.
Cory Luebke, LHP
Another low risk, minor league deal for the Pirates. Luebke is a former top prospect of the Padres and had success as a starter in 2011 and 2012, but his problem has been the health. He signed a four-year extension with the Padres in 2012 in what was a team friendly deal for a young possibly ace pitcher, but he would only pitch five games that year to a 2.61 ERA before tearing his UCL and undergoing Tommy John surgery. He missed all of the 2013 season recovering from the surgery and in the offseason of 2014, he had another tear in his UCL and needed second surgery to repair the elbow. Having gone through two surgeries, not pitched in the Majors since 2012 and throwing just 7 innings of minor league ball since 2012, even Searage has his work cut out for him here. Luebke is a long shot to make the Opening Day roster, but I could see him staying on and adding depth in Triple-A Indianapolis to prove that he’s healthy and see what he still has in the arm.
Matt Joyce, OF
Let’s face it…Joyce isn’t cracking the Pirates starting lineup in the OF. He knew that when he signed here and so does everyone else. Marte/McCutchen/Polanco have that OF locked down. Joyce, however, could make the team as a fourth OF and provide much-needed depth. The only other outfielders on the 40-man roster are Harold Ramirez and Willy Garcia. Both are good-looking prospects, but Ramirez isn’t ready yet and Garcia only played 71 games at Triple-A last season with a .246/.285/.424 slash line so the brass will most likely want him to get more time at Indy before sniffing the Majors. Joyce debuted in 2008 with the Tigers, hitting 12 home runs with a .252/.339/.492 slash line. In the offseason after his rookie season, he was dealt to the Rays for Edwin Jackson (lol) and enjoyed a couple decent years as a starter. His best was his All-Star season in 2011 when he slashed .277/.347/.478 with a career high 19 HRs. After being dealt to the Angels last season, he struggled and hit free agency this offseason before the Pirates signed him on a minor-league deal. Bottom line is Joyce has some pop from the right side of the plate and could prove to be a nice option for Hurdle as a fourth OF and pinch hitter.
Those are your moves since the beginning of 2016. Out of the five pickups, I believe Feliz, O’Flaherty and Joyce will make the Opening Day roster barring any injuries, of course. Let me know what you think and comment below or get at me on Twitter.