With the Pirates on a 109-loss pace in their 18th straight losing season and team president Frank Coonelly venting his frustration by saying things like “losing stinks” during an online chat with fans, it’s no surprise that general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell are on the hot seat.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today followed up with Coonelly, asking him about the job security of Huntington and Russell, and got this response:
I have been extremely disappointed in the team’s performance. We are evaluating every aspect of our operation in order to determine how we can get the club moving in the right direction immediately.
While we have made tremendous progress executing a sound plan to overhaul a broken system and return this once-proud franchise to its tradition of winning baseball, we have only one benchmark by which we measure ourselves and that is wins and losses at the major league level. By that benchmark, we have badly underachieved.
Not exactly a vote of confidence.
I tend to think the Pirates have a brighter future than their current record suggests because they’ve broken in a pretty promising trio of young players this season in Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Neil Walker, who along with 23-year-old Andrew McCutchen gives the lineup some nice building blocks.
Pitching is another story and obviously they’re a long way from contending for anything but a .500 record, but I do think they’re on the right track. Still, at the end of the day Russell has a ghastly .379 winning percentage in three seasons on the job and Huntington has been in the charge of the Pirates’ latest rebuilding effort since September of 2007, so it’s tough to blame Coonelly for losing patience.
According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are keeping an eye on outfield prospect Luis Robert. The 19-year-old left his native Cuba last November and is expected to command interest from multiple MLB teams as he approaches free agency. Goold adds that the Cardinals sent scouts to evaluate Robert’s workouts in the Dominican Republic as recently as last week.
There’s still a good chance that the club won’t get a shot at signing him; as Craig mentioned last month, it seems likely that Major League Baseball won’t declare Robert a free agent until after June 15. By July 2, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s policies on international bonuses will go into effect, handcuffing teams with the maximum penalty for bonuses to a $300,000 signing figure for any available international prospect. It’s designed to effectively take away those teams’ abilities to sign additional international talent, and the Cardinals have already spent a reported $9.35 million in bonuses on Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, Cuban outfielders Jonatan Machado and Randy Arozarena and Cuban right-hander Johan Oviedo.
Until the cutoff in mid-June, the Cardinals are likely to continue actively scouting other international talent, including Robert. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez quotes an anonymous National League scouting director who describes Robert as the No. 2 talent behind Japanese wunderkind Shohei Otani. The 19-year-old hit .286/.319/.397 with a .716 OPS during a 16-game run in the Canadian-American League in 2016, following up an impressive three-year tenure with the Ciego de Avila in the Cuban National Series from 2013-2015.
ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported over the weekend that the Cubs and reliever Pedro Strop agreed to a contract extension. He’ll remain with the Cubs through 2018 and the new deal includes a club option for the 2019 season as well. Per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Strop will earn $5.85 million in 2018 and the club option is worth $6.25 million with a $500,000 buyout. The two sides already avoided arbitration earlier this month, agreeing on a $5.5 million salary for the 2017 season.
Strop, 31, has been a very reliable reliever for the Cubs over the last three years. He has a combined 2.65 ERA with 212 strikeouts and 69 walks over 176 1/3 innings in that span of time.
The Cubs replaced Aroldis Chapman with Wade Davis, so Strop and Hector Rondon will be bridging the gap to Davis this coming season.
Strop joined the Cubs along with Jake Arrieta in the July 2013 trade that sent Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman to the Orioles. That trade panned out well for the Cubs.