Bear with me for a minute, please.
Pedro Ciriaco impressed once again Sunday, stealing two bases immediately after entering the game as a pinch-runner and then doubling in a run as part of Boston’s 5-1 win over Minnesota. He’s hitting .415/.442/.659 with seven steals in eight attempts this spring. His one homer was a walkoff job against the Marlins on March 12.
If you haven’t heard of Ciriaco, you’re hardly alone. There wasn’t much reason to know him until a couple of weeks ago, but now he seems poised to claim a spot on Boston’s bench. Ciriaco was signed to a minor league deal by the Red Sox on January 3, three weeks after he was non-tendered by the Pirates.
This is where Yamaico Navarro comes in.
The Red Sox surrendered Navarro to land Mike Aviles from the Royals at the trade deadline last year. Aviles is now Boston’s starting shortstop. The Royals, though, quickly soured on Navarro and decided he was the most expendable player on their 40-man roster when they needed to clear a spot in December. As a result, he was traded to the Pirates for two prospects who probably won’t ever make the majors, thus making Ciriaco expendable in Pittsburgh.
Of course, Ciriaco isn’t nearly this good. In fact, he was brutal in Triple-A last year, hitting .231/.243/.300 in 277 at-bats, and he’s managed a .700 OPS just once in seven minor league seasons. He is a clear step up from Aviles with the glove, though, and he could be pretty useful as a pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily expect either Aviles or Ciriaco to be Red Sox in 2013 and beyond, but it is pretty interesting to see Boston filling two of its 2012 roster spots with a couple of pieces they only have thanks to a guy the Royals took one look at and quickly dismissed.
During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.
The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.
The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:
We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.
While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.
Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.