The Pirates could send James McDonald to the bullpen

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After James McDonald was knocked around for seven runs over 4 2/3 innings against the Padres last Friday, I speculated that the Pirates could move him to the bullpen while giving Kevin Correia another extended look in the starting rotation. It appears that is exactly what is being considered right now.

According to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said that the club will “more than likely” return to a five-man rotation next week after they return from a six-game road trip to St. Louis and San Diego. Correia was demoted to the bullpen following the acquisition of Wandy Rodriguez last month, but the Pirates recently instituted a six-man rotation while playing 20 games in the span of 20 days.

Hurdle said “there is conversation going on” about who will go to the bullpen, but with Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, Jeff Karstens and Erik Bedard pretty solid locks to remain in the rotation, the fifth spot is expected to come down to either Correia or McDonald.

McDonald posted a fantastic 2.37 ERA and 100/31 K/BB ratio over 17 starts during the first half, but his hold on a rotation spot is suddenly tenuous thanks to an ugly 8.71 ERA and 26/21 K/BB ratio over 31 innings in six starts since the All-Star break. With the Pirates in the thick of the playoff race, they can’t afford to wait much longer for him to turn it around. He’ll have one more chance to make a favorable impression this Friday against the Cardinals.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.