Clint Hurdle opening up communication in Pirates clubhouse

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It’s been a tough couple of decades for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans. The last two years haven’t made things any easier, as the Buccos turned first-half division leads into fourth-place finishes thanks to two of the most depressing collapses this side of the 2007 Mets. As the losses mounted, some felt Hurdle was losing his clubhouse, but he didn’t see it that way.

“I don’t believe so, but you’d have to talk to the players,” Hurdle told Dejan Kovacevic.

To assuage any potential clubhouse mutinies, Hurdle is establishing a “leadership group” — a small group of two or so players that meet with Hurdle in his office twice a month. Veteran A.J. Burnett is expected to be one member.  More on the meetings, from Kovacevic:

“Say whatever you want,” Hurdle said. “You’ve got something? I want to hear it.”

Even if it’s openly critical, such as, oh, pulling Wandy Rodriguez after 62⁄3 innings of seriously sharp pitching and costing the club a game in Cincinnati?

“Anything at all,” Hurdle said. “We might be in there five minutes, 15 minutes, all afternoon. Doesn’t matter. I want to hear it.”

Though the tactic is unique, it isn’t surprising coming from Hurdle, known as one of the most player-friendly managers across baseball. Its efficacy will be decided during the season, when the Pirates are faced with the usual adversity of a 162-game season.

Phillies, Red Sox interested in Carlos Santana

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The Phillies and Red Sox appear intent on pursuing free agent first baseman Carlos Santana, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports. Santana rejected a one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Indians on Thursday and is expected to draw widespread interest on the market this winter. The Mets, Mariners, Angels and Indians could make a play for the infielder, though no serious offers have been made this early in the offseason.

Santana, 31, is coming off of a seven-year track with the Indians. He batted .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs and 3.0 fWAR last season, making 2017 the fourth-most valuable year of his career to date. Although he was primarily stationed at first base over the last year, he could step back into a hybrid first base/DH role with the Red Sox, who are hurting for infield depth with Hanley Ramirez still working his way back from shoulder surgery.

As for Santana’s other suitors, the Mariners are far less likely to pursue a deal after trading for Ryon Healy last Wednesday. Neither the Mets nor the Phillies have a DH spot to offer the veteran infielder, and the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins appears to be blocking the way at first base. Then again, Santana may not find a more enticing offer outside of Cleveland, where Edwin Encarnacion might otherwise be the club’s best option at first base. During the GM meetings, Indians’ GM Mike Chernoff said he “love to have both [Santana and Jay Bruce] back” in 2018, but hasn’t backed up that love with any contract talks just yet.