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.

Report: Jose Ramirez close to four-year extension with Indians

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Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reports that third baseman Jose Ramirez is finalizing a four-year extension with the Indians. The deal is said to be worth north of $30 million, and may crest $50 million if all options are exercised. While the extension won’t take effect until the 2018 season, it guarantees Ramirez a $26 million sum with two options worth $11 and $13 million and will give the Indians control of the infielder through the 2023 season.

Ramirez, 24, is entering his fifth season in the Indians’ organization. He posted career-high numbers during his first full season in the majors, slashing .312/.363/.461 with 11 home runs, 22 stolen bases and 4.8 fWAR in 2016. He’s projected to have a strong follow-up season at the plate and will likely see some time at second base as Jason Kipnis works his way back from a shoulder injury.

Although 2016 only showcased the beginning of Ramirez’s success with the club, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman says it’s a standard move for Cleveland to “sign their stars early,” and indicates that Ramirez was rumored to want the deal. Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors adds that the extension will keep Ramirez under club control through three arbitration-eligible years and one year of potential free agency.

Diamondbacks return Rule 5 pick Tyler Jones to Yankees

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Diamondbacks’ right-hander Tyler Jones is headed back to the Yankees, the teams announced on Friday. The Diamondbacks had previously selected Jones in the Rule 5 draft last December, but elected to leave the 27-year-old off of their 40-man roster heading into the 2017 season. Rule 5 draft rules stipulate that when a player is not kept on the receiving team’s roster, the player must be offered back to his original team.

Jones signed a minor league contract with the Yankees prior to the 2016 season. He pitched to an impressive 2.17 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 13.2 SO/9 over 45 2/3 innings with Double-A Trenton, but was unable to make the leap to Triple-A or beyond during his stay with the organization.

Jones’ outlook with the Diamondbacks appeared slightly more promising. GM Mike Hazen described the righty as a power arm with a “good fastball and power curveball” after selecting him in the Rule 5 draft, and early reports indicated that Jones would be in the mix for a bullpen spot. A rough spring performance — underscored by his lack of experience at the Triple-A and major league levels — undid most of that confidence, however, and the Diamondbacks weren’t willing to keep him on the active roster throughout the entire 2017 season in order to acquire his control rights.

Jones is set to open the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, per a report from the Yankees.