Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe passes this report along in his always-info-packed weekly Sunday notes column:
Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH, free agent — Morales fits what the Pirates need, a first baseman/middle of the order hitter. There’s mutual interest, but while the Pirates would love him on the right contract, they may also pursue a first baseman via trade. There are a few possible candidates, including the Mets’ Ike Davis, Toronto’s Adam Lind, Texas’s Mitch Moreland, and even Seattle’s Justin Smoak and Boston’s Daniel Nava and Mike Carp.
It’s been a sluggish winter for Morales, who declined a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Mariners in November thus tying himself to draft pick compensation. The 30-year-old batted .277/.336/.449 with 23 homers and 80 RBI last summer for Seattle, starting 121 games at DH and 31 at first base.
Pittsburgh lost Justin Morneau to free agency and could use a high-impact bat for first base, but the club would have to surrender its 2014 first-round draft pick to sign Morales and that makes a marriage unlikely given the success of the Bucs’ recent youth movement. Andrew McCutchen (2005), Pedro Alvarez (2008), Gerrit Cole (2011), and Neil Walker (2004) were all first-round selections.
Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic reports that the Pirates have decided to convert outfielder JB Shuck into a two-way player. Recent comments relayed from the club’s director of player development, Larry Broadway, indicated that the outfielder would be coached in developing his pitching skills while working at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Per Broadway, the change would be enacted to help the veteran outfielder develop some much-needed versatility in the majors, where he’s only ever been limited to outfield and DH responsibilities. Well, except for the two games in which he pitched an inning of relief: once, against the Nationals in a blowout 11-4 loss in 2016, then in a similarly painful loss to the Diamondbacks this past April. During the latter outing, he finished the game with a 13-pitch ninth inning after allowing just one hit and one walk.
Add to that one minor-league outing in 2012, and the 31-year-old Shuck has pitched just three times over the course of his 12-season career in pro ball. While he has three years of experience on the mound from his college days, he’ll need quite a bit of preparation to handle the kind of workload expected from a two-way outfielder/reliever: 20+ innings pitched over a season and 20+ games played as a designated hitter or position player.
Still, his lack of experience doesn’t seem to faze Broadway, at least not this early in the process. There’s no word yet on how soon Shuck would be expected to debut his new skillset on a major-league level.