The Pirates finalized a minor league deal with free agent outfielder Daniel Nava on Friday, per a team announcement. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training, where Nava will presumably be available off the bench or slot into a corner outfield spot alongside established regulars like Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco.
The switch-hitting Nava is coming off of his best season since 2014. Before losing the last month of the 2017 season to a lower back injury, he slashed .301/.393/.421 with four home runs and 1.1 fWAR in 214 plate appearances for the Phillies. His extreme splits make him an intriguing pinch-hitter option: against righties last year, the 34-year-old mashed an impressive .341/.423/.474 in 156 PA.
Recent comments from Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggest that Nava could platoon with fellow outfielder Jordan Luplow to start the season, though they haven’t yet ruled out another free agent or trade acquisition this offseason. No. 1 prospect Austin Meadows is expected to help the team in the outfield at some point in the near future, but as MLB.com’s Adam Berry points out, he could use more seasoning in Triple-A Indianapolis before making a full-time transition to the majors. Assuming Meadows stays on track, Nava could find himself relegated to a pinch-hitter/fourth outfielder role before too long.
We welcomed “Mason Saunders” into our lives on Sunday, thanks to The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly and Zach Buchanan. Mason Saunders is the alias of Diamondbacks starter Madison Bumgarner when he competes in rodeos, something he’s done as recently as December (when he was still a free agent).
Given that one of Bumgarner’s other extracurricular activities, riding dirt bikes, resulted in a serious injury, many have been wondering how the Diamondbacks would react to the news that the lefty they inked to a five-year contract two months ago is roping steers in his spare time. It seems like the Diamondbacks just accept that that’s who Bumgarner is.
On Tuesday, Baggarly and Buchanan answered some frequently asked questions about the whole Bumgarner-rodeo thing. They mentioned that former Giants manager Bruce Bochy, in a radio interview on KNBR, slipped in that Bumgarner also hunts bears in his off-time. Bochy said, “You think, ‘Madison, you’re looking at signing your biggest contract ever to set yourself up for life and you’re going to risk it on the rodeo?’ But he’s got confidence. I mean there’s some stories I do know that he probably wouldn’t want me to share, with him bear hunting, and the tight situations he’s gotten himself into.”
As Baggarly and Buchanan explained, when Bumgarner — I mean, Saunders — is roping steers, he’s not taking much of a risk. They wrote, “The header and heeler don’t chase the steer around the ring. Each trial is more or less a one-shot deal and it’s over in less than 10 seconds. If the header or heeler misses on the first attempt, then no time is recorded.” Bumgarner has also said he ropes with his non-pitching hand. Hunting bears is an entirely different level of risk, one would imagine. That being said, no one seemed to be surprised that Bumgarner moonlights as a serious rodeo competitor. That’s likely also the case that he, as Bochy puts it, goes “mano a mano” against bears.