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November 27, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Replacing the Departed

by Daniel Rathman

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Pirates seeking long-end platoon partner at first base
At the end of August, the Pirates obtained Justin Morneau from the Twins to bolster their offensive output at first base by providing a lefty-hitting complement to Gaby Sanchez. The one-plus month rental, at the cost of outfielder Alex Presley, went okay: Morneau posted a .370 on-base percentage in 92 September plate appearances, then batted .292 in the playoffs, though he did not hit a home run.

Now, Morneau is gone, enjoying his first foray into free agency at the age of 32 after completing a six-year, $80 million pact with the Twins and Pirates. Gone, too, is Garrett Jones, the player over whom Morneau was supposed to provide an upgrade, and whom the Buccos designated for assignment on Monday. Jones slugged 15 home runs in 440 plate appearances last season, but batted just .233/.289/.419 overall, an inadequate output at virtually any position, and especially so at first base.

Sanchez, who was acquired from the Marlins at the 2012 trade deadline, is arbitration eligible for the second time and should get a modest raise from his $1.75 million 2013 salary. He destroyed southpaws to the tune of a .333/.448/.539 triple-slash line, leading general manager Neal Huntington to consider expanding his role going forward.

Nonetheless, Huntington is searching for left-handed hitters who could supplant Morneau and Jones, according to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review beat writer Travis Sawchik. Huntington nabbed jettisoned outfielder Jaff Decker in a small barter with the Padres yesterday afternoon, adding a 23-year-old with a .402 on-base percentage over six minor-league seasons to his outfield mix. But Decker scuffled in a September cup of coffee and has played exclusively in the outfield to this point in his professional career.

With a ground-ball-heavy pitching staff, the Pirates may emphasize defense in addition to candidates’ track records in the left-handed batter’s box. Sawchik did not name any specific targets, but James Loney is the most obvious free-agent fix, as ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted yesterday afternoon, and Eric Chavez might be in the mix, as well. The Pirates could also explore the trade market, where Mitch Moreland—who was displaced in Texas by the acquisition of Prince Fielder—is a possible target.

Tigers may be nearing deal with Brian Wilson
It seems as though the Tigers’ search for a closer is a perennial offseason rite. This offseason, however, that search may end sooner than expected.

Lynn Henning of the Detroit News reported on Monday that general manager Dave Dombrowski is deep into negotiations with Dan Lozano, the agent for Brian Wilson, who rebuilt his stock with a solid showing for the Dodgers down the stretch and in the playoffs. Wilson last served as a closer in 2011, when he converted 36 of 41 save opportunities for the Giants, but his stuff appears no worse for the wear of his second Tommy John surgery.

The 31-year-old Wilson averaged about 94 mph with his fastball and a tick under 90 mph with his cutter as a member of the Dodgers while serving as a setup man for Kenley Jansen. The difference between those velocities and the ones he posted in 2011 is negligible. Moreover, Wilson’s control—sometimes a concern for pitchers coming off of major surgery—was as sharp as ever, considering that he walked only 8.2 percent of the batters that he faced, his lowest clip in any full major-league season.

Henning mentioned in his report that Lozano met over the weekend with first-year Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. That might indicate that a contract agreement is near, though there have been no reports of progress since the original one published two days ago. In any case, the Tigers appear to be the runaway favorites to land Wilson, who was non-tendered by the Giants on November 30, 2012, and inked a $1 million hitch with the Dodgers at the end of July.

Two things we know for certain: 1) he will not be joining the Yankees, and 2) the beard will go wherever he lands.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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