Pirates Sign Lefties Eric O’Flaherty and Cory Luebke to Minor League Deals

According to Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports, the Pittsburgh Pirates have signed lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. The 31-year-old split last season between the Oakland A’s and the New York Mets, posting an 8.10 ERA in 30 innings over 41 appearances. Prior to that, he had a string of five straight seasons with an ERA of 2.50 or less. He missed time last year due to a left shoulder strain and also missed part of 2013 and 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. The Pirates haven’t made this move official yet.

https://twitter.com/TBrownYahoo/status/697896679157043200

The Pirates have announced that they have signed lefty Cory Luebke to a minor league deal, which also comes with a Spring Training invite. He has not pitched in the majors since 2012, missing extensive time due to a strained left elbow, and then later due to Tommy John surgery. Luebke turns 31 in March. He pitched seven games in the minors last year, which was his first action since April of 2012.

UPDATE 4:59 PM: Analysis from Tim Williams…

The Pirates did a lot to boost their left-handed pitching depth with these moves. Luebke has some success in his MLB career, with a combined 3.25 ERA and a 3.21 xFIP between the rotation and bullpen in San Diego. However, he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 due to two Tommy John surgeries. He pitched seven innings in the minors last year, and should be ready to go this season, although it’s hard to say if he will be back to where he was before the injuries. If they can get the previous version back, then they’ve got a great left-handed relief option, and possibly even starting depth.

O’Flaherty has posted good numbers as a lefty reliever in the majors in the past, although he;s coming off a down year in 2015. Prior to his 2015 struggles, he had a strong career, with a 2.81 ERA and a 3.82 xFIP in 339.1 innings. If he has anything left in the tank, and can get back to those former numbers, then he’s a great option to stash behind Tony Watson as the second lefty.

Prior to these moves, the Pirates looked pretty thin at left-handed relief. They had a few non-roster invitees, but none of them looked like strong options for the majors, instead looking like good depth options out of Triple-A, at best. These two would become the front-runners for the final spot in the bullpen and the left-handed relief role. They both come with question marks, but you’d have to feel better about the lefty relief situation with these two guys in the mix. If one of these two answers his questions, then the Pirates have their second lefty reliever. If both of them answer their questions, the Pirates have some strong depth. And if neither answer their questions, then the Pirates could either turn to one of the other lefty relief options, or just go with one lefty in the bullpen and have someone like John Holdzkom take the final spot.

UPDATE 10:18 PM: The Pirates have officially announced the O’Flaherty signing.

  • Just when I think Bob Nutting could not dive deeper into the dumpster, he goes and does something like this…and totally redeems himself!

  • They should be looking at Lincecum, Masterson and Craig Breslow IMHO. Any one of those three could improve our starting/long relief options coming out of camp if they still have it.

  • Throwing mud up against the wall and seeing what sticks.

  • Both of these signing are low-risk with some upside, given their past track records. It’s highly unlikely we get anything out these signings, but if we do …? No harm, no foul with these moves. I like them.

  • The signing of O’Flaherty reminds me of the Melancon acquisition. An otherwise excellent under the radar reliever coming off a miserable year statistically. Last year was his first full year back from TJ so bad numbers would be expected. The encouraging thing is his volocity went up as the season went on indicating a return to health. Sprinkle a little Uncle Ray Magic Dust on him and the Pirates could have a second dominate lefty out of the pen. Now go get Lincecum and I’ll be satisfied with the off season

    • Well said…..O’Flaherty is one to watch given that the performance was there before the TJ surgery and if he is going to recover that performance it should be possible this year.
      Reports have it that Tim Lincecum is scheduling workouts for interested MLB clubs to prove he can still pitch. It would be a no brainer for the Bucs to attend given where the payroll currently sits and the starters lined up to begin the season.
      Tim or John….have you heard if the Bucs plan to attend Lincecum’s sessions?

  • Surprise! I actually like these signings 🙂

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    February 11, 2016 10:11 pm

    Isn’t Mike Minor still a free agent? He’s even younger than these two, but with similar health issues over the past 2-3 years….I’d check in on him as well….

  • After reading this and a few other places, I just place a GIANT question mark after both of these. Comparing these two players to putting Loche as the other left handed bull pen arm in April or in June is a no brainer.

  • Really like O’Flaherty. He was money prior to last year. Not sure what happened. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he bounced back.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    February 11, 2016 8:17 pm

    good moves…low risk, but if they hit on just one these two, well worth the risk

  • I remember when O’Flaherty pitched for the Braves. Dude was lights out. Hope he still has something left.

    • I read about his availability a few days ago and thought it would be cool if we could snag him

  • I appreciate you NH, but we are rapidly accelerating into ponzi scheme status.

  • Solid insurance moves. Especially if they know something we don’t about these guys’ health…which I’m sure they do.

    • Luebke has had TJ twice. His health is comparable to a game of UNO. This is 100% depth.

      • Well insurance is paying a little in hopes you will probably never need it so there you go.

  • Sean Rodriguez doesn’t like Laframboise?

    • No one likes him enough this offseason to keep him more than 2-3 weeks.

      When Philly DFA’s you, its a gut punch.

      • Your right. He pitched awful in Dec, Jan. As opposed to two time Tommy John guy.

        • This is just being negative to be negative.

          For all the reasons to potentially complain about this minor league signing, you picked a really dumb one.

          • No. You were just disagreeing, just to disagree. For Christ’s sake, one of these guys hasn’t pitched in three years.

            • You win, a guy not on the team makes sense to mention in this article about depth. LaFramboise is totally someone we should care about. You’re the victim.

        • I think that winter storm caused him to miss a couple of appearances.

  • Luebke used to show a lot of promise, but there is practically no real precedent for a guy with his level of experience coming back after two TJs and three years of nothing. If he amounts to anything, it will be pretty miraculous.

  • Takes the heat off for passing on Latos right? Great move in Nothing’s I mean Nutting’s view

    • Hey 99.

      Gotta disagree with the idea you represent – if you’re not being facetious, I can’t tell – that the front office makes moves with public opinion in mind. “Taking the heat off for passing on Latos” implies making a move for PR purposes, unless I miss your point.

      I don’t think that’s what a winning team does. And the Pirates are a winning team.

      If I’m setting up one of my soccer teams and I’m thinking about what people will say about my lineup, my head is completely in the wrong place.

      -Wabbit

  • Low risk. High reward signings.

  • Please no Dr. Ray Magic Dust or NH Dumpster Diving comments. These moves are classic backfill. Filling in AAA roster.

  • Luebke has had two Tommy John surgeries *plus* an additional elbow surgery last summer. Give the guy credit for even trying at this point, but he should mean little – if anything at all – to the Pirates plans.

    O’Flaherty is weird since he actually had a successful comeback from TJS in ’14 before completely, utterly losing everything last year. Damning with faint praise, but he seems like the one with a chance.

    • I’d say a 90% chance neither of these guys are heard from, but…what the heck…it’s ST…and, if they’re healthy, the can be BP filler at Indy.

      As for Luebke…fun fact…due to a an extension he signed after his rookie season, he’s already earned ~10X what Gerrit Cole has. Not a bad deal for 188 IP and out of MLB for 4 years.

      • Ironically, I was heavily in favor of signing Josh Johnson, then Brandon Morrow last year. So of course the Pirates sign Luebke as I finally give up on habitually-injured high upside Padre pitchers. 😉

        Hey, if Benedict could get Richards throwing 90+ with ground beef left for a shoulder, anything is possible.

        • We don’t have Benedict anymore tho :/

        • Heck, if either actually pitches for the team….either the pickups were a success or the team has gone over a cliff.

          Either way, these are pickups that can do no harm.

          • In and of themselves, no. The harm would be if they were actually being counted on for anything.

            This club has bigger problems than matchup lefty out of the pen, but how many contenders willfully leave that spot open? Honest question, it would be interesting to know.

            For all intents and purposes, Hurdle doesn’t have a lefty to use in a leverage situation given his insistence on pitching Watson in a rigid setup role.

            • Watson pitched 77 games last season and came in before the 8th inning just twice. That’s about as rigid as you get. So, yeah, unless there’s some pickup…my guess would be via trade at this point…this team is going into ’16 without a lefty in the pen. And that’s a little scary and awkward considering there will be five relievers outside of setup/closer.

              Barring that trade, it appears the most likely candidate would be Locke…of course, that bumps RV up to the #4 slot…and now you need a #5…which would probably be a rookie…um…zheesh.

              I’m no baseball genius, but I like to think I’m smart enough to figure out the basics…whatever the logic is here, it absolutely eludes me.

              As for the two pickups, that was my sort of my point…if we actually get to the point where we need either or both…it’s either because they’ve found themselves and are candidates for comeback player(s) of the year…or the BP has imploded.

              • Very, very little about this offseason strategy makes sense and this is no different.

                I’ve seen many folks parrot the “Pirates don’t really use two lefties” line on this site and others, except that in reality they absolutely *have* prioritized two lefties in the pen – and good ones – ever since they actually started giving a shit about winning. Of course they’re not going to care about a second lefty on a 90-loss club, but from ’13-’14 they had Watson/Wilson and when they lost Wilson they specifically went out and made a lefty the second highest paid reliever in their pen. They clearly value that spot, when they’re focused on winning.

                • Part of it makes me wonder it’s a hint at a retool, or, on the other hand, I’m curious if NH just got caught with his pants down.

                  Bastardo for Joely seemed like a great deal when it happened…and, as the season went on, it just got better and better. I think it’s possible the FO went into this season thinking they could make the same type deal again and shuttle some struggling AA pitcher off for a solid lefty…and the market laughed.

                  I don’t know if that’s the case, but it’s a possibility. When NH took over, it took a couple of seasons for him to find his niche and, now that he has, what the market values has changed and it wouldn’t be too much of a reach to say he might be playing catch-up in his thinking. After all…reclamation projects. Heck, they’re all the rage now and just having a great pitching coach and a promise at a shot at the rotation isn’t enough…now you’ve gotta pony up $7-12M to get the conversation started…and the success the Pirates have had means they’re frozen out of the market and have to settle for real long shots.

                  That said, yeah, it could also be a half-assed retool. The thinking can be…”meh, we’ll put together a team that should win 88-90 and hope for some breaks…if it’s a weak year, maybe we’re a wildcard.”

                  As we’ve discussed a few times…it’s going to be very interesting where the Pirates are at the trading deadline. I have no clue what the threshold is for being a buyer or seller.

                  • Half-assed has been my guess for a while now, but not necessarily intentional as much as a result of misreading the market.

                    I said time and time again at the start of the winter that *nobody* should expect the kind of performance Huntington turned in last winter year-in-year-out. Absolutely incredible job, and the pieces fell together perfectly. No GM does that repeatedly, not with this kind of budget.

                    If I had to guess, I bet he thought he could do both – fill a roster without any drop in talent *and* leave room for prospect advancement – but little ended up working out as he expected. I mean really, not a single move that’s been made has been the top target of theirs. Not one.

                    At some point, probably right around the Morton move, reality became clear and he adjusted by targeting the reliever strategy and leaving spots wide open for 4+ prospects to take whenever they’re ready.

                    • I’m not sure who the top targets were/are, but I think the Jaso pickup was solid and I feel rather confident he’ll carry his weight.

                      But that came on the heels of the Rogers trade…and I still have no idea why that happened. I mean, absolutely none. At all. Clueless. He’s not going to be the RH bat at first and he’s not going to play the OF. He’s not going to play first at AAA…so? Why? And to get this deal done, they gave up the 4th OF…who’s yet to be replaced…unless you count the resigning of S-Rod. Seriously…everyday Morse isn’t traded, I have to wonder what was the thought behind this trade. And, really…is there even a market for Morse…or is he just being held onto with the hopes some other team will have a ST injury and be desperate?

                      And this came on the heels of giving a Goebbert a major league contract?

                      I understand every team needs filler, but Rogers and Goebbert just have me scratching my head as it seems they were acquired with ML intent and now they’re excess pieces.

                      I know we don’t see eye-to-eye on the Walker trade, and time will tell who was right, but I like three years of Niese if he gets back to 2014 form as opposed to a season of Neil…but, after that…even if the pitching isn’t out there to sign…I’ve gotta take Morton over Vogelsong.

                      I don’t know…this whole off-season has been one wtf after another.

                      Pirate fans, I’m sure more than others, are probably pretty sensitive to the word ‘retool’ because it reminds them of ‘rebuild’. But, I would hope, even the casual fan would understand that, if you’re replacing 2/5 of your rotation and 3/8 of your starters with promising rookies…yeah, there has to be an adjustment period. If it was NH’s intent to slip in these new guys and not lose some efficiency…well, I can’t believe he thinks that’s possible.

                      Okay…that was officially a rant…

                    • But it was a good rant!

                      My target comment was made since they apparently got close to a deal for Moreland, and I cannot possibly fathom a world where Neal Huntington willfully targeted Jon Niese & Ryan Vogelsong as his top rotation reinforcements.

                      I also thought signing Jaso was a good move – best all winter, actually – but to this day I’m as confused as you are about Rogers. Not even necessarily the player himself, that’s the kind of guy Huntington has always taken a chance on. Just that he’s always gotten that kind of guy for a song, not an upside arm they just paid a million bucks to sign less than two years ago *and* the only guy in their system ready for a shot as a decent 4th outfielder.

                      Your last paragraph is *perfect*.

                    • I have the same feeling about Rogers…I think he has an upside and, maybe, could be a very solid addition…to a club that can use him. Unfortunately, this isn’t the draft where you can legitimately use the mindset of: “I’m getting the best guy available.”

                      I only have one reasonable explanation for Rogers…and it is quite unreasonable: The organization is so terrified Bell will unable to sufficiently hit lefties that they wanted to go ahead and snatch a young, controllable semi-platoon partner to take 50-75% of starts against southpaws.

                      There’s a good chance that’s wrong…because it still raises the issue of…where’s he getting his AB’s? But, I’ve gotta think, Morse is gone to the club that offers to pick up the most of his remaining $4.5M….and Rogers is splitting time with Jaso ASAP.

                      As far as the pitching…bah, I’m getting cranky with people calling RV the #5 starter…he’s not. On a contending club, Niese (as he is now) could pass as a #4 and Locke would be a #5. So Vogelsong, to me, is really holding down the #3 slot. He’s our Syndergaard, our Lackey, our Wacha, our Samardzija.

                    • I’d completely agree with your (un)reasonable Rogers explanation, except what the hell was all that talk from the org about defensive versatility (1B/3B/OF)? That should scare the hell out of everyone.

                      I mean, they do have scouts and all….right?

                      As for your explanation itself I don’t at all think that’s a bad idea from the team’s perspective, but why give up so much for Rogers when you have Jose Osuna right on Bell’s coattail? I mean, they’re going to give Bell *at least* a full season’s worth of at-bats as a full time hitter before even considering a platoon; at that point, Osuna is as ready as he’ll ever be, and I guarantee there’s not *that* much difference, if any at all, between a 24 yo Osuna and a 30(!!!) yo Rogers as the short side of the platoon.

                      I am gonna have to quibble with you on the pitching comment…but only quibble…as they are now, Locke is a better pitcher than Jon Niese. Arguably considerably so. Regress Locke’s LOB% and put a half decent infield behind him and he’s damn near a 2-win pitcher over 180 innings. Jon Niese was not a good pitcher last year, by just about any measure. Didn’t miss bats, didn’t manage contact, didn’t eat a ton of innings. If he still had good stuff, or showed the classic signs of regression I’d be in just like I was with Burnett, Liriano, and even Volquez. But honestly, other than “learn better pitches”, what has to happen to get him back to a 2.5 WAR starter?

                      But the greater point, of course, is absolutely correct. Vogelsong almost certainly would’ve been the guy teams signed right around now or even in ST as 6th starter material.

                    • Rogers? Versatile? There’s not a ton to go on, but with 11 innings at 3rd last year, he did manage three errors. Could’ve been a glitch in his day…but I don’t know if you want him and third and S-Rod at SS on the same day 🙂

                      As far as the OF…he’s listed at 6’1, 255 lbs. From the few pictures I’ve seen, I think he’s fudging the weight a bit. I don’t see him manning left or center at PNC…ever. I have a feeling it would be like putting Prince Fielder out there.

                      You may be right about Osuna…I’m really high on him…but I have the feeling he’s going to be dangled for something. I think he’s a legitimate talent, but there’s no spot for him on the team. Not as a righty platooner…just too many skills for that. My gut is that he’s going to be blocked to the point where he’s traded. I could be wrong, but the team seems committed to Bell and I don’t see Polanco going anywhere. Kinda sucks…because I really think his skills will be of ML quality and I’d love to see him play for the Pirates…but I’ll play Babe Ruth and call my shot…he’s going to be part of a trade for pitching.

                      As for Locke, I like him…but he’s a sabermetric-tease. Every year looks like the one where he just needs things to break his way…and they just don’t. I’m not as down on Locke as some…I think he can start in the majors and, right now, is one of the best options for this team. But, according to Fangraphs…he’s still only put up 3.0 WAR in 517 innings. He does have flashes where he’s very strong…but he just throws too many pitches…last year he was at 16.55/inning. Which was a 1/2 pitch/inning more than Frankie…who’s notorious for throwing a lot.

                      Niese had a down season last year…and, hey, that be who he is now…we’ll know soon enough…but if you want to slot Locke as having a #4 arm and Niese a #5…bah…why not? That still slots RV at #3. Ugh.

                    • Really fun conversation, btw!

                    • Vogelsong is a placeholder for Taillon, who might be a three, we’ll see.

          • Also something I was thinking about…

            This is the winter of WPA; where Watson and Melancon have gotten their due based on the crazy good work they’ve done in leverage situations. If we’re now appreciating WPA, wouldn’t that further emphasize the matchup lefty role? By the same logic, wouldn’t a guy specifically used in high leverage, matchup situations have value that outpaces ERA/FIP/WAR? Or am I not thinking about this correctly?

            • I would think so, but this is where the advanced stats get murky for me…I would simply boil it down to…if you’ve got a guy that excels against lefties…that’s the guy you use. Traditionally, it’s been a lefty. If you’ve got a righty that ability…he’s usually pretty lights out against same-handed hitters and would slot as the closer.

              I’m sure there are exceptions, but, as a rule, there aren’t going to be many guys that are appreciably better against opposite handed betters.

              You could make the argument that Hughes fits that slot as he had a lefty/righty OPS split of .684/.741 last season, but Caminero had a .681/.649. Which makes me thinks it was more likely that he wasn’t good against lefties so much as it was that he was just bad against right-handers.

  • It’s a no-risk proposition for the Bucs. The guy has had a few good seasons, so if he finds that form again it’s a nice bonus; if not, no big loss. As for the high ERA…I have no specific information, but what sometimes happens with a reliever is that one or two disatlstrous outings can disproportionately inflate his ERA. Not saying this is the case here, but a possibility.

  • O’Flaherty, Matt Thornton and Neal Cotts were the only three lefty relievers left available that I thought were better than an “any lefty will do” approach and to get one of them for absolute minimal risk is great news. Luebke is really intriguing, hope he has a great spring and pushes Vogelsong out of the rotation

    • Um pretty sure hoping Luebke performs lights out in spring is longer odds than actually hoping vogelsong does.

  • 8.10 era, ok sabr heads tell me how it’s better than it looks.

    • Well, his walk rate doubled from ’14 to ’15. Wait that didn’t help.

    • He suffered a left shoulder injury during the 2015 season and had quite a run of success before that, so it could just be a one year dip due to the injury. He was signed on a minor league deal, so he could end up being nothing, but it obviously can’t hurt to see if he’s the same pitcher he was from 2010-14.

      • Both seem a little like the 8 era that Mark Melancon posted in Boston. A blip due to injury and now they have clearly jumped to the front of the line of a weak group of LH relievers on the spring roster… Watson the exception of course.

        • Excellent point using the example of MM – it happens. We did not have much to look forward to before, and now we have two more. Time will tell.

    • Because it was only 7.04 with an .884 OPS after 30 April 🙂

      On the other hand…these aren’t bad guys to kick the tires on.

    • Well he held LHB to a .677 OPS. Unfortunately RHB put up a 1.162 OPS against him (he actually faced more LHB than RHB, so the .677 isn’t any more of a SSS issue than is the 1.162). So at worst maybe he’s a LOOGY?

      • Always has been a LOOGY.

        • Depends how you define LOOGY. Over his career he has faced RHB’s in 920 PA’s and LHB’s in 657 PA’s. So I assume he’s always been brought in to face a lefty, but then left in to face RHB’s. To me that’s a little more than being a LOOGY.

          Compare to someone like Randy Choate who has faced RHB’s in 714 PA’s but LHB’s in 1036 PA’s.

          • Far more appearances than innings pitched and a wOBA a hundred points higher against RHB.

            But you’re right, he’s not Choate-level LOOGY.

            • Few are.

              • Given the last 3 posts, why hasn’t there been more of a clamoring for them to sign choate?

                • I would hope it’s because there’s a recognition that Choate is likely done. To be worth the roster spot, a LOOGY either needs to be able to get the occasional RH batter out, or he has to be murder on LH batters. Choate is neither anymore. He is incapable of getting any RH batters out anymore (.410 and .360 wOBA last 2 seasons), and his OPS against LH batters was just a shade under .700, which is what you would expect a moderately effective RIGHT-HANDED reliever to post.

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