Bucs designate Vazquez, set roster
Infielder cut as newcomer Penn earns final bullpen spot
PITTSBURGH -- Unable to find a suitor for Ramon Vazquez, the Pirates were forced to designate the veteran infielder for assignment on Sunday and, in turn, are likely to eat the $2 million owed to him this season.
Vazquez's release was just one of a flurry of roster moves the Pirates made in order to set the club's roster for Monday's season opener.
Vazquez's departure allowed the Pirates to give their final bench spot to outfielder John Raynor, a Rule 5 pick. Raynor has to stay on the 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the Marlins for $25,000. Raynor's inclusion on the Opening Day roster -- despite his recent struggles at the plate -- is evidence that the Pirates weren't ready to lose him just yet.
Also on the team is right-handed reliever Hayden Penn, who hasn't even been with the organization for a week. The Pirates plucked him off the waiver wire last Monday and gave him three appearances to win a spot in the bullpen. And, despite being knocked around in his outing on Saturday, he did.
As expected, non-roster invitee relievers D.J. Carrasco and Jack Taschner officially had their contracts purchased. First baseman/right fielder Steve Pearce was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he will start the season as the Indians' everyday first baseman.
Injured relievers Joel Hanrahan (15-day) and Jose Ascanio (60-day) were placed on the disabled list, though because Hanrahan did not pitch in any Grapefruit League games, his stint has been backdated 10 days. That means the right-hander could be eligible to come off as early as the sixth day of the season. Ascanio isn't expected to return until mid-June, at the earliest.
None of Sunday's roster moves came as much of a surprise given that the club had made it clear to Vazquez that his guaranteed contract did not guarantee him a spot on the team. The Pirates already had a backup infielder in Bobby Crosby, and Delwyn Young's stellar spring gave the Pirates no choice but to carry him as the other extra infielder.
The club now has 10 days to trade, waive or release Vazquez, and the latter is expected. That means that Vazquez, who hit .230 in a bench role for Pittsburgh last season, will soon be looking to catch on with another club. There was never significant interest in him in the trade market despite the Pirates' desire to deal him all spring.
Vazquez's release was also in large part due to the Pirates' decision to keep Penn. Pittsburgh toyed with the idea of going with a six-man bench until Hanrahan returned, and doing so could have allowed the club to hold on to Vazquez a bit longer. That would have also squeezed Penn out of a roster spot.
Had Penn, who is out of options, not made the Opening Day roster, the Pirates would have risked losing him on waivers less than a week after claiming him. Instead, the organization can now get a more extended look at the right-hander before having to decide what to do with the bullpen when Hanrahan is ready to return.
Penn, who has a career 8.89 ERA in 80 big league innings, is expected to slot into a middle-relief role. The role for Carrasco and Taschner will likely be similar, with Carrasco also available as a long-relief option. Closer Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, Javier Lopez and Evan Meek round out the rest of the seven-man 'pen.
Raynor gives the Pirates a fifth outfielder, behind starters Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge and Garrett Jones, and backup Ryan Church. Still, Raynor's spot on the team is anything but secure, as the Pirates learned with former Rule 5 pick Meek two years ago.
Raynor finished the spring 1-for-20 and there is not a belief that he is ready to be an everyday hitter at the Major League level yet. In fact, his offensive ability remains the biggest variable in Raynor's future. Though he is unlikely to get much playing time this season, his speed and defensive ability do make him an asset to come in late off the bench as needed.
As a result of all of Sunday's roster moves, the Pirates' Opening Day roster includes the following 25 players:
Starting pitchers: Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton, Daniel McCutchen
Relief pitchers: Dotel, Donnelly, Meek, Lopez, Taschner, Carrasco, Penn
Catchers: Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo
Infielders: Jeff Clement, Aki Iwamura, Ronny Cedeno, Andy LaRoche, Crosby, Young
Outfielders: McCutchen, Milledge, Jones, Church, Raynor
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.