PITTSBURGH -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday he only had one regret about the controversial decision to waive Juan Nicasio -- that the decision was reported before it became official -- and lamented not being able to send their former setup man to an American League contender.
In his weekly chat with reporters, Huntington revisited the front office's thought process regarding Nicasio, from the non-waiver Trade Deadline until Thursday's announcement that he had been claimed off outright waivers by the last-place Phillies.
The Pirates received $600,000 in salary relief in return for Nicasio, a pending free agent who posted a 2.85 ERA as the primary setup man for closer Felipe Rivero.
Why not deal Nicasio before July 31, when he might have yielded a more significant return? Because management felt the club could still contend in the National League Central, the same reason it waited until late August to run him through trade waivers. As recently as Aug. 11, the Pirates had a .500 record and trailed the division-leading Cubs by three games.
The Pirates had lost 11 of their previous 16 games and fallen eight games out of the division lead when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Tuesday that they placed Nicasio on irrevocable outright waivers.
In a statement released after the move took place, Huntington said an unnamed, playoff-caliber club claimed Nicasio on trade waivers in order to block another team from doing the same. That club offered little value in return for Nicasio, according to Huntington.
Rather than hand Nicasio over to a direct competitor, the Pirates pulled him off trade waivers and made him available for essentially no cost on outright waivers. His late-inning role will be divided among Dovydas Neverauskas, Daniel Hudson and George Kontos, all of whom are under club control next year.
"The one regret I have is that the confidential information was leaked and someone was unethical," Huntington said. "We were going to go younger, with some of our guys that are still under control or under contract for next year. … Instead of taking somebody's 52nd-best prospect and placing [Nicasio] with a competitor that may help them win in the postseason and generate revenue for next year, our thought was we'd take the opportunity to see if we can place him in the American League."
Instead of landing on an AL Wild Card contender, Nicasio went to the Phillies, the first team that could have put in a claim.
"It was a calculated gamble, and obviously a club stepped in that we knew could," Huntington said. "We didn't fulfill that part of getting Juan to an American League contender."
Winter ball for Kang?
The Pirates still hope to see third baseman Jung Ho Kang play in the Dominican Winter League. The club Aguilas Cibaenas recently announced an agreement with Kang, but that does not mean he is cleared to play there.
The last barrier is acquiring a work visa, the issue that's kept Kang out of the United States this year. As a South Korean citizen with a passport, Kang should be eligible to stay in the Dominican Republic for up to 90 days without a work visa.
However, Kang remains on MLB's restricted list. Huntington acknowledged that status "could" be standing between Kang and full clearance to play organized baseball for the first time since 2016.
"That's what we're working through in terms of the administrative details," Huntington said.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.