The Pirates’ offseason, like most other teams, is significantly quiet. It’s mainly due to the looming December 1st expiration of the current CBA between the owners and players, but nonetheless, the Pirates need to fix their eyes on building a contending team again.We saw the Pirates go from three straight winning seasons and postseason berths to a -20 win variance from 2015 to 2016. And the main reason was the lack of quality pitching. In the Pirates three winning seasons, pitching was the key to their success. A huge drop-off in quality pitching produced a huge drop-off in win totals. Addressing the rotation HAS to be the Pirates number one priority this offseason. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon should be the two atop the rotation, but the remaining three spots are up for grabs. The Pirates will go internally for some help, but they have to use free agency or trades to address it as well. Here are some options:
Kuhl will probably fit into the rotation at the start of 2017. Ideally, he’d be a number 5 starter, but if the Pirates don’t get enough depth or if injuries occur, he’s a fourth starter. Kuhl showed some promise in his rookie campaign. His numbers don’t jump off the page at you, but he’s the prototypical groundball pitcher the Pirates love to have. He just has to bring the walks down.
He’s been one of the top pitching prospects in baseball for quite some time now. He struggled a bit in his first exposure to major-league batters, but he also wasn’t healthy for most of 2016 once he was called up. He’s got great stuff and is a potential top-of-the-rotation starter that the Pirates have control of through 2022. If he’s healthy, his ceiling is high and could be a dark horse for rookie of the year in 2017. How he fast he progresses to pitch against big-league hitters will be telling for where he slides into the rotation. He’s done about all he can do in the minors. If he has a strong spring, he should fit in the rotation.
The 24 year-old right-handed pitched well in AAA Indianapolis in 2016, posting a 3.51 ERA in 110.1 innings, but his major-league experience last year, a small sample-size, was not so great. He has potential, being another young arm the Pirates love to hoard, but ideally, I only see him fitting in due to injury.
The expectations for Hutchison for me are through the roof, especially if you take into consideration what the Pirates traded away to get him. They traded Liriano (a salary dump I’m ok with), but also traded away catching prospect Reese McGuire and outfield prospect Harold Ramirez. These were two players people had penciled in the Pirates major-league plans later on this decade. And Hutchison’s track record doesn’t bode well for the argument of those who favored the trade (and I have yet to hear one person outside the organization that did). He’s got big-league experience, but he has a career 4.93 ERA in 417.2 innings. Maybe Ray Searage can pull off another miracle, and that’s what it’ll take to make that trade look somewhat decent.
Nova had a short stint with the Pirates for the last 2 months of the season, where he pitched very well. He posted a 3.06 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 64.2 innings of work. He had very good command of his pitches, walking only 3 batters in 2 months. Searage might have continued success with him if the Pirates can lure him back. The price doesn’t seem too steep either. The rumblings right now are around 3 years for $36 million, very similar to the contract the Pirates gave Francisco Liriano. He turns 30 in January. There’s no guarantee he performs an entire season the way he did for two months in a Bucco uniform, but in an extremely thin free agency market for starting pitching, and at the price you could get him at, Nova as a number 3 pitcher would be a good “check mark” on the Pirates offseason shopping list.
This guy could be the steal of the offseason. And he’s the only lefty on this list. He should come at a club-friendly price and Ray Searage could get the max potential out of this very talented pitcher. His biggest problem in Texas has been his health. He’s had a hard time staying healthy for the last three or four seasons. It’s hurt his value and the Rangers, who are very fond of Holland, have pretty much decided to not bring him back. Despite the health problems, he’s got great stuff to go along with playoff and World Series experience, including an almost-complete game shutout against St. Louis in 2011. If he stays healthy and comes at a bargain, the Pirates could land another winning reclamation project here. He’s already put the Pirates on his short-list. Let’s see if they can get a deal done.
Try to get the 2014 Wildcard Game out of your mind. Volquez pitched very well in a Pirate uniform and could fill the number 3 spot in the rotation. He’s older than Nova, but could cost the same price. Volquez might be a good pitcher to look to if still available if they can’t land Nova.
No other big names have popped up in trade rumors other than pitchers like Chris Sale, who the Pirates are very unlikely to trade for, giving the fact that they’d have to sell the farm to get him and Neil Huntington doesn’t strike me as the GM to mortgage the future (except when trading for Drew Hutchison).
The Pirates NEED to land one of the three free agent pitchers listed here. Even if Holland is the one, it’s something. The Pirates desperately need pitching help. They have to utilize both the farm and the market to address the situation. Ideally, land Nova as your number 3 AND sign Holland to a club-friendly deal and have your rotation look like this:
- Gerrit Cole
- Ivan Nova
- Derek Holland
- Chad Kuhl
I do think it’s unlikely the Pirates land two free agent starting pitchers, but if they spend in the right places, landing Nova for around $12 million per year and Holland for $6-$8 million per year isn’t a ridiculous thought. Pitching was the key to success for the Pirates in 2013-2015. It needs to be again in 2017. Let’s see what Huntington pulls off. And, how much progress is hindered by the looming CBA deadline.
LTB will keep tabs on all Pirates rumors and any other pitchers that get tied to the Pirates.