Who should the Pittsburgh Pirates expose to waivers?


Much has been made about the many Pittsburgh Pirates who are ‘out-of-options’ this year.  Jeff Locke, Arquimedes Caminero, Stolmy Pimentel, and Radhames Liz headline the group of non-regulars who are without a minor league year option.  With Vance Worley having all but officially won the final spot in the Pirates’ rotation, this leaves four arms for an already-crowded bullpen.  It is very likely that at least one from the aforementioned list will be exposed to waivers.

As first reported by Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington admitted as much.  As quoted to the Tribune Review:

"“We have some guys who are out of options who may be of interest to other clubs,” Huntington said. “We may make a small trade … or claim somebody on waivers or lose somebody on waivers. We still have some (roster) decisions to make and are always open to improving our talent level."

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Since we have confirmation from the GM, we can now freely speculate on the right candidates.  Let’s start with Liz.  As we’ve seen from him this spring, he has been intriguing.  A lanky guy with a powerful arm, he cuts an imposing figure on the mound.  Fortunately for him, he can back that up, as evidenced by his performance this spring.  Batters are currently collecting base hits against him at a .167 clip in his seven innings of work.  With that being said, Liz’ absence from MLB for five years can murky the waters of even the most optimistic projection.  His stint in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system last year was a mixed bag as well, as he posted an ERA of 2.95 between Double-A and Triple-A last year.  At first glance, this would hardly be considered horrible, but looking a bit deeper, when facing Triple-A level batters, his ERA jumped to 5.21 in four starts to go along with a 1.79 WHIP.  Taking all of that into account, the Pirates would be foolish to expose him to waivers.  I see him as a version of Jeanmar Gomez with better stuff.  According to Fangraphs’ pitchf/x data, Liz has multiple pitches that have shown promise at the major league level, including a change up that has a 15.7 swinging strike rate.  Couple that potential with the magic of Ray Searage, and you may just have something special in Liz.

The same can easily be said for Caminero, and much more succinctly.  Caminero has shined this spring, coming into the last two weeks in Bradenton with an electrifying 12 Ks in eight innings of work.  Couple that with a .200 .BAA and a 0.88 WHIP, and you can see someone who clearly deserves a spot in the Shark Tank.  With all apologies to John Holdzkom, it would appear to be a virtual lock that he makes the 25-man roster.  One thing of note with Caminero is his propensity to give up the long ball.  For his short career, it has been seen that batters can knock his fastball out of the park at an alarming 14.3% homerun-to-flyball ratio.  This proclivity towards big flies has reared its head this spring, to the tune of two home runs in his eight innings.  To be an effective reliever in the majors, one must avoid the longball at all costs.  Despite this red flag, I’m more then confident that more time with Searage is the answer here.

Mention the name Stolmy Pimentel around Pittsburgh Pirates fans, and brace yourself for the worst.  Pimentel has long been a lightning rod for fans’ ire, and perhaps rightfully so.  He of the 4.50 career ERA and WHIP just under 1.4, Pimentel is the rare miscue by Huntington that has thankfully become the exception rather than the norm.  Of course, one cannot mention Pimentel without lamenting the fact that he is already out of options at the ripe old age of 25.  If you’d like all of the gory details, please read Baseball America’s excellent explanation.  Put simply, the Pirates will not keep both Liz and Pimentel, as they both have similar profiles and can theoretically provide spot starts at times.  The odd man out here is undoubtedly Pimentel, and I fully expect him to be put on waivers when camp breaks.

Caminero has shined this spring, coming into the last two weeks in Bradenton with an electrifying 12 Ks in eight innings of work.  Couple that with a .200 .BAA and a 0.88 WHIP, and you can see someone who clearly deserves a spot in the Shark Tank

We have now come to the part in the discussion where Jeff Locke is mentioned.  Locke’s value as a viable major-league starter is directly tied to the fact that he is left-handed.  While many fans and pundits can admire Locke’s skill set, the simple fact is that we would not be doing as much hand-wringing about what to do with him should he have picked up his rattle with his right hand instead of his left as an infant.  The not-so-dirty-little-secret about Locke’s 2013 all-star campaign was that he led all National League starters in walks with 84, good enough for a 4.5 walks per nine innings.  Locke admirably worked hard to improve his control, and did so by lowering that walk rate to 2.7 per nine.  For a pitching staff who’s philosophy revolves around putting the ball in play via the ground ball, the chance that Locke’s control issues will once again flare up is too big of a risk to rely on him for 100+ innings.

With Vance Worley outperforming him, and better options in the wings such as Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow, the likelihood that Locke is not on the 25-man roster to start the year gains more and more steam as the spring days go by.  But this does not mean he should be placed on waivers.  Just as I pointed out that his worth comes from being a left-hander, so does his trade value.  Teams are always looking for left-handed pitching help, and even though the return may be minor, trading Locke is undoubtedly the right move for Huntington and the Pirates at this point.

One thing is for certain:  this is an excellent problem for Neal Huntington to have, and how he solves it may end up being another feather in the cap of one of the shrewdest GMs in all of baseball.

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