The Pittsburgh Pirates have already been buyers at this year’s non-waiver trade deadline. Neal Huntington and co. added Aramis Ramirez recently to sure up the left side of the infield. They may also be looking to upgrade other areas, including first base, the bullpen, and possibly the starting rotation. But why would they want to upgrade the latter?
The Pirates have the second-best ERA in all of baseball at 3.05, and their top three starting pitchers (Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Liriano) each have ERAs under 3.00. And come playoff time, only those three (and maybe a fourth) will take the mound, not a fifth starter. The Pirates’ top three can go head-to-head with almost any team’s top three in all of baseball, depending on which contending teams add a starting pitcher.
The Pirates, despite the above, have still been mentioned as a team that’s been scouting starting pitchers. Huntington knows how important pitching is to a team, as one injury can decimate a rotation. But he’s most likely looking to upgrade this area because he knows that his team is looking up at the best team in baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals are the one team that has a better starting rotation (stat-wise) than the Pirates, and they sit six-and-a-half games ahead of the Pirates in the NL Central. If the Pirates want to take the division, adding a starting pitcher would be a very good idea.
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So yes, the Pirates should add a quality starting pitcher before the trade deadline on Friday. This team has the misfortune of being in the same division as the Cardinals, and having Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke at the back-end of the rotation may not help them achieve their pre-season goal of winning the division. This should still be the Pirates’ goal, and to do so, having average back-end of the rotation pitchers won’t get the job done.
Many people dislike Morton and Locke. Neither is a top of the rotation pitcher, but neither is a horrible pitcher. Locke and Morton give you what you should expect out of an average number-five pitcher. But the Pirates can’t have average. They need good to great. Currently, the San Francisco Giants sit in the second wild card spot. We all know what Madison Bumgarner did to this team and throughout the entire playoffs last season. Do we want to see that again? The Pirates need to play for the division, and to catch the best team in baseball, above-average starting pitchers are needed throughout the rotation.
The team has the prospects and the payroll flexibility to make a deal for a starter happen. And there are plenty of starting pitchers being shopped. Jeff Samardzija comes to mind, a pitcher that has proven to be a quality major league starter and can be an ace at times, and is a rental who may not be too expensive to acquire. The San Diego Padres are also shopping their pitchers. They badly want to move James Shields, and while it may not be a great move from a payroll standpoint to target him, the team should do their due diligence nonetheless. Tyson Ross could also be moved, and he’s much more attractive than Shields, as he has two years of arbitration eligibility after this one and showed last season than he can pitch at a high level. These are only a few of the starting options available on the market.
Huntington is a very smart General Manager and won’t do something stupid come deadline time. But he should add a starting pitcher, considering the nature of this buyer’s market and the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking up at the best team in baseball in their division. As the season nears its end, do you want Locke or Morton pitching to try to gain games in the division? I sure don’t.