As the offseason moves forward for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and as the winter meetings approach, more activity will begin to happen. Free agents will start signing, and more trades will take place. One of the areas the Pirates will most certainly address in the coming months will be filling out their starting rotation. At the moment, the team has Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Locke under contract as starting pitchers for 2016. With A.J. Burnett retiring, and with Casey Sadler and Brandon Cumpton both recovering from injury, the team needs another starter just to fill out the staff. More than likely, they need a strong number three starter and could even try to improve over Morton and Locke on the back-end. Let’s take a look at the free agent market for starting pitchers and see which players are a realistic fit with the Pirates.
According to Spotrac, there were 50 available free agent starters on the market when free agency officially began. By process of elimination, we can get a field of players that could work for the Pirates. We can knock Marco Estrada off the list, as he signed a two-year deal to return to the Blue Jays. Let’s also knock out the players that received qualifying offers, as I believe that the draft pick compensation will deter the Pirates from signing any of them. The Pirates’ organization as a whole stresses the importance of building from within, and the draft is how you do that. That eliminates eight more pitchers, bringing our count down to 41 pitchers (you can check out the list of the players that rejected their respective qualifying offers here).
Next, let’s knock out the top-end starters that are clearly out of Pittsburgh’s range, those that will command too much money to even warrant consideration. To me, that includes two more players: David Price and Johnny Cueto (Zack Greinke, Jeff Samardzija, and Jordan Zimmerman each received qualifying offers, so those three were already eliminated). Our list now stands at 39 pitchers.
We can knock off A.J. Burnett, who is going to retire, even though he hasn’t officially yet. I’m going to knock off Cliff Lee, who hasn’t pitched since July of 2014 and is basically on his way out of the league, Tim Hudson, who stated that 2015 would be his final season, and Josh Johnson, who needed a third Tommy John surgery and will miss all of the 2016 season. Finally, we can get rid of the players who just aren’t good enough for the Pirates, as a playoff contender and World Series hopeful. I won’t list all the pitchers that I eliminated, but that knocks the list down to a much more reasonable 18 players. Here’s my list:
Now, this is just a rough list, and not all of these players are perfect fits with the Pirates. And, more than likely, the Pirates will make J.A. Happ their primary target and may not look to improve upon Morton or Locke after that. But if Happ doesn’t work out, or if the team decides that it does want to move on from either Locke or Morton, there are some intriguing names here. There are a few reclamation project candidates, such as Tim Lincecum, Chad Billingsley, Shaun Marcum, Trevor Cahill, and Scott Baker. There are some veterans that could be had on one-year or two-year deals, such as Mark Buehrle, Kyle Lohse, Aaron Harang, and Bronson Arroyo. There are also some pitchers hitting free agency at younger ages than the usual 30-something free agent, like Mike Leake (28), Trevor Cahill (27), Jhoulys Chacin (27), and Mat Latos (27). When looking at this list as a whole, a few names jump out at me as good fits for the Pirates. Mat Latos and Scott Kazmir might command more money than the Pirates are comfortable dishing out, but Latos in particular would be a great fit. He’s young, his value could be down due his poor 2015 season, and he has a track record of success in the majors. Lincecum or Billingsley could be had for cheap because of their recent poor play, but both have shown in the past that they have the ability to be very good pitchers. I really like Jhoulys Chacin, who’s young and whose value might be down, but was a very good starter pitching many of his games in the toughest park to pitch in during his time with the Rockies. By pitching for a smaller market, he also doesn’t carry as much name recognition as some of these other guys. I also like Doug Fister, Kyle Lohse, and Mike Leake as options.
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Who knows if the Pittsburgh Pirates will even consider adding a starter beyond Happ if they sign him. But if they do, there are plenty of options available, including some that Ray Searage could work his magic on. Personally, I think they need an upgrade over at least one of Morton or Locke in 2016, but I’m not sure that the team does. Only time will tell, but the winter meetings are right around the corner, so maybe something will develop during the next month or so.
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