For the last few weeks the discussion around the Pirate rotation has been about Juan Nicasio and how he should make it. We can sit here and talk about the facts all we want. Yes, Jeff Locke is inconsistent and most likely will be again this season. However, they are hoping with the change to his mechanics and that fact that he is a lefty that he will find some success in PNC Park. If he can do that then the Pirates will be okay with him slotting in at #5 in the rotation. However, the argument about Nicasio replacing Vogelsong is more realistic.
When Vogelsong signed in Pittsburgh we heard a lot of moans and groans all over social media and the radio. Many people were unhappy that the Pirates did not acquire a more sure starter like Scott Kazmir or to a lesser degree Mat Latos. However, after thinking about it many came to the realization that Vogelsong was specifically brought in to
pitch until June. If he could do well enough until the super-two cutoff, then the young prospects would take over. I mean you could not expect more from a 38-year-old pitcher who clearly has regressed over the last 3 years (posting a 4+ ERA over that time).
Nicasio was brought in as an interesting piece that many were unsure of what his role would be, but assumed would be another bullpen power arm. I will admit that I did not like the idea of stretching him out. I felt that he found his niche’ last year pitching out of the bullpen for the Dodgers. Why mess with something that was working? However, after looking at the evidence of the two options above I started to think that it was not such a bad idea to at least see what he had and what the Searage effect would create.
We know how dominant that Nicasio has been this spring. He has thrown 15 innings and has struck out 24, with a 1.00 WHIP and no runs given up. However, he has not always been effective as a starters, in fact he struggled with the Rockies and the Dodgers as one. I will compare him to Ryan Vogelsong, because I believe Locke will be in the rotation because he is left-handed in a lefty friendly ballpark. Vogelsong this spring has done well also, he has thrown in 3 games and has given into a 4.00 ERA. However, most of his runs came in his first appearance, and since has settled down. This article is not necessarily about who is statistically better, or who has the higher upside however.
On paper, it is clear-cut, that Nicasio should be the starter, and I agree. Nicasio has been lights out, is 10 years younger, and looks comparable to when they brought in Eddy Volquez. However, there is one simple reason the Pirates should use Nicasio over Vogelsong. Money. It is almost comical how the Pirates have built up this identity of being cheap, and yet here I am asking them to do so. The Pirates signed Ryan Vogelsong to a base salary of 2 million dollars for the 2016 season. They also signed Nicasio to a one year deal at 3 million dollars. As little difference as it seems, it just financially makes more sense to start the guy who is making more money per inning. Which ever one does not make the rotation will be relegated to the bullpen. With Feliz, Watson, and Melancon claiming the 7th, 8th, and 9th spots there really is no room for Nicasio to give important innings. Why put the more pricey guy in a mop up role, put the older veteran in there who is making less money. Less money, not as an important role vs more money, more important role. Not to mention that at 38 years of age who knows how many innings Vogelsong will be able to eat as a starter or how deep into games he could go.
The last issue is that Vogelsong can actually make up to 5 million dollars this year. That is an additional 3 million in incentives. Usually the case for these incentives are if the pitcher makes so many starts or throws so many innings in the year or by certain dates. What better way to ensure that you do not dump an extra 3 million into a guy than to not really give him a strong opportunity to earn it. Before you say “it is only 3 million, you sound cheap”. What if that extra 3 million will help us to bring in a piece at the deadline?
I know this all may sound a little ridiculous, but for once the Pirates should be cheap. Nicasio will make more money per inning than Vogelson, so let him truly earn it. Spring training is Spring training, there is no saying that Nicasio will continue to be successful this season, but he has earned the opportunity. You are paying Vogelsong less, allow him to fill the long relief/ swing man in the pen. Use him when you need to skip a start of a guy hits the DL. With Nicasio you maybe finding more than a guy who just needs to get you to June, but rather another strong reclamation project. He could take this rotation from average to above average. This also allows you some security as Glasnow and Taillon continue to develop and not the Pirates may not feel the pressure to bring them up right at super-two (even know we will all want them both up). It gives you more quality depth, and the Bucs can save some cash in doing so. For once, it makes sense to make a cheaper financial decision!