What Roster Move Should The Pittsburgh Pirates Make?

Jul 20, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Jared Hughes (48) pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 20, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Jared Hughes (48) pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates need to make a roster move to make room for Steven Brault before his start tonight, what should it be?

Tonight, left-handed pitcher Steven Brault will return to the Major Leagues. Clint Hurdle told reports after the Pittsburgh Pirates 10-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night that Brault will start for the team in Milwaukee tonight. Since it is known that Steven Brault is coming the question becomes what should the corresponding roster move be?

The Pittsburgh Pirates 25-man roster is currently full, duh. So, someone has to go to make room for Brault. Personally, I believe the Pittsburgh Pirates should go in one of two directions. One of which involves designating a reliever for assignment, and the other involves optioning one to Triple-A Indianapolis.

The Pittsburgh Pirates currently have a nine man bullpen, so the corresponding roster move will certainly come from the bullpen. Currently, the Pirates have a trio of long relievers in their bullpen. These three pitchers all started the year in the rotation, but now find themselves in the bullpen.

Those three pitchers are Jeff Locke, Jon Niese, and Juan Nicasio. Locke and Niese are stereotypical long men, but Juan Nicasio carries more value than that. While, yes, Nicasio can be a long man and pitch multiple innings he also has the ability to be a good short reliever for the Pirates. So for this reason, in my opinion, Juan Nicasio is safe.  This puts Jeff Locke and Jon Niese on the hot seat. 

Also working in Juan Nicasio’s favor is how well he has pitched since being moved to the bullpen. In 18 1/3 innings pitched out of the bullpen Nicasio has a 2.45 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 3.21 xFIP, and a 1.09 WHIP. Nicasio has also watched his strikeout rate jump to 10.80 K/9, while his walk rate has dropped to 3.44 BB/9 and his home run rate to 0.49 HR/9 as a reliever.

The other reliever I would put on the hot seat is right-handed pitcher Jared Hughes. Hughes has struggled mightily during the 2016 season and is having the worst season of his career. Despite having a 3.18 ERA this season, Jared Hughes has pitched horribly. He is averaging a career low 4.50 K/9, while also averaging a career high 3.71 BB/9 and 0.89 HR/9. Jared Hughes also has a career high FIP (4.79), xFIP (5.35), and a career low ground ball rate of 50.9 percent. All of this has resulted in Hughes posting a WAR of -0.3.

The only other reliever with options, minus Tony Watson who is obviously going nowhere, is A.J. Schugel. Last Saturday, the Pittsburgh Pirates optioned A.J. Schugel to Triple-A to create a roster spot for Tyler Glasnow. This was the absolute wrong move because of how well Schugel has pitched this season (3.30 FIP, 7.90 K/9, 2.39 BB/9), but Schugel returned the next day when Glasnow went on the disabled list. Hopefully, the Pirates do not make this mistake again.

So now the question becomes, who should go? Should it be Jeff Locke, Jon Niese, or Jared Hughes? While what I would do might, and probably does, differ from what the Pittsburgh Pirates will do, the move I would make is designating Jon Niese for assignment. If not that, then I’d option Jared Hughes to Triple-A.

As I said above, there is no need for three long men in the bullpen. At this point, I would like to see Jeff Locke be the long man while Juan Nicasio is used in a role similar to what Clint Hurdle used Jeanmar Gomez in during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Some times he pitches multiple innings, some times one inning, and he could even be used as a late inning man.

Jeff Locke as a reliever is an idea that has always intrigued me. Throughout his career Locke has been a pitcher that tends to do well the first time through the lineup before running into trouble. That screams successful relief pitcher.

Locke also has good career numbers as a reliever. Albeit these numbers are in an extremely small sample size, Locke has pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings in his career out of the bullpen. In these 8 2/3 innings he has a 2.19 FIP, 3.62 xFIP, opposing batters have just a .226 wOBA against him, and he has never walked a batter as a reliever. This includes 4 1/3 scoreless innings as a reliever this year.

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What roster move will the Pittsburgh Pirates make tonight to create a spot on the 25-man roster for Steven Brault? We will have to wait and see. Personally, I would like to see Jon Niese designated for assignment or Jared Hughes optioned to Triple-A. But I fear the Pirates will, once again, make the wrong move and option A.J. Schugel to Triple-A. Prove me wrong, Bucs.