Pittsburgh Pirates: Should Tony Watson be Traded?

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said a few days ago that as of now if for Tony Watson to be the 2017 closer. Is this the right call or are there rumors he should be traded?

Entering the 2016 season Tony Watson had been one of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball.  Watson’s dominance started in his 2013 campaign when he pitched to a 2.39 earned run average in 67 games.  Also in 2013 he had a 3.20 FIP, and a 0.87 WHIP, and provided a 0.6 WAR. He really broke out in 2014 however when he received an all-star nod.  Watson threw to a 1.63 earned run average, with a 1.02 WHIP, and provided a 1.4 WAR.  He followed in 2015 with another 1.4 WAR and 1.91 earned run average.

Many knew entering the 2016 season that the Pittsburgh Pirates would have one of the best set-up and closer duo in the league. However, this year started bumpy for Watson.  Through April his earned run average was at 3.55 in 12 games.  Not horrible, but not the Watson we were expecting.  He followed it up with his best month of season in May.  He did not yield a run in nine innings pitched.  However, something really went wrong after May. June he saw his earned run average at 5.56 for the month.

However whatever was causing him to get hit around he figured out.  July and August saw him settle down posting an ERA under three between the two months.  The biggest concern however, was in August he blew two saves after the trade of Mark Melancon.  His struggles in the ninth inning continued into September as he posted a 5.06 earned run average and another blown save.

Fans Questioning

Many fans from August on started to question whether or not Tony Watson was fit for the closer;s role.  Some players for really unknown reasons struggle in a closer role.  You always hear that it takes a different type of pitcher to close out games.  Whether it is a left-handed pitcher who can throw 105, closer for Boston who cocks his arm out to the side, or simply a highly animated guy on the mound.  Watson does not really fit any of these stereotypes, but neither does Mark Melancon.  So what is behind all of it?  Maybe just being comfortable in the situation, the more experience in that type of situation the better.  Or maybe he just mentally cannot handle the situation.  Some players just are not good under specific pressure.  If that is the case then Watson needs to be moved.

The Pittsburgh Pirates seem to have another future closer on the roster in Felipe Rivero.  If there is any doubt about Tony Watson closing, then there should be not argument against giving Rivero a shot.  With that the Pittsburgh Pirates pen is going to have a lot of left-handed pitchers in it.  As of now they have Tony Watson, Felipe Rivero, Antonio Bastardo, Wade LeBlanc, and possibly Zach Phillips.  LeBlanc earned a spot on this team next season.  He pitched very well for the Pittsburgh Pirates since being picked up in early September.  Phillips also did a good job, but he likely will find himself DFA’d, unless the Pirates really like what they saw.  If the Pirates do not feel Watson can close, then they should float him in trades.

More from Rum Bunter

Plenty of other options

They have plenty of left-handed options as listed above.  Yes, he could set up, but also we know from the past that Pittsburgh Pirates do not like to overpay for relievers.  Watson is in his final year of arbitration, and is projected by MLBTR to receive about six million dollars.  This is after earning 3.45 million last year.  The Pirates may not be willing to pay a non-closer that kind of money.  Especially 31 year old reliever who seems to be running out of gas.  Many attribute this to the amount innings he has thrown over the last few years surpassing 70 innings pitched in each season from 2013 through 2015.

Watson is an aging reliever with only one year of control left.  He could be dealt to a bigger market team that is looking for a proven set-up guy.  With Watson seeming to be leaking some oil, other let-handed upside options, and that he is set to receive a significant raise this off-season it may make sense to deal the lefty.  If they decide not to?  Then great we have another strong, late inning arm.  Either way I do believe Neal Huntington will be taking phone calls regarding Watson very soon.