Pittsburgh Pirates Offseason: Building A Super Bullpen

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Analysis: The Pittsburgh Pirates have few holes to fill in their roster for next season. Primarily they need a starter or two, a bullpen arm or two, and a backup starter. Building a bullpen is something Neal Huntington has done well in his time as Pirates General Manager.  He likely will be at it again for next season.

Using MLB Trade Rumors arbitration predictions, giving slight raises to pre-arbitration players, and guaranteed contracts, I expect the Pirates to have about $23-29 million to spend. Ideally they add a starter or two. However, the best options should not appeal that much to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Most have some sort of issue, especially with the money that some of the players will receive.

Ivan Nova will be entering his age 30 season. The most innings he has ever thrown is 170.1, which he did in 2012. His two lowest ERA seasons 2013 and 2011 were 3.10 and 3.70 respectively. He has had a FIP of under 4.00 only once, occurring in 2013 (3.47). For the money and years he is looking for and will likely receive, he is not worth the investment, especially long-term.

Rich Hill will be 37 next season, and he has pitched over 100 innings twice in his Major League career.  He threw 195 in 2007 and 110.1 in 2016. Even with his success, a 2.12 ERA and 2.39 FIP this season, he missed all of June with a groin strain, and he also had blister problems. Hill is a rather large question mark given his age and injury history.

The rest of the free agent class features backend starters who will get paid because of such a weak class. This class is led by Jeremy Hellickson. Then there is starters who have had success, but cannot stay healthy in Brett Anderson and Henderson Alvarez. Gio Gonzalez and Jaime Garcia could be potential fits, but both need to be bought out by their clubs. Also, Garcia has been rather inconsistent due to injuries.

The only starter I would say would be worth anything in the class would be Gio. He has produced a sub 3.80 FIP every year since, and including, 2010. 2016 also features his first below league average year since 2009, when he pitched in 20 games, starting 17.

But there is one way for the Pittsburgh Pirates to avoid the weak starting pitching market. They could roll with a league average starter in Chad Kuhl as the three, a seemingly unready Tyler Glasnow and a high soft contact yet home run prone pitcher in Drew Hutchison as the backend of the rotation. Invest the money into building a dominate bullpen. If the Pirates don’t sign a starter, or sign one to less than $3 million, the team can go all in on building the best bullpen in baseball.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have players set in the bullpen for next season, primarily Antonio Bastardo, Juan Nicasio, Felipe Rivero, and Tony Watson. That is a solid core four, and Jared Hughes will likely join them. Hughes at a projected $2.5 million.  This is a decent investment, especially if he is going to be the seventh guy in the bullpen.

As we watch the playoffs, we have seen Andrew Miller go multiple innings and come in before the eighth, as he is the Indians elite relief pitcher. Joe Maddon has used Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning twice these playoffs. Two strategies that make sense. It doesn’t matter if you have an elite relief pitcher if he is only used in the eighth. Games can be won and lost earlier in the game. Building a bullpen with stud relievers, who can go multiple innings, is what I would love for the Pirates to do.

Antonio Bastardo and Juan Nicasio can both pitch multiple innings, and if he gains better control, Felipe Rivero can become the Pittsburgh Pirates version of Andrew Miller. Tony Watson is better off going one inning at a tome given his usage over the years, and his year in 2016. Signing another pitcher who can go multiple innings and be a good reliever should be added, and so should another reliever that is either elite, or one that follows the Antonio Bastardo line.

With about $20 or so million to spend, the Pirates should be able to easily acquire these two relievers and add a backup shortstop. Backup shortstops come a dime a dozen, as they could go the cheap route with Pedro Florimon, sign a Stephen Drew potentially, or even go with the Sean Rodriguez re-signing route to add more positional flexibility. Say at most, the backup is $5 million (Sean Rodriguez) and the minimum is league minimum (Gift Ngoepe). That leaves anyway from $15 to $19 million for the Pirates to spend. This gets them to the basic $10 million increase in opening day payroll that we have seen.

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Mark Melancon is the first name the comes to mind when thinking about dominating relievers to target. This is especially true with Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman being free agents. However, with the thing that most call a bullpen that San Francisco had in 2016. We can probably but his name with them no matter the cost. We also know Jansen and Chapman are going to be off the table for the Pirates.

That leaves the next wave for the Pittsburgh Pirates to sign. Their top two targets should be former friend Joe Blanton and Brad Ziegler. In the last two years, Blanton has pitched 111 games, 4 starts, and has posted a 2.65 ERA and a 3.13 FIP. He has a 25.5 percent strikeout rate and a 6.7 walk rate in those two years. But most importantly, despite his 40.6 percent ground ball rate, his average exit velocity has been 89.6 and 88.3 miles per hour respectively. He is definitely in the Pirates price range. Blanton also has the ability to pitch multiple innings which would be a huge get for the Pirates.

Brad Ziegler, a ground ball machine should hopefully be of interest to the Pirates. Ziegler will be 37 all of next season, so his age should help in terms of price and years. His highest ERA’s have been 3.07, 3.26, 3.49 in 2009, 2010, and 2014 respectively. Ziegler’s lowest ground ball percentage in his career came in 2010, a rate of 54.4 percent. His ground ball ability would allow him to come into any jam and get out of it, and he is far better than Hughes.

Brad Ziegler and Joe Blanton should be targets, and ideally the Pirates get one if not both of them.

There are other options via trade that the Pirates could target, Nate Jones would be a nice target, but he just extended through at least 2018, and has options all the way through 2021. But he is going to be 31, so perhaps the White Sox will want to get out of that contact.

Next: How The Pirates Can Improve Run Prevention

Ryan Madson had his highest ERA since 2006, and his highest FIP since 2007. He is 36 years old, but he has been successful in the past. One downside has been most of his success occurred with the Phillies before 2011. 2016 was only his second season since 2011 in the big leagues, so his potential downfall is rather large. He is on the hook for $7.667 million for the money tight Athletics. So the team likely could swing a deal.

Whatever the Pirates do this offseason, their main goal should be to create a dominate bullpen that can bring out weapons that can go multiple innings.

*Numbers from fangraphs, baseball-reference, and baseball savant