Pirates Offseason Trade Candidate: Tony Watson


When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Mark Melancon on July 30th, Tony Watson became the team’s closer. However, could he be traded this offseason?

Tony Watson is currently slated to enter the 2017 season as the Pirates’ closer. In my opinion, the closer role is one of the stupidest things in all of baseball. Your best reliever should be used in the game’s highest leverage situation and should never be saved for the ninth inning. Unfortunately, most managers in baseball are backwards thinking and fail to realize this. *stepping off my soap box now*

For parts of the past four season’s the Pirates had one of baseball’s most dominant closers in Mark Melancon. However, that changed on July 30th when he was traded to the Washington Nationals. Due to this trade, Tony Watson became the team’s closer.

Watson was moved to this role for good reason. Since 2013 he had been as good as any left-handed reliever in baseball not named Aroldis Chapman. But, surprisingly, Watson struggled in the 2016 season.

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Tony Watson pitched 67 2/3 innings in 2016. In these 67 2/3 innings he posted a 3.06 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 4.20 xFIP, and a -0.1 WAR. Watson’s biggest issue in 2016 was poor control. These control issues led to him averaging 2.66 BB/9, as well as allowing more home runs (10) than he had the previous two years combined (8).

When you combine Watson’s 2016 struggles with the fact he is slated to become a free agent after the 2017 season, there are reasons to believe the Pirates could shop him around this offseason. Additionally, the Pirates already have a deep bullpen with pitchers such as A.J. Schugel, Antonio Bastardo, Juan Nicasio, and Felipe Rivero. Due to all of these reasons, I expect Neal Huntington to float Tony Watson’s names in trade talks this offseason.

Do not get me wrong, I do not believe the Pirates should trade Tony Watson just to trade him. He cam still bring the Pirates’ bullpen some good value in 2017. Despite his struggles in 2016, there are reasons to believe he will bounce back.

In 2016 Tony Watson’s velocity actually increased over what it was in 2015. He also had a career high tying swing and miss rate (52.5 percent) and swinging strike rate (12.8 percent) in 2016. Finally, the 17.8 percent line drive rate Watson allowed was down by more than three percent from the 20.9 percent it was in 2015.

Due to these reasons, I expect Tony Watson to bounce back in 2017. He may not be as good as pre-2016 Tony Watson was, but he can still be a solid reliever. So I will be happy with the Pirates bringing him back, but I also will not be upset if he is traded. Especially since he is only the Pirates’ third best reliever.

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I expect Neal Huntington to float Tony Watson in trade talks this offseason. That said, I do not necessarily think he will be traded either. While Tony Watson would help the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates, they do not need him either. If the right offer comes along, I believe Watson will be moved.