Pittsburgh Pirates Off-Season: Now What?

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pirates need to improve their rotation, that is no secret.  And neither is the fact that the free agent market is thin in acquiring a starter.  But they’ve hit a wall with two of the names surrounding them.

The best way to acquire starting pitching that is not full of Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong types, the backend guys that are ok if you have a solid foundation.  But the Pirates don’t have that luxury right in just being able to sign a backend starter.  Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon have question marks on how many innings they can go, Tyler Glasnow still has work, and Chad Kuhl is already a backend starter, and the rest of Drew Hutchison, Trevor Williams, and Steven Brault all have their questions about them.  Nick Kingham won’t start the year in Pittsburgh, so the Pirates dabbling in free agency is a tad nerve-racking.

The ideal way to acquire a starting pitcher given the free agent class would be through trade. Andrew McCutchen was the hot name in the rumor mill until Chris Sale came along.  The Nationals, the obvious landing spot traded for Adam Eaton.  Neal Huntington mentioned the team took calls on McCutchen and others, but also added, via Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"In this instance, obviously, we felt the right move was to hold the player and have him continue to help us win a lot of games at the major league level. … We expected Andrew to be a Pirate. We feel great about Andrew being a Pirate. He’s done remarkable things for this organization. We look forward to him being in our lineup next year and continuing on as a Pirate."

With no clear landing spot, outside of the Los Angeles Dodgers perhaps, the Pirates biggest trade chip will likely remain a member of the Pirates, to start the year at least.  Unless the Pirates move a top prospect in Austin Meadows, Kevin Newman, or Mitch Keller, something that is not a Pirates type thing to do.  That once again limits them in adding, back to the free agent class they search.

Derek Holland Sign in Chicago

The Pirates may have caught a break when left hander Derek Holland signed with the Chicago White Sox for one year and $6 million.  However, Chris Cotillo tweeted out the Pirates were a finalist for Holland.  Missing out on the oft injured lefty, who has pitched 203 innings total since 2014, is a blessing in disguise.  In fact, in that time period, there have been 59 different pitchers to surpass 203 innings in a single season.  That’s not a pitcher you want to invest in if you’re a team hesitant to spend money at all to begin with.

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Holland is projected at a 4.72 ERA and a 4.80 FIP in 109 innings, not good by any means.  For comparison, Jeff Locke is projected at 4.25 ERA and a 4.37 FIP in 96 innings.  These numbers are not park adjusted, but the Pirates designated Locke for assignment just 16 days ago.

Locke has a track record of health and is projected to be better of the two options.  Why the team even targeted Holland in the first place is beyond me, but they missed out on him, and at this point probably won’t swing a trade to acquire a starter.  That leaves questions.

Where do the Pirates go from here?

The best pitcher on the free agent market is Tyson Ross.  Ross has a career 3.63 ERA and a 3.38 FIP in his career, which are a 97 ERA- and an 89 FIP-.  But he pitched in all of 5.1 innings in 2016. Despite his projection of a 3.63 ERA and a 3.64 FIP in 151 innings in 2017, there are concerns with the right hander.  Bill Brink tweeted the Pirates have checked in on Ross, but outside of that there has been nothing.  Ross likely won’t be a Pirate in 2017 for two reasons.  The first being, if his shoulder shows he is healthy, the Pirates won’t outspend teams that will be interested.  If his shoulder shows concerns, the Pirates won’t waste money on a huge question mark.  That leaves the Pirates back to a recent friend.

There has been very little on Ivan Nova, which may play into the Pirates hand.  I have my personal concerns with the right hander.  I wrote after the Pirates acquired him how although it was crazy, it may work, but I have also wrote that his early success was just a mirage.  His career ERA- of 104 and FIP- of 101 demonstrate an average pitcher, and nothing too special.  He performed to a 76 ERA- and a 66 FIP- in his time with the Pirates, but that came in a small sample.  His DRA-, comparing pitcher to pitcher in terms of deserved run average (DRA), was actually better in New York than the Pirates, but the difference was minimal.  Yet a team will likely still overpay for Nova.

This leaves the Pirates back to the problem they had last year.  Running out a rotation of back-end starters in multiple rotation spots.  Jorge De La Rosa comes to mind as a target.  His steamer projection of a 4.45 ERA and 4.53 FIP in 145 innings is not ideal, but the Pirates love targeting bargains.  Another option could be Jason Hammel, which was written about earlier this week.  Hammel would be interesting, as he is a veteran who has had success with the Cubs in two and a half of the prior three years.  But he too is a back-end starter type.

Next: Pirates Handled McCutchen Talks Wrong

With not being able to trade their biggest trade chip in McCutchen for real pitching help, the Pirates reluctance to trade prospects for pitchers will come back to haunt them once again in 2017.  Even just a move such as Alex Cobb seems so easy and obvious, but even that has low odds of occurring.  The Pirates likely now turn toward more free agents such as the one they missed out on in Holland, and that is a dangerous path for the Pirates to go down.

*Numbers from fangraphs