Editorial: The Pittsburgh Pirates brought back Ivan Nova to help with the 2017 starting rotation. Is this rotation better than it was in 2016?
Entering the 2016 season, many fans were upset about the Pittsburgh Pirates not adding any significant pitching help after winning 98 games in 2015. Fans were upset to see trade deadline phenom J.A. Happ go to Toronto on a middle of the road deal. Meanwhile, the Pirates tried to help their rotation by trading Neil Walker for Jon Niese. At the time of the deal, the trade made sense. Niese had multiple years of control, while Walker was entering his final year of control. Meanwhile, Niese was making less than Happ over the next three seasons.
Even with the addition of Niese, the Pittsburgh Pirates still lacked arms in the back end of their rotation. The top half was made up of Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, the bottom had Jeff Locke, grandpa Ryan Vogelsong, and Juan Nicasio. While Locke and Vogelsong did not excite the fan base, Nicasio was electric during Spring Training, and fans wanted him in the rotation. Nicasio showed electric stuff before, but he had always struggled as a starter. Also, Nicasio was just coming off a really solid year out of the Dodger’s bullpen. In general, the Bucs had two glaring holes in the back of their rotation, and that was before what Niese and Liriano would provide in the 2016 season.
One and Two
This year seems different. Once again, the Bucs still could use a starter, but there seems to be way more upside to the current rotation. First, there is Gerrit Cole. Obviously, Cole is expected to lead the staff. He has another year of maturity, and if healthy, should have a strong season. Then the Bucs will enter the season with the second part of their two-headed monster in Jameson Taillon. Taillon made an immediate strong impression last year, and finally joins Cole in the rotation for a full season. These two together is what fans, and the Pirates, have been waiting for since the 2011 baseball draft.
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Behind those two is Ivan Nova. Nova, who many rolled their eyes at when acquired, emulated J.A. Happ’s performance for the Bucs the year prior. The Nova deal seemed like an absolute steal, as he was arguably the Pittsburgh Pirates best starter post trade deadline. If he pitches anywhere close to what he did last year with the Bucs, he will far outperform what the Pittsburgh Pirates got from their three spot last year.
Manning the four spot will be Chad Kuhl. Kuhl is viewed highly by the Pittsburgh Pirates. General Manager Neal Huntington said multiple times that teams tried to acquire Kuhl, but the Bucs really like his upside. He showed that upside last year. While he was not as dominant as fellow rookie Jameson Taillon, Kuhl was steady. This is something that could not be said for Locke, Nicasio, and Vogelsong, all of who were manning the backend of the rotation for most of the beginning of last season. Like Taillon and Cole, Kuhl is another year older and should see a step forward.
Yes, there are questions about the fifth spot right now. Will it be an acquisition in the free agent market or a minor trade? Or could the Bucs bring in more of an impact pitcher and bump Kuhl down to five? We shall see.
Even if they do not acquire another arm, the Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of internal options that have upside. They have top prospect Tyler Glasnow of course, but also could give opportunities to top 20 prospects, Trevor Williams or Steven Brault. Even if they are not going to be as good as trading for a proven starter, they give more upside compared to pitchers like Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong. So yes, the rotation for 2017 should be viewed as in better shape than the 2016 one.