Two Moves to Improve the Pittsburgh Pirates Starting Rotation


As the 2018 regular season looms, the current rotation is not good enough for the Pittsburgh Pirates and needs to be improved. There is a pair of moves the Pirates can – and should – make to improve the rotation.

The start of the 2018 Major League Baseball season is three weeks from today – yay! In justs 21 days, the Pittsburgh Pirates will travel to Comerica Park in Detroit to begin a season opening three-game series against the Detroit Tigers.

When this series begins, the Pirate rotation appears to be as follows: Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, and Joe Musgrove. This is a starting rotation with plenty of question marks, and, maybe worst of all, the Pirates have a serious lack of starting rotation depth.

Behind these five, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ options are limited. There is highly touted prospect Tyler Glasnow, but he has never shown the ability to throw enough strikes. Clay Holmes has flashed at times in the minors, but he has also had Tommy John Surgery and is nowhere near Major League ready. There is also Tyler Eppler, however, there are plenty of questions about Eppler’s ability to be a starter at the Major League level.

Basically, this leaves Nick Kingham as the team’s lone true depth option. And Kingham missing almost all of 2016 due to surgery combined with the team not wanting him to potentially reach Super 2 status down the road, Kingham will not sniff Pittsburgh before mid-June.

Depth issues aside, the Pirate rotation has no givens outside of Jameson Taillon. Ivan Nova is a hard contact/home run allowing machine (33.2 percent career  hard contact rate allowed, 1.15 HR/9), Chad Kuhl has serious control issues (3.63 career BB/9, 4.12 BB/9 in 2017), Joe Musgrove has been better as a reliever in his career (4.82 FIP vs 2.37 FIP), and there is no guarantee Trevor Williams repeats his 2017 success. Needless to say, the Pittsburgh Pirates need starting rotation help.

Well, there is a pair of moves the team can make to help the 2018 starting rotation. These moves each include a former St. Louis Cardinal. Those two players? David Freese and Lance Lynn.

The first is currently a Pirate. However, with the addition of Colin Moran the team no longer has a need for Freese. The now 34-year-old Freese is owed $6 million this upcoming season. While the Pirates could afford to dabble in free agency without moving salary, odds are, they would not do so. This makes step one to improving the starting rotation trading David Freese.

While Freese would not have the trade value he once did, a team in need of third base help would undoubtedly have interest in Freese. Teams such as the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, and Oakland Athletics all come to mind.

Moving the money owed to Freese, combined with the roughly $18 million left over from the Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole trades that was not tied up in the team acquiring Corey Dickerson, should give the Pirates more than enough money to make a competitive and enticing free agent contract to a starting pitcher that can help the team. That starting pitcher is Lance Lynn.

As part of a historically slow offseason, Lance Lynn remains and unsigned free agent.The 30-year-old Lynn has spent his entire career in the National League Central Divison as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lynn owns a 3.38 ERA, 3.64 FIP, a 14.9 fWAR, and a strikeout rate of 8.46 K/9 in 977 2/3 career innings. His 977 2/3 innings have come over the course of 183 career games, 161 of which have been starts.

Adding Lynn to the Pirate rotation would improve it substantially. He would immediately vault to being the team’s second best starting pitcher behind Jameson Taillon. It would also allow the team to move Joe Musgrove or Chad Kuhl to the bullpen where both might be better suited than in the starting rotation.

Outside of missing 2016 due to Tommy John Surgery, Lynn has been a workhorse in his career. Since 2012 he has pitched at least 175 1/3 innings in every season except 2016. This includes eclipsing 200 innings in 2013 and 2014. This should also entice the Pirates as getting length out of their starting pitchers is shaping up to be a major problem in 2018.

According to reports, the Minnesota Twins offered Lance Lynn a 2-year $20 million contract which he turned down. The Pirates can offer Lynn both more years and money than this. After moving Freese to help free salary, the Bucs could offer Lynn a contract along the lines of 3 years in the $36-40 million range and afford it easily.

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Will the Pittsburgh Pirates make a move like this? More than likely the answer to that question is no. For a variety of reasons, it would not fit how the Pirates tend to operate in the offseason. However, adding someone like Lance Lynn to the team’s starting rotation would change the outlook for 2018 in a big, positive way.