Evolving Starting Pitching Trade Market Could Benefit the Pittsburgh Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 12: Joe Musgrove #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the first inning at Oracle Park on September 12, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 12: Joe Musgrove #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the first inning at Oracle Park on September 12, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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With the starting pitching trade market severly thinning out, the Pittsburgh Pirates could have a near-monopoly very soon on this part of market.

In the last 48 hours the starting pitching trade market has thinned out significantly. This is something that could greatly benefit the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The San Diego Padres have made one massive trade and a second appears to be close. The first was with the Tampa Bay Rays for ace Blake Snell. The Rays got back consensus top 20 prospect Luis Patino along with top organizational prospects Blake Hunt, Cole Wilcox and former top 20 prospect Francisco Mejia. Now, they’re on the verge of acquiring Cubs’ ace Yu Darvish, another starter who was on the trade market.

Despite Darvish, Snell and Lance Lynn coming off the market in December, there are still many teams in need of starting pitching. The Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Angles and Boston Red Sox are all in the market to bolster their starting pitching. It has also previously been reported that the New York Mets and Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants are teams looking to add starters.

This gives the Pittsburgh Pirates a near-monopoly over the starting pitching trade market with Joe Musgrove and Steven Brault. Currently, Reds’ aces Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo have been the most rumored pitchers to move that weren’t Musgrove or Brault. However, unlike Gray, Musgrove or Brault, it seems the Reds aren’t too keen on trading Castilo. MLB Trade Rumors reported that “there is no indication Castillo deal is close or even likely”.

Musgrove is coming off a fantastic 2020 season, albeit in just 39.2 innings of work. Since arriving in Pittsburgh he’s averaged 3.04 fWAR per 150 innings pitched. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make anywhere between $3 to $5 million. Impressively, he was in the top 80th+ percentiles in xBA, xSLG, xwBOA and xERA. Many of the teams that lost out on Snell are now turning their attention to Musgrove. Plus with his six pitch mix and trending upward, Musgrove becomes one of the most valuable starters on the market once you factor in salary.

Brault has shown some potential in the last two seasons. He’s coming off a solid 2020 campaign and had a stretch of games in 2019 where he looked like a mid-rotation starter. Trade Rumors projects him to make between $1.5-$2.5 million. This also means the Pittsburgh Pirates have a near-monopoly over quality starting pitchers projected to make less than $8 million in 2021. After a COVID-19 shortened season where owners lost $640 thousand a game, this makes quality arms that are low cost in terms of salary very attractive trade pieces.

It’s also worth noting the free agent market isn’t particularly deep in starting pitching. Trevor Bauer is the only top tier starter available while arms like Jake Odorizzi, Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Quintana represent solid mid-rotation options. Japanese star Tomoyuki Sugano could be another top tier option, but teams might be a bit hesitant to go after given the difference between the Japan League and MLB. Many of the top ranked starters were also picked up quickly. Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman accepted qualifying offers while the Braves signed Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly.

Given what Lynn was able to net for the Texas Rangers despite going into his age 34 season, showing signs of age in 2020 and having just one year of control left and what the Rays were able to get back for Blake Snell, the Pittsburgh Pirates have an opportunity to really capitalize on the market, even more so after the Darvish trade is finalized. The starting pitching trade market has significantly shrunk over December with over a half dozen teams still looking for good starting pitcher.

In terms of trade values, this increases Brault’s value more than Musgrove’s. Musgrove is already a highly valuable commodity. His affordability, production and trend with two years of control remaining made him a worthwhile piece to start with. Brault on the other hand is trending upward, but doesn’t have the same ceiling as Musgrove. He’s averaged 1.8 fWAR/150 innings the last two seasons and while that isn’t bad, makes him a 40+ grade pitcher. However the Bucs can raise the asking price on him because there are so few starters left on the trade market, much less any left handed ones.

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With so few options remaining, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a near monopoly over the starting pitching trade market. Even if the Reds do trade Gray and potentially Castillo, that still leaves many teams looking for starters. If they don’t want to go through the open market, then they almost have to turn to the Pirates since they are now the only team heavily shopping their starters, mainly Musgrove and Brault.

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