Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Back of the Rotation Options in 2023
By Noah Wright
Potential free agent or trade acquisitions?
The Pirates are approaching a point where they could add players that aren’t just back-of-the-rotation innings eaters for just one year. Now chances are, the Pirates aren’t going to go after the big fish, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any solid middle-of-the-rotation arms for more than just a single season.
One player I wouldn’t mind seeing the Pirates reunite with is Jameson Taillon. Taillon hasn’t been a terrible pitcher for the New York Yankees, being roughly league average with a 98 ERA+. He’s averaged 3.72 strikeouts for every walk, but the biggest issue has been home runs. He has a 1.43 HR/9, but he was much better at limiting the long ball with the Bucs. A two-year deal with an option for a third year and AAV around $15 million would be pretty reasonable.
An underrated starting pitcher option who will hit the open market is Ross Stripling. The one-time All-Star has a 138 ERA+ this season with the Toronto Blue Jays. Though Stripling has mostly served as a swingman-type pitcher throughout his career, but the Pirates could give him a full-time chance to start games. Stripling currently is posting career bests in ERA (2.84), FIP (2.79), WHIP (1.04), walk percentage (4.2%), and HR/9 (.57). He’s still being used as a swingman, and he’s currently 33 years old, which might help him get to the Pirates’ price range.
Another reunion most Pirates fans probably wouldn’t object to is with Jose Quintana. The Pirates signed Quintana this past off-season, and he pitched outstanding for them, working to the tune of a 3.50 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and 1.27 WHIP in 103 innings before being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline for Malcolm Nunez and Johan Oviedo. So far, Quintana has pitched 19.2 more innings allowing seven earned runs and just one home run, but he has walked nine with only 16 K’s. Like with Stripling, age will be a factor as to how much Quintana gets this off-season. He’s going to be entering his age-34 campaign in 2023. Plus, in the three seasons before 2022, he had just an 86 ERA+.
Some other free agents I could see the Pirates at least kick the tires on is Zach Eflin, who posted an ERA+ of 101 or greater in the three seasons prior to 2022, Wade Miley, who’s mostly been hurt this season, but had an ERA+ of 139 in 2021, or Drew Smyly, another southpaw who has been a consistently rock solid arm the last few seasons. These three options would give the Pirates a league average or better arm in the fifth spot of the rotation behind Priester, Contreras, Keller, and Burrows.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates explore the trade market with some of their Rule 5 players. Guys like Abrahan Gutierrez, Cody Bolton, Matt Fraizer, or Matt Gorski could be used to acquire a pitcher. Ask the Oakland Athletics what their asking price on Cole Irvin is. See what kind of players the Kansas City Royals want for Brad Keller. Maybe invest in a rebound candidate like Miami Marlins’ Elieser Hernandez.
I think the Pirates have a ton of internal options that going outside the organization isn’t a necessity, but I still think it would be a good idea to add some reinforced foundation with a proven veteran. This year’s starting pitching free agent market doesn’t have a ton of big-name options, which could help play into the Pittsburgh Pirates favor.