Pittsburgh Pirates: Free Agent Starting Pitchers Still Available

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TORONTO, ON – OCTOBER 2: Michael Wacha #52 of the Boston Red Sox pitches to the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on October 2, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – OCTOBER 2: Michael Wacha #52 of the Boston Red Sox pitches to the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on October 2, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates need to look for another starting pitcher for the back of the rotation and here is what the market is currently offering.

The Pittsburgh Pirates need to figure out the last spot of the rotation. The first four starters look to be a mix of Roansy Contreras, Mitch Keller, Johan Oviedo, and JT Brubaker. If the season was to start right now, one of Bryse Wilson, Zach Thompson, or Vince Velaquez would be the final fifth starter.

While the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t need to splurge massively, given they have top prospects like Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Kyle Nicolas, and Luis Ortiz, it would be nice to solidify the back of the rotation. The first four spots look decent, and having some stability behind them would be preferred.

So with that, what’s left on the free agent market for the Pirates to pursue?

Mid-Tier Veterans

With Chris Bassitt signing with the Toronto Blue Jays, the only high-end starting pitcher left is Carlos Rodon, who has a snowball’s chance in hell at ending up with the Pirates. So we’ll jump straight into the mid-tier veterans.

On the surface, Ross Stripling should be in the upper level of free-agent pitchers. The former LA Dodger worked to a 3.01 ERA, 3.11 FIP, and 1.02 WHIP through 134.1 innings. He also had a career-best walk rate at 3.7% (3rd best among pitchers with 130+ frames) and HR/9 at 0.8. But Stripling has never started 25 games in a single season, nor has he ever pitched 150+ innings. Last year, he only started 24 of the 32 games he appeared in, and he’s mostly worked as a swing-man type arm. He’s not a spring chicken either at 33 years of age. But he definitely sits the closest to one of the better arms remaining.

One veteran the Pirates should be more than familiar with is Michael Wacha. The right-hander spent the first seven seasons of his MLB career with the St. Louis Cardinals. After a rough 2020 and 2021, Wacha rebounded to a 3.32 ERA, 4.14 FIP, and 1.12 WHIP with the Boston Red Sox. Wacha’s 1.27 HR/9 is a tad high, but six of the 18 total home runs he allowed came in the final two starts of his season. After his September 22nd start, Wacha had a 2.70 ERA, 3.65 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP.

Despite a down season compared to 2021, Nathan Eovaldi was still effective overall. In 109.1 innings, the hard-throwing starting pitcher had a 3.87 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. However, his FIP clocked in at 4.30. Eovaldi had a 22.3% strikeout rate, which is typical for him, but he also had an elite 4.3% walk rate. Eovaldi struggled with the long ball with a 1.73 HR/9. However, he also had a 17.2% HR/FB ratio. Once you account for that, the soon-to-be 33-year-old had a 3.46 xFIP and 3.55 SIERA.

Drew Smyly is a left-hander who was decent for the division rival Chicago Cubs last campaign. The southpaw was limited to just 106.1 innings but had a 3.47 ERA, 4.23 FIP, and 1.19 WHIP. Smyly’s 20.4% strikeout rate is a career low for the lefty, but his 5.8% walk rate is the best he’s put up since 2013 when he was a relief pitcher with the Detroit Tigers. But home runs were an issue with a 1.35 HR/9. But Smyly is a decent left-handed starting pitcher who is still looking for a team.

Another veteran who has bounced around the last few seasons is Zach Davies. Davies was still about league average last season with a 4.09 ERA, but had a 4.83 FIP. Davies’ 17.9% strikeout rate falls right in line with his career average, though his 9.1% walk rate is a tad high for him. He also struggled with the long ball last year, allowing 21 in 134.1 innings (1.41 HR/9 rate). He’s only ever once had a below league average ERA in just one season (min 100 IP). Davies might be on the lower-end of this section, but he’s consistently provided #5-type starter results.

One last mid-tier veteran worth mentioning is Noah Syndergaard. Now granted, I highly doubt Syndergaard would sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s previously had some choice words about the Pittsburgh Pirates, so I doubt they’re on his wish list of teams he wants to sign with. But he did have a solid 3.94 ERA, 3.83 FIP, and 1.25 WHIP in 134.2 innings with the LA Angels and Philadelphia Phillies, which puts him firmly in the mid-tier veteran category.