3 recently DFA'd players the Pirates should target in wake of injuries

The Pirates have seen their roster rocked by injuries, including to the likes of David Bednar, Marco Gonzales, Joey Bart, and more. The waiver wire could hold a diamond in the rough that can help Pittsburgh survive the next few weeks and remain in the playoff hunt.
May 26, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Victor Gonzalez (47) throws a pitch during the sixth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: David Frerker-USA TODAY Sports
May 26, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Victor Gonzalez (47) throws a pitch during the sixth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: David Frerker-USA TODAY Sports / David Frerker-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates have weathered a rash of injuries in the month of June. The starting rotation has a question mark every five days, and the bullpen games are starting to impact availability throughout the week. Much-needed reinforcements seem to be on the way, but Pittsburgh could look to the waiver wire for short-term relief.

Pitching, in the form of both starters and relievers, is the primary area of concern at the moment. The Pirates have gone 11-10 in the month of June so far, but they have been outscored 93 to 85 in that span. Last night’s blowout loss to the Reds is indicative of the Pirates’ struggles at the moment. Starter Bailey Falter reportedly felt “exhausted,” giving up five runs in four innings; the bullpen was unable to stem the bleeding, allowing six additional runs to cross the plate.

The likelihood of finding cheap starting pitching is fairly slim, but two recently DFA’d players could prop up the Pirates’ roughed-up bullpen. On Friday, the Yankees designated Victor González for assignment. The left-hander’s ability to generate ground balls could provide another weapon for a strikeout-dependent ‘pen. Gonzalez’s groundball rate of 54.3 percent this season exceeds all Pittsburgh pitchers except Quinn Priester, another injured arm.

González, though, could be a risky choice. His 3.86 ERA belies a 5.94 FIP. In other words, he’s been tremendously helped by his defense and has not been as effective in events that are the result of his own pitching prowess (walks, HBPs, strikeouts, and homers). His sinker seems to be to blame here. His primary pitch has lost some speed this season and tends to hang in the middle of the zone, yielding an expected slugging percentage of .448.

Still, the Pirates may be able to wring some magic out of Gonzalez while awaiting the return of lefty Ryan Borucki, who is aiming for a return by the All-Star Break. Over his career, Gonzalez has held left-handed hitters to a .199/.280/.262 line, an asset for a staff that has allowed a .754 OPS to opposing lefties.

One DFA'd reliever who could provide Pirates with a bit more firepower

If the Pirates, though, opt to go for more firepower in the bullpen, Alex Speas, a former second-round pick, is on the market after being DFA’d by the Astros on Saturday. Speas features a four-seamer that can hit triple-digits, along with a sweeper and cutter. The right-hander has been a project for several clubs in his short professional career, bouncing from the Rangers to the White Sox, the A’s, and finally the Astros. 

Speas’ control has been a huge issue throughout his career, but he inspired enough confidence prior to the 2024 season to land a spot on the White Sox top 30 prospects list. If you believe the “Pirates pitching factory” hype, Speas could be a high-risk gamble with significant payoff.

The Pirates, though, have holes outside of their pitching, and while Joey Bart’s return may be imminent, picking up a competent player for catching depth will help Pittsburgh relieve themselves of either Jason Delay or Yasmani Grandal, as Noah Wright suggested on Rum Bunter earlier this week. To that end, Austin Wynns, DFA’d by the Reds on Sunday, could provide a serviceable option.

Wynns, who has not played in the Majors in 2024, does not provide much in the way of offense, but his MLB career line of .226/.273/.324 is actually miles better than either Grandal’s or Delay’s this season. Wynns’ value comes from his defensive capabilities. In 2023, he recorded a plus-6 fielding run value with five caught stealing above average, far exceeding the Pirates’ numbers in these categories this year.

While these pickups are by no means long-term solutions to the Pirates’ problems, a small improvement in a few areas could tide the team over until their big-impact players return. If Pittsburgh wants to buy at the Trade Deadline, they may need to survive the next few weeks and shore up the depleted roster with some low-cost, high-risk moves.