3 roster moves the Pittsburgh Pirates need to make ASAP

The Pirates need to make these three roster moves as soon as possible, as all three could significantly improve their roster.
Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been treading water. They’re in an okay place and have been playing slightly over .500 over their last 35-40 games ... but they could be so much better. Last time they made some big roster moves, like calling up Paul Skenes and Nick Gonzales, it really helped the team. It’s time to do it again with another roster shake-up, and there are some things that should be easy calls for the Pirates.

Pirates should send Jack Suwinski to Triple-A, but for longer this time, and recall Joshua Palacios

Jack Suwinski is having a horrible season, both offensively and defensively. It’s been a massive disappointment after his breakout 2023 season. While it would be too early to outright give up on him, something has to be done, because whatever he’s doing now can’t continue in the major leagues.

Suwinski is batting a rough .170/.259/.302, a far cry from the .224/.339/.454 he slashed last year. While Suwinski is striking out just under 30% of the time at 29.6%, he’s also walking much less frequently with a 10.7% BB%, compared to 14% last season. The raw power hasn’t been there, either. Last year, he was in the 75th percentile of exit velocity at 90.5 MPH and the 94th percentile of barrel rate at 15.7%. Currently, he sits at 88.4 MPH and 7.5%, respectively.

Suwinski has put a heavier focus on making more contact, as his whiff rate is below 30% at 27.5%, but it’s clear it hasn’t worked as planned. Suwinski’s OPS has fallen off a cliff, and that’s an understatement. That’s a 232-point drop. But it’s not just the bat that’s seen a massive downturn; it’s also his fielding.

Suwinski wasn’t a Gold Glove finalist last year, but he was a solid defender with +3 outs above average between left, center, and right field, spending most of his time up the middle. This year, Suwinski is down to -6 OAA, the fifth-worst in baseball and a nine-out difference compared to last season. 

Suwinski has options remaining, so use them. Again, they shouldn’t give up on Suwinski. This guy was one of the best power-hitting outfielders in the National League last year. He had the fifth-best isolated slugging percentage, the eighth-most home runs, and the second-best barrel rate among his fellow peers in the NL. On top of that, he did it all while providing solid defense. But, at this juncture, the Pirates would improve their lineup and defense by getting him out of here until that version returns.

The best option to replace Suwinski immediately is Joshua Palacios. The outfielder has hit well since returning to Triple-A. Plus, he had some very promising underlying numbers -- including a .318 xwOBA, 9.8% barrel rate, and 91.3 MPH exit velo -- last season. Matt Gorski might strike out more frequently than Suwinski ever did, but at least you’re potentially getting a much better defender with first base utility.

The Pirates sent Suwinski to Triple-A once already, but they pulled him back up soon thereafter. This time, leave him there for more than seven games. Let him work on the things we’ve discussed before, give him a chance to clear his mind, and get things back on track. Sending him down for seven games just to recall him a week and a half later doesn’t give him that chance. 

DFA Yasmani Grandal when Joey Bart is back

The Pirates’ catching depth took a big hit back in December when Endy Rodriguez underwent Tommy John surgery. So, to help fill some of the void, they signed veteran backstop Yasmani Grandal. So far, it’s not been pretty, either offensively or defensively, for the switch-hitter. Joey Bart landing on the IL has given Grandal a second chance to reclaim the position, and he’s failed.

Through 104 plate appearances, Grandal has hit just .184/.223/.286. While he’s only struck out 19.2% of the time, he’s rocking a walk rate below 5%. At this point, Pirates fans would kill for his 2023 production when he hit .234/.309/.339 with the Chicago White Sox. There’s almost a 150-point difference in OPS between the two seasons.

But catching is about defense, so how’s that been for Grandal? While he has +3 defensive runs saved and +1.3 framing runs, that’s about where the positives end. Grandal has already allowed three passed balls, and he’s barely caught 250 innings. He’s also one of the easiest catchers for opposing base runners to steal on. Grandal has the seventh-worst arm strength in baseball at 77.3 MPH. He also has the third-worst pop time at 2.08 seconds. He should be thanking the Pirates pitchers for giving him a chance even to have a 19.2% caught-stealing rate.

Of course, there are a lot of other things he’s done that are just outright baffling, such as the throw back to Jared Jones that caused Ryan McMahon to steal home in the series in Colorado, the passed ball against the Chicago Cubs (which caused what ultimately ended up as the deciding run to score), and the numerous easy pop fly foul balls he’s completely missed.

When Bart comes back, the Pirates need to cut ties with Grandal. I get catching depth is important, but the Pirates are better off with Grant Koch than Yasmani Grandal in 2024. Henry Davis will also soon return, and that’s another catching option they can put at Triple-A. Grandal currently has a lower batting average and on-base percentage than Austin Hedges had last year. The only thing that separates the two is that Grandal has one more home run. 

Promote Braxton Ashcraft

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen depth has been strained to its limit already, and it’s going to be put to the test yet again as David Bednar hits the 15-day IL. While the Pirates could go out and make a trade, they could also take the easy route and call up Braxton Ashcraft to help the pen out.

Ashcraft impressed last year, but has only gotten better in 2024. In 64 innings between Altoona and Indy, the top prospect owns a 3.24 ERA, 3.02 FIP, and 1.06 WHIP. He’s gotten plenty of Ks with a 27.2% K% while limiting home runs with an 0.84 HR/9. However, his ability to limit walks has been one of the best in the minor leagues. Ashcraft’s 4.2% walk rate is the 14th best among pitchers with at least 10 games started.

One extremely promising aspect of his season is that he’s been able to maintain his good fastball velocity deep into pitch counts. Last year, the Pirates didn’t let Ashcraft toss more than four innings in any start, but he’s gone at least six on five different occasions this year. Ashcraft has only further improved his other offerings and his command.

Ashcraft has already hit his career high in innings this year. If they’re going to limit his workload, let him do it, effectively, in the major leagues. That’s a big time bullpen addition, which is something the Pirates could very much use. Slotting him into the pen gives them another quality option, adds more depth to the pitching staff, and lets them be flexible in how they use their late-inning guys.