Free agent pitchers the Pittsburgh Pirates can pursue on incentive based contracts

The Pirates should go after these two veteran pitchers who will likely sign back-loaded contracts.

Miami Marlins v Chicago White Sox
Miami Marlins v Chicago White Sox / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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Liam Hendriks

Very few Major League Baseball players have ever had as rough of a year as Liam Hendriks did in 2023. The All-Star closer started January by undergoing treatment for stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer. But Hendriks worked hard to get back to baseball. By late May, he was playing rehab games at Triple-A and made his return to Major League Baseball on May 29th, cancer-free. But the return was short-lived. Hendriks only pitched five innings before getting hit with another devastating development as he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery.

When Hendriks isn’t undergoing two life-altering procedures in a matter of six months, he’s an outstanding relief pitcher. From 2019 through 2022, Hendriks owned an outstanding 2.26 ERA, 2.13 FIP, and 0.88 WHIP in 239 innings pitched. Hendriks had a 38.8% strikeout rate throughout these four campaigns, with an equally impressive 5.1% walk rate. Home runs weren’t much of an issue either, with a 0.90 HR/9.

Hendriks wasn’t just good; he was the best. Among relievers from 2019 to 2022 with at least 180 innings pitched, Hendriks had the best ERA, FIP, WHIP, K:BB ratio, and fWAR. In some stats, it wasn’t even close. He had +9.0 fWAR for the Oakland Athletics and Chicago White Sox. The next closest was Ryan Presley at +6.0.

Hendriks probably felt like the forces beyond our control were conspiring against him, but if Hendriks can overcome cancer, then Tommy John surgery should be nothing for him. Hendriks seems optimistic about returning sometime in the second half of the season and he recently set a Thursday deadline for a contract offer. I think a two-year deal valued at $12 million might be enough to attract Hendriks. He’d be guaranteed $3 million in the first year with the rest being paid in his second, hopefully healthy season.

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