The Pittsburgh Pirates 40-man roster is full so a move will need to be made to make room for the recently signed Rich Hill. Who are five candidates to be designated for assignment?
Throughout the offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates have had to designate for assignment multiple players to make room on the 40-Man roster for the newest free agent signings and trade acquisitions. So far, Nick Mears, Miguel Yajure, Diego Castillo, Hoy Park, Bryse Wilson, and Junior Fernandez have been designated for assignment.
Park and Castillo were traded to other teams, while Yajure, Mears, and Fernandez were claimed off waivers. Currently, the 40-Man roster is extremely cramped, and the Pirates still need to make room on the roster for Rich Hill and other future acquisitions. Who will be the first to go?
1. RHP Duane Underwood Jr.
Since being traded from the Chicago Cubs to the Pirates in 2021, Underwood has had a relatively decent career in Pittsburgh. In 2 seasons, Underwood has put together a 4.36 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 122 strikeouts, 52 walks, and a 1.44 WHIP across 130 innings pitched. 2022 was his "best" season to date, posting a 4.40 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 57 strikeouts, 25 walks, and a 1.45 WHIP across 57.1 innings pitched. Underwood's biggest issues last season were giving up a lot of hard contact and walk issues, which inflated his WHIP to 1.45.
Underwood did show some positives last season, limiting his HR/9 to just 0.16 and increased his groundball rate to 48.5%. Even though Underwood has been mediocre pitching depth in the bullpen last season, with no option years remaining, he seems to be one of the most likely DFA candidates. Underwood could pass through waivers and become solid Triple-A depth if he isn't claimed or traded.
2. OF Travis Swaggerty
After being drafted 10th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft after a solid college career with the University of South Alabama, Travis Swaggerty has unfortunately not lived up to the hype and is considered a bust by some Pirate fans. Swaggerty has been a quality fielder and baserunner, while he has shown great athleticism and arm strength in the minor leagues. With the 2020 season being shut down due to the pandemic and missing most of the 2021 season due to a shoulder injury, Swaggerty lost two seasons of development.
Last season, Swaggerty had a solid 2022 season in his first full season with the Indianapolis Indians, posting a .254/.348/.399, hit 9 home runs, 55 RBI, stole 20 bases and had a 102 wRC+, which led to a brief stint in the Majors. Unfortunately, things didn’t go well for Swaggerty as he only collected one major league hit in nine plate appearances. Swaggerty is still figuring things out at the plate and still needs more development, but the Pirates don't seem to value Swaggerty as highly compared to other prospects in the organization. Even though I personally like Swaggerty a lot and want him to succeed with the Pirates, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets designated for assignment or traded sometime this offseason.
3. RHP Chase De Jong
Chase De Jong has been with the Pirates for the last two seasons after he signed a minor league deal in 2021. During his first season in Pittsburgh, De Jong was primarily used as a starting pitcher, but had a dreadful tenure. In 43.2 innings pitched across nine starts, De Jong had a 5.77 ERA, 6.03 FIP, 39 strikeouts, 19 walks, and a 1.56 WHIP. Very poor numbers overall. However, he somewhat improved out of the bullpen as a long reliever/middle reliever in 2022, posting a 2.64 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 59 strikeouts, 30 walks, and a 1.14 WHIP across 71.2 innings pitched.
Walks and home runs have always been an issue for De Jong, and like Underwood Jr., he doesn't have any option years left. I have a feeling that last season was a fluke season, and that De Jong will post around a 4-5ERA next season. The Pirates could either trade De Jong or designate him for assignment to make room on the 40-man.
4. RHP Yohan Ramirez
After being traded from the Cleveland Guardians for cash considerations in 2022, Ramirez posted solid numbers out of the bullpen for the Buccos. In 27 innings pitched, Ramirez posted a 3.67 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 21 strikeouts, 13 walks, and a 1.30 WHIP. Ramirez does have some control issues with his pitches and does have walk issues as well, but the 27-year-old could rebound and have another solid season for the Pirates. With three solid pitches (fastball, slider, curveball), Ramirez has the stuff to be a quality reliever, as long as he figures out how to control his pitches. Ramirez is lower on the list because I believe that Underwood Jr. and De Jong will be the most likely targets, but anything could happen.
5. RHP Max Kranick
After debuting with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2021, Max Kranick unfortunately suffered an elbow injury during the 2022 season and is currently on the Injured List recovering from Tommy John surgery. Kranick has been a pretty reliable arm in the minors and has shown potential to be a future #5 starter or long relief option for the Pirates. Kranick struggled in the nine games that he started, posting a 6.28 ERA, 4.64 FIP, 32 strikeouts, 19 walks, and an insanely high 1.71 WHIP across 38.2 innings pitched. Kranick also pitched 5 innings out of the bullpen last season, but that was all that we saw from the 25-year-old.
I may be a little biased since Kranick has been one of my favorite pitchers in the minors, but I hope that he gets another shot at the majors once he recovers from Tommy John surgery. If Ben Cherington does not see Kranick as a Major League arm, he will probably be designated for assignment to make room for Rich Hill or another. If he was to be DFA'd, I hope that he clears waivers and stays in Triple-A Indianapolis.
Some other honorable mentions would be RHP Zach Thompson and OF Ryan Vilade, but I personally believe they will still be on the 40-Man roster due to having option years remaining. The offseason is still going on and the Pittsburgh Pirates could still sign or trade for more players if they so choose, so any of these players that I have listed could be DFA options moving forward in the season. With Tyler Heineman slotting in as the team's backup catcher, another corresponding move will have to be made later in the offseason once he is added to the 40-Man roster.