Pittsburgh Pirates: Moves The Team Could Make Within Their Budget to Improve

These moves would be massive upgrades to the Pirates roster, and should be well within their budget.
Aug 21, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates designated hitter Andrew McCutchen
Aug 21, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates designated hitter Andrew McCutchen / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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Sign Hyun Jin Ryu

Estimated 2024 Salary: $5 million

It really feels like Hyun Jin Ryu is the play at this point. Ben Cherington loves veteran lefties. From 2020-2023, he signed at least one each off-season, including Derek Holland, Tyler Anderson, Jose Quintana, and Rich Hill. He's acquired another one in Marco Gonzales via trade, but with another rotation spot still needing some repair, I don't think Cherington is done yet. Hyun Jin Ryu fits the mold of the kind of free agent starters he likes: veteran rebound lefty starting pitchers.

Ryu only pitched 52 innings last season, working to a 3.46 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, but a 4.69 FIP. The South Korean lefty has never been a strikeout machine, but his 17% strikeout rate is 4.5% lower than his career norm. However, his 6.3% walk rate is well above average and doesn't look out of place on his resume. Ryu struggled with home runs last season, allowing 1.56 per 9 innings. But there's a good chance Ryu can improve upon this.

He registered an 87.8 MPH exit velocity, 36.8% hard-hit rate, and 7.6% barrel rate. Ryu also had a 45.6% ground ball rate. All four statistics were considered above average to well above average. His 16.4% HR/FB ratio also suggests that he could improve in this department. His career ratio is only 12.2%, and his HR/FB ratio in the three seasons before 2023 was 13.7%.

For what it's worth, Ryu has underlying metrics comparable to Michael Wacha's. Ryu had a 4.46 xFIP, while Wacha had a 4.47 xFIP. Ryu had a 4.69 SIERA, while Wacha clocked in at 4.43. DRA- also said both veteran pitchers were similar, as Wacha had a 105 remark while Ryu came in at 114. Their hard-hit rates, exit velocities, and barrel rates were also similar. 

Wacha recently signed for $16 million a season, so why do I believe that Ryu would sign for that much less? Wacha is younger, as 2023 will only be his age-32 campaign, while Ryu is going into his age-37 season. Ryu has pitched more than 100 innings just once since the start of 2021 and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2022. Wacha has pitched at least 120 innings each of the last three years.

So, how did I come up with Ryu's estimated 2024 salary? I took the salaries of the Pirates' previous veteran lefty contracts (Holland, Anderson, Quintana, and Hill), added them up, and divided them to find the average salary between them. The average was about $3.4 million. I am rounding up because this year's pitching market seems much more expensive than when the Pirates signed any of those players. Ryu is comparable to Wade Miley, in terms of approach, age, and both being veteran left-handed starters, and he will make $7 million, but is coming off a much better season compared to Ryu.

Of course, that's not a fool-proof estimate, but it's the best estimate I can come up with as of right now. I think Ryu compares more closely to Quintana among those three, given his age and the situation he was in the year prior to signing with the Pirates. Both were older veterans coming off injury-plagued seasons.