Entering the offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates needed to add to their bullpen. While they've made improvements, the 'pen still needs help and now could be the time to take advantage of the free agent market.
The bullpen was arguably the most prominent issue the Pittsburgh Pirates needed to fix going into this offseason. They certainly made a few improvements, adding veteran Jarlín García, along with youngsters Darui Moreta (through trade) and Jose Hernandez (through the Rule 5 draft). However, it would be nice to see the Pirates add another player to the pen.
The bullpen depth is deep but unstable. Many of the team's relievers are young, inexperienced, and unproven. However, with some decent relievers still lingering on the free agent market and prices clearly coming down, now would be the best time for the Pirates to sign a reliever.
First, what does the relief market still hold? Even though pitchers and catchers are now reporting to training camp, there are still some solid arms out there, namely left-handed ones. Both Will Smith is still without a team. While not the dominant force he was a few years ago, Brad Hand still managed solid numbers last year for the Philadelphia Phillies. Players looking to rebound after missing ample amounts of time over the last few years, like Ken Giles and Zack Britton, are also still looking for teams and holding showcases.
The market is certainly reflecting lower prices right now. Two of the top relievers on the market recently agreed to terms with teams. The first was Andrew Chafin, who signed for just one year and $5.5 million guaranteed. His contract also included a $7.25 million 2024 club option ($750,000 buyout) and $250,000 incentives for reaching certain total game milestones. That’s an under-market deal for a guy who’s been one of baseball’s better left-handed relievers for nearly a decade and has shown no signs of slowing down.
The other deal was the Chicago Cubs inking Michael Fulmer to a one-year, $4 million deal. Now granted, Fulmer isn’t nearly as dominant as Chafin, but for the last two years, he’s been a solid back of the bullpen arm. Fulmer may not be the American League Rookie of the Year starter he was back in 2016, but he’s reinvented himself as a quality late-inning arm. He’ll only be 30 years old, too, making him plenty young enough to have many more productive seasons ahead of him.
Smith was never going to top anything that Chafin made, and Moore would have been a major stretch to top the returning Arizona Diamondback reliever. Given that Chafin signed for a guaranteed amount of $5.5 million for 2023 (max amount of $6.75 million if he reaches his incentive milestones), I don’t see either Smith or Moore making more than $5 million. That’s a major bargain for two mostly effective relievers. Chances are, Ken Giles, Zack Britton, and Brad Hand don’t top Michael Fulmer.
Now is one of the best chances the Pittsburgh Pirates have had all winter to sign a relief pitcher. With prices decreasing and still some solid pitchers left looking for teams, the Pirates need to take advantage of this. The mostly unproven bullpen could greatly benefit from a little more stability that one of the veteran free agents could bring.