The Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres could make good trade partners this winter given the Padres want to cut payroll and have some pitchers that could interest the Pirates.
The Pittsburgh Pirates need to put starting pitching at the forefront of their to-do list this off-season. They currently have just Mitch Keller, Johan Oviedo, and a smorgasbord of openers, long relievers, and rookies filling in the last three rotation spots. Sure, that has gotten them some wins, and they’ve gotten by, playing above .500 ball over their last 60 or so games, but it’s not a good strategy to keep with this.
The free agent market is also fairly thin. I’d love it if the Pirates were to pursue one of the upper-tier free agent starting pitchers, but they are few and far between his winter, assuming none sign an extension prior to the off-season. While I have previously stated the trade market could be expensive and will likely heavily favor sellers given the shallowness of this year’s free agent class, the Pirates and San Diego Padres might be able to line up on a potential trade.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Padres will be looking to significantly cut their payroll down to around $200 million. As of right now, the Padres have a payroll of over $250 million, and they could trade some notable names in order to cut their payroll down a tad. This is where the Pirates could come into play.
In the event the Padres do decide to trade off some lower-cost/soon-to-be free agent players, one they should pursue is Michael Wacha. Wacha is in the midst of his second straight quality season, as he’s pitched to a 3.39 ERA, 4.01 FIP, and 1.19 WHIP over the course of 127.1 innings. Wacha has never been a big strikeout pitcher, though his 22.2% strikeout rate is one of the best rates of his career. His 8% walk rate is right around his career average, as is his 1.06 HR/9. He has also posted an above-average exit velocity (88.2 MPH), hard-hit rate (35.5%), and barrel rate (7.7%).
Wacha’s salary will depend on the route he and the Padres want to go. The Padres hold team options valued at $16 million for both 2024 and 2025. However, there are also player options for both years, valued at $6.5 and $6 million, respectively. There is also a player option for 2026, but only if the club option for 2024-2025 is turned down.
The other pitcher to focus on is Nick Martinez. Since returning from Japan, Martinez has been a very solid swingman-type pitcher for the Padres. Over 105.1 innings, including 62 appearances and eight starts, Martinez has worked to a 3.47 ERA, 4.04 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP in 2023. The righty has a 22.2% strikeout rate, 8.6% walk rate, and a 1.03 HR/9. Martinez is one of the best players in the league at limiting hard contact, with an 84.7 MPH exit velocity, 29.8% Hard hit rate, and 6.2% barrel rate.
The Padres also have team options for 2024 and 2025 over Martinez. Both are also valued at $16 million. However, Martinez also has a player option for both seasons, which is valued at $6 million. Since his return to MLB, Martinez has not been given a real chance at a starting pitcher role. But he could slot into the Pirates’ pitching staff as a valuable super-utility-type pitcher.
The Pirates have also seemed to do pretty well in trades with the Padres. David Bednar and Jack Suwinski were both former Padres prospects. Their most recent swap of Rich Hill and Ji-Man Choi for Alfonso Rivas, Jackson Wolf, and Estuar Suero could be a massive win for the Bucs. Heck, Rivas alone is making it look like a lopsided trade so far.
We will see how the Pirates handle this upcoming off-season. But whatever they do, they need to focus on and add some pitching. However, the Pirates and Padres seem like a good match-up in a trade, assuming the Padres are willing to listen to offers involving some of their pitchers. At this point, the Pirates certainly have the prospect capital to acquire whoever they want, but both teams need to be willing to part with talent.