Although the Pittsburgh Pirates have added a handful of relief pitchers this offseason, they should still look to bolster the relatively young and unproven group
Going into this offseason, one of the biggest issues the Pittsburgh Pirates needed to address was the bullpen, and they’ve made some moves to improve the situation. The Bucs have added Dauri Moreta in the Kevin Newman trade, signed Jarlín García, and drafted Jose Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft. Plus one of JT Brubaker or Vince Velasquez will likely end up in the pen. But is there more the Pirates need to do before the offseason is over?
Let’s first see what they have. The Pittsburgh Pirates will hand the closer role to David Bednar once again. Although the All-Star right-hander missed a good portion of the second half because of injury, there’s no reason to fret given his outstanding 2021 rookie campaign and first half of 2022 if he's rested and healthy.
Setting him up could be youngsters Yerry De Los Santos and Colin Holderman. De Los Santos was one of the Pirates’ best relief prospects heading into 2023, and showed decent potential in his brief look in the majors. He likely would have taken on a greater role had it not been for an unfortunate injury. The same thing can be said about Holderman. Acquired in the one-for-one Daniel Vogelbach swap, Holderman also displayed some talent, but his rookie campaign was cut short because of injury.
The middle relief corps look to be headed by Wil Crowe and Duane Underwood Jr., along with García, Hernandez, as well as Robert Stephenson and Moreta. Both Moreta and Stephenson were plagued by the use of one bad pitch. For Moreta, that was his sinker and for Stephenson, that was his fastball. The latter however significantly cut his fly ball rate and saw improvement with the Pirates.
Wil Crowe had an outstanding first half before folding in August, and García has consistently posted solid results. Hernandez is a bit of an unknown given he was a Rule 5 pick, but he has some undeniable talent.
In terms of long relief, the Pittsburgh Pirates have Chase De Jong. The Bucs had brought De Jong back on a minor league deal, and he provided the team with a handful of solid innings. But the sustainability of his 2022 is questionable at best. Then one of Brubaker or Velasquez could also serve a multi-inning role.
The pipeline does have some decent names. Following his breakout 2022 campaign, COlin Sleby was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Former late round draft selection Tyler Samaneigo had a fantastic 2022, and former top 100 prospect Tahnaj Thomas settled nicely into a relief role. Undrafted free agent Nick Dombkowski made his presence known and started to appear on top Pirates prospect lists, and J.C. Flowers looked great at Altoona. Cody Bolton also served as a solid swingman for Triple-A Indy.
Now, the bullpen does have a lot of potential. The Bednar/De Los Santos/Holderman trio could be an underrated group. You also get some talent between Moreta, Stephenson, Hernandez, and García. However, it’s a very unproven group. The Pirates could be handing over late-inning/high-leverage situations to De Los Santos and Holderman, two guys who have a total of 54 innings between the two. Hernandez is a Rule 5 pick who has just 39.2 innings pitched above Low-A. Although I believe that Moreta and Stephenson can put it together next year, and Crowe can be a solid pitcher, nobody among them is a very ‘proven’ arm. The closest is García, who has posted an ERA+ of 109 or better every season since 2019.
The Pirates still have the opportunity to go out and get some relief help. The relief free agent market has moved at a snail’s pace this winter. While some of the top free agents like Taylor Rogers, Kenley Jansen, and Adam Ottavino have signed, there are still many good releivers still out there. That includes Andrew Chafin, Will Smith, and Matt Moore. Even lower-cost options like Zach Britton and Brad Hand are still on the market.
The Pirates are putting themselves at risk with such an unproven bullpen. There’s still time for them to sign a veteran to give a little more stability to the pen, and now that we’re heading into February, prices might start to simmer down. I wouldn’t say the Pirates haven’t addressed the bullpen. They have, but with some unproven arms. If the market starts to trickle down, the Bucs should look to add one more veteran arm to the bullpen before the start of Spring Training.