Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Older Free Agents to Consider
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates are still on the lookout for free agents, and going down the older veteran route with these three free agents could be something to consider.
Baseball can have a tough aging curve. Nevertheless, just because older players can become less effective doesn’t mean there aren’t still older players out there who can still be productive. The Pittsburgh Pirates recently stated they’re still on the lookout for free agents, and there are plenty out there. Today, I want to examine three older free agents the team could pursue.
By older, I mean at least 33 years old. But while they’re getting up there in age for a baseball player, they’ve still been fairly productive recently. So let’s take a look at our first veteran free agent that the Pittbsurgh Pirates should consider.
Evan Longoria is coming off a five-season run with the San Francisco Giants. Over the last two seasons, Longoria has run into some injuries. However, when he has taken the field, he’s still been a fairly productive hitter.
Between 2021 and 2022, Longoria has a total of 589 plate appearances (291 in 2021 and 291 in 2022). He’s put up a strong .252/.333/.466 slash line with 27 home runs. He’s struck out 25.6% of the time but has offset a mediocre K% with a healthy 10.5% walk rate. Along with 27 home runs, he has a .214 isolated slugging percentage, which ranks 11th among his peers at his position between ‘21-’22. Overall, he’s posted a 118 wRC+ and .341 wOBA.
Despite Longoria’s advancing age and injuries, he hasn’t lost his strength. He still averaged out with a 91.1 MPH exit velocity in 2022 with a 46.8% hard-hit rate. For comparison, the league average exit velo and hard hit rate are 88.4 MPH and 35.8%. He also had a whopping 7.7% barrel rate, which was better than Dansby Swanson, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Willson Contreras.
The downside is he’s no longer the tremendous defensive third baseman he was early in his career. While outs above average pegged him at average with zero, he had -4 Defensive Runs Saved and a -0.1 UZR/150. He’s still viable to start at the hot corner once or twice a week without a team having to have massive concerns, but with his injuries, designated hitter is likely in his more regular home. He could potentially see some time at first base as well.
On a low-cost one-year deal, there would be far worse options for a DH/1B/3B option for the Pirates. Right now, their best right-handed designated hitter option to pair with Ji-Man Choi is Miguel Andujar. On top of being a solid option at DH, Longoria could also give Ke’Bryan Hayes a rest on Sunday.
Oh, how ironic would it be? Pittsburgh Pirates fans should be more than familiar with Johnny Cueto. The right-hander spent the first seven-and-a-half seasons with the division rival Cincinnati Reds and was on the losing end of one of the most memorable games in the Bucs’ history. After a handful of middling years with the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago White Sox took a chance on the former all-star, signing him to a minor league deal, and it paid dividends, and then some.
Cueto pitched 158.1 innings, the most he’s tossed since 2016. He worked to a strong 3.35 ERA, 3.79 FIP, and 1.23 WHIP. Cueto’s 15.7% strikeout rate was the second lowest among pitchers with at least 150 innings, but his 5.1% walk rate was a career-best and 13th-best in MLB. He also had a strong 0.85 HR/9 rate. Cueto was decent at limiting hard-hit baseballs with a hard-hit rate and exit velocity in the top 67th and 69th percentile of pitchers last year.
The downside is that the expected statistics frowned upon Cueto. He had a mediocre 4.49 SIERA, 4.38 xFIP, and 5.05 DRA. Cueto’s low strikeout rate definitely is a factor in these unimpressive numbers, but you still have to consider the positives of Cueto’s season. It was his best campaign since 2016.
Cueto’s 2023 season will be his age-37 campaign. The longtime rival could be a nice veteran presence and rotation anchor to a young pitching staff in 2023. Cueto is getting up there in age, but he’s coming off a good season. There is something left in the tank for the former Red.
Corey Kluber is not the same pitcher who won two Cy Young Awards with five straight dominant seasons with Cleveland in the mid-to-late-2010s. However, Kluber is still effective and has managed to work around his now lacking velocity. Like Cueto and Longoria, he will be in his age-37 campaign and is coming off a solid 2022.
Kluber’s 4.34 ERA doesn’t look too impressive on the surface, but there is a lot more behind it that should intrigue you. Kluber had a quality 3.57 FIP and 1.21 WHIP in 164 innings. He also had a solid 3.85 SIERA and 3.92 xFIP. Kluber’s minuscule 3% walk rate is the fifth lowest Bwalk rate in the last decade in seasons where a pitcher tossed at least 160 frames. But unlike Cueto, he had a much better 20.2% strikeout rate.
Kluber’s ERA is inflated because of two games. The first was on May 10th, when he allowed 8 earned runs in 3 innings pitched. The second was four months later, on September 10th, when he recorded just two outs and allowed 6 earned runs. These two outings made up about 18% of the total earned runs he allowed despite the innings between these two games making up less than 3% of his total innings pitched. Outside of these two starts, he had a 3.65 ERA.
Kluber averaged out at just 89.1 MPH, which made him one of the softest tossers in the sport and in the bottom second of fastball velocity. However, with the benefit of elite command and an ability to limit hard contact (80th percentile of exit velo and 75th percentile of hard hit rate), Kluber has found a way to adapt and overcome his low velocity.