I think Patrick Sandoval would be the best possible trade target for the Pirates. The southpaw was one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball going into the 2023 season. In '21-'22, Sandoval pitched to a 3.17 ERA, 3.44 FIP, and 1.29 WHIP. While his 9.6% walk rate wasn't impressive, he had a 24.5% strikeout rate and 0.73 HR/9 through 235.2 innings of work.
But Sandoval failed to repeat his outstanding 2022 campaign. In 144.2 innings, he pitched to just a 4.11 ERA, 4.18 FIP, and 1.51 WHIP. His strikeout rate dipped to 19.3%, while his walk rate rose to 11.3%. On the plus side, his HR/9 rate still remained relatively the same, clocking in at 0.75.
But there are some positives and reasons why Sandoval could rebound. Aside from his strong 2022 season, Sandoval was above average in exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate, with little change from last season. Sandoval would also benefit from better defense. He played with the same defense that Canning played with, and having an above-average batted ball profile would play better on a solid defensive team than a poor one. Sandoval's left-on-base rate dropped from 76.5% in '21-'22 to 65% this past year, which could normalize in 2023.
Sandoval also didn't lose any velocity from 2022. The one thing that oddly changed was the spin on his pitches. His fastball, slider, sinker, and curveball all lost spin. Meanwhile, his change-up gained spin. He changed some of the spin direction of his pitches. His four-seamer and sinker went from about 86-88% active spin in '21-'22 to 93% active spin. This may have been the culprit to Sandoval's struggles this past year.
Sandoval also has age and contract status on his side. He is controlled through the 2026 season and just turned 27 this month. In my opinion, he has one of the best shots at rebounding; he didn't lose velocity, like Bieber or Cease have, and the main culprit of his diminished stuff could simply be fixed with a change in the way he grips the baseball. Considering he has the most control and is the youngest, I have him as the Pirates' number one trade target.