Pittsburgh Pirates: Top Five Starting Pitching Free Agents To Pursue

Who are the best free agent starting pitchers the Pirates should pursue?
Mar 21, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Japan starting pitcher Shota Imanaga (21) delivers a pitch during
Mar 21, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Japan starting pitcher Shota Imanaga (21) delivers a pitch during / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
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Number Two: Jordan Montgomery

In my opinion, if either of the international options are not viable, Jordan Montgomery the best potential free agent target the Pirates should go after on the starting pitching market. The southpaw is coming off a strong season between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers and will be looking to secure a potential long term deal. Montgomery fits almost perfectly into the Pirates’ roster.

The lefty tossed 188.2 innings for the Cardinals and Rangers last year, working to a strong 3.20 ERA, 3.56 FIP, and 1.19 WHIP. Montgomery’s 21.4% strikeout rate was not good, but pretty typical for him. His 6.2% walk rate was also very close to his career average, but he did post a career-best 0.86 HR/9 rate. Montgomery was slightly above league average in inducing soft contact with an 88.3 MPH exit velocity (65th percentile), 37.9% hard-hit rate (58th percentile), and 7.5% barrel rate (59th percentile).

Montgomery had a great season, but he didn’t pitch all that much differently from 2021-2022 to 2023. His exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate from 2023 are all pretty much identical from the prior two seasons. His walk rate is also nearly identical, and his strikeout rate is roughly the same. xERA, xFIP, SIERA, and DRA- also support the claim that he’s pretty much the same pitcher in 2021-2022 as he was in 2023 despite a career-low ERA.

While Montgomery isn’t an old pitcher, he will go into the free agent market going into his age-31 season (turns 31 on December 27th). But he gives the Pirate exactly what they need; a reliable left-hander who both produces above average results and is durable. He has started at least 30 games in each of the last three seasons and has the 17th most innings pitched since the outset of the 2021 campaign.

The Pirates put about $17 million combined toward Vince Velasquez, Rich Hill, and Austin Hedges. If the Pirates were to offer Montgomery a multi-year contract worth $17 million a season? A good comparison I found was Chris Bassitt. He pitched to a very similar 3.42 ERA, 3.66 FIP, and 1.15 WHIP in his contract season, and received a three-year/$63 million deal (an AAV of $21 million). While Bassitt’s performance was very similar to Montgomery’s in their platform season, Bassitt is slightly older. The first year of his new deal, he was 34, compared to Montgomery’s age-31.

Montgomery isn’t going to be cheap, but if the Pirates are willing to slightly increase their off-season spending, I could very much see them going after Montgomery. I’d expect something like a four-year deal with an AAV around $18-20 million, which isn’t a massive uptick to what they spent on Velasquez-Hill-Hedges last off-season.