This offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates have been looking to add more pitching. One free agent arm makes perfect sense to help fill that hole.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have needs to fill between both the starting rotation and bullpen heading into the 2024 season, a need that has only become more desperate following the announcement that starting pitcher Johan Oviedo would require Tommy-John surgery.
While the need for multiple arms is apparent, one free agent makes sense to help fill both the rotation and bullpen: right-handed pitcher Jakob Junis.
Junis spent the last two seasons in San Francisco, working in various roles including starting and long-inning relief. In those two seasons he compiled a 4.18 ERA and 3.69 FIP across 198 innings, including 21 starts. He excelled this past season with a 3.87 ERA and 3.74 FIP in 86 innings. Junis throws primarily his slider and sinker, but mixes in a change-up and occasionally a four-seam fastball.
His sinker/fastball took a 2 MPH jump this past season, jumping from 91-92 MPH which he had sat around for the majority of his career to 94MPH this past season. The slider is his best pitch by far, with a whiff rate of 32.5% in 2023 and just a .216 BA and .273 wOBA against it. The changeup, which he uses more against left-handed hitters, has a more modest 26.7% whiff rate.
Junis' repitoire is very similar to another pitcher who happens to be on the Pirates' roster and featured in similar roles: Ryan Borucki. Both Junis and Borucki throw primarily sliders and sinkers, along side a change-up. Both were also used in roles from opening to ordinary relief work last season, flexibility that the Pirates have obviously liked in the past.
Junis doesn't magically fix the Pirates' problems with their pitching staff, but he'd be a great option to use throughout the season. He's able to pitch in a late-inning role out of the bullpen, as the "bulk guy" following an opener, even as a starter, tossing the first 3-4 innings of a ball game, or stretching him out as a traditional starter as he was when he first entered the league. Junis has excelled in all three roles and would give the Pirates an edge with their roster construction.
The cost of Junis should be similar to that of Emilio Pagan, who just signed a two-year $8M AAV contract with the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates don't typically spend that type of money on a reliever, but this is what seems to be the market rate for a quality reliever and Junis gives the Pirates more than an average reliever. Junis did end the season with a cervical strain, so his health could be a factor in the cost of his contract.
This is without a doubt a smart move for the Pirates to make considering the injuries to the rotation and the way the Pirates value pitchers who can cover multiple roles. It's also a move that doesn't break the bank and allows the Pirates to explore other options for both the rotation and bullpen while also ensuring the team has depth for both.