Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pirate Starting Pitchers 2015...Who's Out There?

Gerrit Cole - AJ Burnett - Vance Worley - Jeff Locke - Stolmy Pimentel/Brandon Cumpton. Right now, that's your 2015 Pittsburgh Pirate starting rotation.

Some help is on the horizon. Charlie Morton will be back, possibly by June, from his hip labrum surgery, though hasn't had much luck on the injury front. Jameson Taillon should be set to go to Indy early on, too, after his TJ replacement, but his availability is iffy. We'd expect the Bucs to keep a tight inning count on his prized arm this season, and that caution could short-circuit a 2015 arrival.

Nick Kingham will open the year at Indy, but while his stuff is MLB quality, his consistency isn't, so this will be a big year for him to show up and grind away day-in and day-out. Casey Sadler is also on the short list, although he didn't do much in his 2014 cup of coffee visit to Pittsburgh. Tyler Glasnow and Joely Rodriguez are penciled in to begin the campaign at Altoona, but it would take a real breakout season to have them land in Pittsburgh this coming year.

That leaves the Bucs in the position where a pitcher to slot between Cole and Burnett should be their primary goal during the off season with a secondary goal of building a little depth for the inevitable bumps on the bump along the road. To be sure, they're not looking at Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields, but there is an intriguing and serviceable secondary market waiting on the Big 3 to sign.

Pittsburgh could bring back Frankie Liriano. He turned down the qualifying offer of the Bucs, but that potential first round hit could be the wild card that brings him back in the fold. He's said to be looking at a three year deal, likely in the $12M/year range. At 31, that's not outrageous, so he could be in play.

Eddie Volquez, 31, is said to still be on the Bucco radar. He's looking for three years, and his peripheral stats didn't match his solid counting numbers of 2014. But he'd be a bit cheaper; the Pirates will be weighing the length of his deal versus projected performance.

Brandon McCarthy is another potential, if popular, target. After a terrible start with Arizona, he went 7-5/2.89 with the Yankees. The difference was that the D-backs scrapped his cutter; the Bronx Bombers brought it back, along with a four seamer to keep hitters honest. His 52.6% ground ball rate and 7.8 K-per-9 rate is right up the Pirates alley. Also 31, he'll probably be looking at a Liriano-like deal, held back only an injury history (five times on the DL with shoulder problems) that he managed to shake in 2014 with 32 starts and 200 IP.

Justin Masterson, 29, went from the penthouse to the poorhouse in a New York minute, but he was diagnosed with a rib-cage injury in September after missing a month earlier in the year with a bum knee. He features a power sinker that led to a 58% ground ball rate the last two seasons and averaged 8.1 K even with his issues last year. The injuries are cause for concern, but he's a prime bounce back pitcher. Masterson may take a short-term deal to rebuild his value, although his solid track record prior to last year could earn him a multi-year offer.

Jason Hammel, 32, is another interesting case. He was strong with the Cubs, not so much with the A's. One thing that should concern the Bucs is that his ground ball rate has been in the 40% range the last two seasons after being 53% in 2012. Also, his use of the cutter dropped from 34% in '12 to 24% last year, and that sounds like a Ray Searage adjustment in the making. Hammel is seeking a multi-year deal, probably also in the Liriano-McCarthy range.

Brett Anderson, 26, has managed just 51 starts over his last five years. He hasn't worked more than 112-1/3 innings or made over 19 starts since 2009, and he missed most of 2014 with various injuries, requiring back surgery in August. Still, he has a 55.4% career ground ball rate, tosses from the left side owns a solid slash (3.73 ERA, 3.55 SIERA) when he does make it to the mound and has age on his side. Anderson should be ready for camp, although with his past history, that's not guaranteed. He's another guy who is looking at a short-term deal.

Brandon Morrow, 30, was all that in 2012 when he was 10-7 with a 2.96 ERA until a couple of years of injuries slowed him down (he's visited the DL at least once in every one of the past five seasons, though with no red flag injuries) Now he's yet another pitcher who fits the Bucs' profile of high K (8 per nine), high walk (five per nine) and good grounder rate (50%). Morrow is in line for a short-term deal, too, as he seeks to rebuild his value.

Gavin Floyd, 31, signed with the Braves last year after TJ surgery and then fractured his elbow in June after pitching to a 2.65 ERA. He's been a dependable mid-rotation arm, but his recent rash of major injuries sounds a loud warning bell. Floyd is an inexpensive, short term candidate.

Jake Peavy, 33, looked like a has-been with the Red Sox but was rejuvenated when he was traded to the NL, going 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA for the Giants. He could slot as a three or four rotation guy, and is said to be looking for a two or preferably three year deal, which may be a bit more than Pittsburgh is willing to offer.

(And no, we didn't forget Ervin Santana; his high fly ball rate, desire for multi-years on a deal and first-round draft pick onus make him a very unlikely candidate for Pittsburgh in our minds.)

This year, the Pirates have a fairly robust market to troll. There are a lot of guys that are fairly young, come without having turned down qualifiers, have tasted success and keep the ball in the dirt, albeit most come with "handle with care" health warnings. The Bucs are thought to have somewhere around $20M to burn, and could land a pair of arms at that price. While some of the candidates are looking for multi-year deals, which the FO has generally been shy about doling out, there are also several one-year, rebuild value contracts to be had.

Pittsburgh has become a prime landing spot to nurture downhill careers - Burnett, Liriano and Volquez can attest to that - and after the elite set the market, the FO should be hot and heavy into the pitching fray during this hot stove season.

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