The four returnees are under team control - Liriano & Morton are under contract, Cole is a year away from arbitration and Locke is in his first arb season. Both Charlie and Jeff come with performance issues. Morton has $8M left on his deal and will at least open the year with the Bucs. There's some debate whether or not Jeff will even get tendered, but with an expected $3.5M arb hit and the thin depth, we'd be a little surprised if he wasn't back, especially with his peripherals being in line for a fifth starter.
|Cole Train returns (Bowman Black 2012)|
Internally, the Pirates are in a bit of turmoil. Tyler Glasnow spent some time at Indy, and in eight starts was mostly good (2.20 ERA, 48 K in 41 innings), but still showed some wildness & awareness issues, and certainly will require a little more top-level MiLB seasoning. Jameson Taillon & Casey Sadler may be ready for camp, but won't head north with the club.
Taillon hasn't pitched since 2013 in the Arizona Fall League, going under the knife for TJ and hernia surgeries. The good news is that he's throwing and should be on track for camp, but we'd expect the Pirates to be careful with him this year; we'd be hard pressed to project even a September sighting after missing two full campaigns. Sadler is a back-ender who hasn't pitched since June and is coming back from a platelet rich plasma injection for "forearm tightness." He looks like a potential depth guy for 2016.
Young gun Nick Kingham made just six starts at Indy before undergoing Tommy John surgery in May, so he's not on this year's radar. Brandon Cumpton had TJ surgery in May and shoulder surgery in September; he's out for the year. Angel Sanchez showed some potential but he had September TJ surgery. So except for Glasnow and perhaps Sadler, the Pirate prospects are all in various stages of climbing in and out of the tub in 2016.
The good news is that this off season features a small horde of free agent pitchers for NH and gang to go after. We can start by eliminating the stars of the show - Johnny Cueto, Zack Grienke, Cliff Lee, David Price and Jordan Zimmermann; Pittsburgh never fishes in those waters.
But if they're looking for a more-or-less proven mid-rotation guy, this list is available: Brett Anderson, Wei Yin Chen, Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo, Hisashi Iwakuma, Scott Kazmir, Ian Kennedy, John Lackey, and Mike Leake, some more upper-end (ie, expensive) than the others.
|NH - decisions, decisions... (photo via Amherst)|
You can never discount Pirate Plan C - the signing from right field that brought the Bucs Jay Happ, Edinson Volquez and Vanimal to carry the load. And additional names will be added to the list as options are refused, other guys non-tendered and 40-man rosters trimmed.
For sure, it'll prove an interesting time to restock the pitching. Gerrit Cole is the only arm under long-term control, and he begins arb in 2017 for his first grab at the big-money ring. There are a couple of guys in the pipeline - Glasnow, Taillon & Kingham are projected big league arms, while Sanchez, Steven Brault & Trevor Williams may or may not pan out as the innings roll along.
But that's the future. For this upcoming campaign, we're sold on Frankie and Cole Train; the rest of the staff all carry some heavy baggage with them. We'd expect the FO to go hard at Happ and add at least one more arm to the staff before camp opens. It should be a good year to play the market; the sheer number of hurlers available may help depress the going rate some. So fire up the hot stove - the winter games are about to begin.