Tuesday, November 3, 2015

2016 Pirates: Starting Pitching

The rotation has Cole Train and Frankie returning at the top end with Charlie and maybe Jeff Locke at the back end. That leaves a hole to be filled in the middle as AJ has taken to pasture after 17 seasons and his mid-term replacement, JA Happ, is a free agent.

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)
AJ and his leadership are gone, tho we speculate that the Bucs may find an organizational spot for him if he so desires. Jay was wildly effective as a Bucco (7-2, 1.85 ERA, 9.8 K/9), and the talk is he may land, or at least seek, an Eddie Volquez-type deal on the market, 2 years/$20M. It's a dice roll whether he fits into the Pirate payroll comfort zone. Last year's spot starter, Vance Worley, has already been cut loose and claimed by Baltimore.

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)
It's also possible that they could go the one-year rebuild route, with Uncle Ray's strong track record of restoring careers, with once solid guys fallen on hard times like Doug Fister, Dillon Gee, Mat Latos & Jeff Samardzija, depending on how the market plays out.

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.


WilliamJPellas said...

If Happ's 2015 performance was truly indicative of his true talent, then he is the obvious candidate for a free agent signing to my mind. 2 years and $20 million for more of the same would be a "bargain" in current big league terms, and would be about all the time the organization needs to see which arms from among Taillon, Glasnow, Sadler, Cumpton, and Kingham make it back from injury and / or graduate to the majors to take their place in the rotation.

I want no part of Jeff Locke, no way, no how. He's awful.

But let's say they spend a few bucks on Happ. That has the added benefit of keeping the Pirates' current core more or less intact to keep the ball rolling, assuming you buy the notion that the current edition of the team (read: as they are and will be built while McCutchen is still in town) is truly a contender. I'm not sure that they are, but let's go with that thought for now. Okay. By 2017 we will know for sure which from among the high minors pitchers can reasonably be expected to take somebody's place in the rotation. Ideally, that would be two somebodys, Morton and whomever the 2016 5th starter is. If more than two from among your list pan out, that's a bonus. I'm thinking that Glasnow and Taillon are the most likely, though if Kingham can join them, that's a pretty imposing trio to add to Cole in his final years in Pgh.

Mike Leake is an interesting guy because he wins despite lacking overwhelming stuff, he would presumably like a shot at getting back at the Reds, and he's arguably the best hitting pitcher in the game at the moment. The Pirates have really been hurt by the near total ineptitude of their pitchers with a bat in their hands in recent years, so Leake could really help.

Beyond all that, let's hope the front office continues its recent trend of smart junkheap signings. I still say they should never have let Clayton Richard get away; he would sure look a lot better as the 5th starter than Jeff Locke. But among the veteran comebackers, my first choice would be Fister.

JAL said...

They have to get at least one, preferably 2 SP from somewhere. Happ would be a good start if they can can afford him. The frustration of Morton and Locke is they are capable of better but fail to deliver consistently.

Anonymous said...

DFA Morton now!!!!

Ron Ieraci said...

Hey, guys, I do agree pretty much. The Bucs need a couple of more starters, with at least one being mid-rotation quality like Happ to replace AJ and another to bolster the back end. I don't trust Charlie or Jeff further than I can toss them. I did note that the peripherals for both are OK, but unfortunately FIP, xFIP etc don't always reflect what's happening on the field, tho they do reflect the wild inconsistency of both guys.

I think starting pitching looks OK down the road; the transition to a younger, more home-grown staff has taken a hit with the inevitable injuries. Still, rotations have to filled from the outside no matter how strong your farm system, and the Bucs have been pretty good at finding at least one bargain per year to help pick up the slack. Hopefully, that process is sustainable.