The Pirates offseason isn’t quite settled at this point and there are still a handful of pieces that need to come into place. They could probably use another right-handed arm in the bullpen and it’s unlikely that they’ll keep three lefty late inning relievers after the addition of Daniel Hudson, who will be somewhere in the 8th/9th inning himself. They could also use some additional Jung-ho Kang insurance, in case he finally loses his battle with hedonism and self-destruction. Of course the biggest conversation piece right now, as it was last offseason, is what to do with the third spot in the rotation.
After signing Ivan Nova, I think a number of Pirates fans have a false sense of security with the staff. Personally, I think they’re in the same boat as they were heading into last offseason. They have a clear cut one and two and a solid collection of four and five’s, with some potential middle and top of the rotation help in the system. However, they lack a true three. This has two consequences as we saw last season. One, a solid three provides insurance in case the top of the rotation falters. If your one is pitching like a three and two is pitching like a five, a good three should be able to pitch up in a weak rotation. Jonathan Niese wasn’t the guy and two solid months at the end of last off season aside, I don’t have much faith that Nova will provide that insurance policy either. If everyone is clicking, having a legit three is a great way to pile on. It’s a continuation of the top of the rotation. A weak three starts the back end early.
Along with the Astros, the Pirates have been heavily linked to the 2016 White Sox staff’s 1(b), Jose Quintana. Make no mistake he would be a huge get and would push everyone after Gerrit Cole back a spot into a role they are likely to excel in. Dream scenario, right? There is just one problem. The Pirates still need to go out and get him.
The market thins out after Quintana, but there are still some options out there. None likely bump Jameson Taillon from the number two spot, but that might be overkill anyway. Some may not even serve as a true three, either, but would allow the Pirates to eliminate the grab bag of weaker prospects and Drew Hutchison from contention for the fifth spot.
It seems like Tyson Ross’ surprising early arrival on the free agent circuit might be nearing its end with the Cubs and Rangers the favorites to land him and the Nats trailing behind hoping for a family reunion with his brother, Joe. The Pirates would be coming to the table late for Ross, but he clearly doesn’t have the offer he’s looking for on the table. Given his current injury concerns, his contract would likely be a reasonable one year term. As a free agent he wouldn’t cost the Pirates a single prospect. If he pitches to his potential in a Pirates uniform, he’d also have the potential land them a compensation pick in the 2018 draft. There is risk, but it’s relatively low and market for the big righty seems surprisingly passive.
Ross would be a perfect fit in the in number three spot and if he rebounds to pre-injury form he’d provide top of the rotation insurance. There likely won’t be a huge drop from Ross and Taillon. On top of that, he’s a high groundball pitcher so he fits with the system and they’d also prevent the Cubs from reaping the benefits of his rebound. If the Pirates cannot land Quintana, their attention should turn to Ross first, in my opinion.
Putting it nicely, the Twins are a mess right now. They have a couple of high upside young bats who strike out way too much, a few high quality aging major leaguers, but not enough overall to be considered a threat now or in the near future. Many of the star players in their system project to start the year in AA or below. Outside of Jose Berrios, they don’t have anyone who resembles a top of the rotation starter, as their next closest option might be the inconsistent Kohl Stewart. Many of their other starting pitcher prospects profile better out of the bullpen. Now is likely the time for them to salvage what they can while those pieces still have value. Brian Dozier seems most likely to move and with the 2B coming off a monster power year and two years of cheap control left, he could provide a nice start.
Ervin Santana should also be on the block, though his return won’t nearly have the impact as Dozier’s due to age and contract situation. Santana is owed $27 million, which is still a good deal in today’s market, even if he steps back from the 3.2 fWAR he posted in 2016. Santana’s value derives from his ability to reliably eat innings, having thrown 175+ in six of the last seven seasons. If he can continue to do that he’ll be worth every penny, but most of his return will still get absorbed by salary relief. If the Twins would kick in a few million a year, their expected prospect haul would improve considerably.
The first two suggestions would cost nothing or little in the way of prospects. Yordano Ventura would cost an arm and a leg. Ventura signed a team friendly deal in 2015 that includes two option years and $20.25M guaranteed over the next three. He had a very good 2014-15, but took a step back last year when his strikeouts decreased and his walks increased. His offspeed stuff plays well off of his huge, but hittable at the moment, fastball. The issue with Ventura is more his temperant and churlish behavior at times.
The challenge with Ventura is how to value him. Do you go with what he’s done so far or do you go with his upside? So far, he’s looked like a solid three (exactly what the Pirates need), but he has the stuff that screams staff ace. I would think the ask for Ventura would be similar to the ask for Quintana, especially when I consider that the Royals rightfully should still believe they can compete now. It would likely take elite prospects and a major league piece or two. With the departure of Kendrys Morales, I would think Josh Bell might have a particular shine to them. Tyler Glasnow would also likely be included, but the enigmatic Ventura would basically negate the need for the enigmatic Glasnow.
Not the sexiest of picks, but Hammel could be seen as a pretty useful pitcher for the Pirates. Like Nova, he may not be a true three overall, due more to reliability than to ability. He’s not a good late season pitcher, but he does have the potential to dominate at times. His 0.75 April ERA makes him intriguing by itself and make no mistake, he played a big part in the Cubs burying the rest of the division early. He would allow the Pirates to keep all of their prospects and potentially bridge the gap to one of them later in the season. I would think he’s looking for a two year deal to ride off into the sunset on, though I would be surprised if anyone’s offering more than one.
The Pirates could also stick with the status quo though they’d be taking a risk. The good news is that they have more major league ready internal options than they did at this time last season. While they might take their lumps finding the right mix, they could have a few pitchers play up during a small window to help bridge the gap until the higher upside guys like Glasnow and Nick Kingham are truly ready. They could also get end of the season performances from Nova and Chad Kuhl making the need to add another pitcher effectively moot. The market is thin, so the Pirates will need to overpay for quality. There are options out there, however, that would improve the team and mitigate the risks associated with going into the season without a true three like they did last year.