If you could design the perfect pitcher, based on what we know about the Pirates’ predilections, what would he be? Probably, it would look like this:
- Tall, preferably at least 6′-3″
- High ground ball rate — Eight starting pitchers have pitched at least 200 innings for the Pirates between 2011 and 2015. Of those eight, only two had a ground ball rate less than 48% (the typical Major League average): Jeff Karstens and James McDonald
- Above average strikeout rate — The perfect spot on the Venn diagram of pitchers is someone that has a high ground ball rate (usually indicative of ground outs) coupled with a strikeout rate, which leads to less hits and gap shots/home runs. In recent years, Francisco Liriano has been the epitome of this — a 52% ground ball rate and a 9.58 K/9 rate is the sweet spot.
- Affordable. Or you could say cheap.
With the Pirates unable to re-sign J.A. Happ, there’s a gaping hole at the #3 spot in the rotation behind Cole and Liriano. That gap is also ahead of the uninspiring back two of Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke. There are so many pitchers out on the free agent market that I believe mid to late January will lend itself to the Pirates being able to get someone on a good deal for 1 or 2 years. However, there’s a pitcher potentially out there that would a perfect pickup for the Pirates, based on the criteria listed above.
Tyson Ross of the Padres will be age-29 in 2016. The 6′-5″ Ross has two more arbitration years of team control. Last year, his ground ball rate was a staggering 61.5% with a strikeout rate of 9.73 K/9 to match. Ross is primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, with his 86 mph slider as his out pitch that grades out very well (+1.69 runs/100 pitches in 2015).
Ross is projected to earn $10M through arbitration for 2016, which is exactly what I allotted for a pitcher this offseason in our 2016 Pirate Roster and Payroll article. The question, as always, is how much is Ross worth and what will be required to obtain him in a trade?
Ross’s WAR the last three years is 1.9, 3.2, 4.4 from 2013-15. Using a 3-2-1 weighting, his average of the last three years is 3.6 WAR. Assuming $6.5M/WAR and two years of control, that is $46.8M of production. Using his $10M this year and then $15M presumed salary in 2017, that’s $25M of potential salary, giving a surplus value of $21.8M. Using our Prospect Value Article, that is a hitter ranked #26-50 in Baseball America’s Top 100 or a pitcher ranked #11-25. Naturally, there are other permutations you could get to accrue a value of $21.8M, but let’s use those.
For the Pirates, those equivalents are roughly Tyler Glasnow for the pitcher or Austin Meadows, maybe Josh Bell for the hitters. For me, Glasnow is the one I would want to part with the least, but he is obviously the most appealing to other teams. Many of you would not trade six years of Glasnow for two years of anyone. I’m a Flags Fly Forever guy, meaning that if the Pirates were to win a World Series in either 2016 or 2017 with Ross, I could care less what was given up for that title.
There’s a few problems, though. First is that I’m not sure if the Padres are rebuilding, reloading, or just plain going for it. After last year’s ill-fated tradeapalooza spending spree resulted in a 74-88 season, the Padres have little potential payroll flexibility and a farm system that is lacking. Which leads into the second issue. The Padres recently traded Craig Kimbrel (of the aforementioned tradeapalooza) to the Red Sox for two high-end prospects, a third interesting one, and some other dude. The hitters are probably more in the #51-100 range (Manuel Margot and Javier Guerrera), but the Pirates may have to kick in some other pieces for Ross, if the Kimbrel trade is a precedent.
Could the Pirates scale back the higher prospects and go with a Jameson Taillon-Harold Ramirez package? It’s possible, but I can’t imagine that being enough. The Padres aren’t just going to give Ross away, especially because if Ross is gone without a ready-made replacement, their rotation will just have James Shields – Andrew Cashner – Odrisamer Despaigne and a bunch of young guys fighting for spots. I suppose it’s wishful thinking to think the Padres would take Charlie Morton back in the deal to replicate the ground ball tendencies of Ross, while giving them a bridge arm for 2016.
Tyson Ross and the Pittsburgh Pirates seem like a match made in heaven. It would be the kind of win-now move that would help quell the masses already searching for pitchforks and torches, afraid that the Pirates are going cheap this offseason. Here’s hoping that Ross will be wearing out the infield grass at PNC Park with his plethora of ground balls in 2016.