Multiple reports last week indicated that the Pirates are shopping left-hander Jon Niese, and and today Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review adds that the Bucs are trying to move Niese and/or fellow lefty Jeff Locke (Twitter link). Trading either struggling southpaw would create a permanent spot in the Pittsburgh rotation for Tyler Glasnow, whose name, as noted by Biertempfel, is not listed among the upcoming probable starters for Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis.
That the Bucs would look to move Locke isn’t exactly a stunner, as the 28-year-old has been on the fringes of the rotation anyhow in recent seasons. Locke found himself in a competition with Vance Worley for a rotation spot in 2015, and, dating back to Opening Day of last season, has pitched to a combined 4.78 ERA in 269 1/3 innings (including a 5.26 mark this season). The 28-year-old is averaging career-lows in K/9 (4.7) and ground-ball rate this season (46.6 percent) and has yielded a troublesome .287/.351/.498 batting line to opposing right-handed hitters this season.
Locke isn’t teeming with upside, but a club that has been beset by injuries in the rotation could certainly do worse than him when filling out the back of the rotation. Locke did, after all, manage a 3.98 ERA in 81 starts from 2013-15, and he’s earning a reasonable $3.025MM salary in 2016. He’s controllable for another pair of seasons beyond the current campaign and doesn’t figure to be in line for a significant bump in salary due to his aforementioned 2016 struggles.
While it’s rare to see a contending club move one or even two arms from its big league rotation — especially when its ace (i.e. Gerrit Cole) is on the disabled list — Pittsburgh has a number of young, MLB-ready arms that could step into the rotation down the stretch. In addition to Glasnow, we’ve seen Jameson Taillon, Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl each make his Major League debut this season. Taillon, of course, is presently on the big league disabled list with some fatigue in his right shoulder and will eventually need to have his innings capped after not pitching in 2014-15 due to injury. However, he could return later this month, and the Bucs are also hoping to get Cole back following the All-Star break as well (he’s already begun a Triple-A rehab assignment). Vogelsong, too, could be back in late July. As such, even without Locke and Niese, Pittsburgh could conceivably have a combination of Cole, Francisco Liriano, Vogelsong, Glasnow, Kuhl, Taillon and Brault make the bulk of their starts in the final two and a half of months of the season.