Pirates closer Tony Watson has changed agencies and is now a client of Scott Boras, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. The soon-to-be 32-year-old lefty will be a free agent following the 2017 campaign.
Watson stepped into the ninth-inning spotlight for the Pirates last season following their trade of Mark Melancon to the Nationals, and he’s racked up 23 saves since that time. He’s posted a 1.62 ERA through his first 16 2/3 innings this season with a career-best 50 percent ground-ball rate, though it’s also worth noting that there are some potential signs for concern. Watson’s velocity is down this year (though his 92.4 mph average fastball still has plenty of life for a lefty), and he’s also seen his K/9 and BB/9 rates trend in the wrong direction.
Those red flags notwithstanding, Watson has been among baseball’s most durable pitchers — he’s third in the Majors in appearances since 2014 — and left-handed relief help is always in demand near the trade deadline. Pittsburgh showed last season that it wasn’t afraid to deal Melancon even with a Wild Card spot still in reach, so even if the Bucs right the ship, Watson will be a similarly likely trade candidate this summer. The Pirates, after all, won’t be making a qualifying offer to the lefty, so they would stand to lose him for no compensation at season’s end if he’s not dealt this summer. Heyman notes that the Pirates view hard-throwing lefty Felipe Rivero (acquired in the aforementioned Melancon deal) as their closer of the future.
It’s obviously still quite early to be putting forth a firm contract estimate on an impending free agent, but a typical Watson season — he pitched to a 2.22 ERA with 7.9 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9 from 2013-16 — would put the southpaw in line to cash in on a three- or four-year deal this coming winter.
Watson adds to a Boras free agent class that includes the likes of Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Carlos Gonzalez and Jeremy Hellickson (among others). His switch is now reflected in MLBTR’s Agency Database, which contains agent info on more than 2,500 Major League and Minor League players. If you see any notable errors or omissions within, please let us know via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.