The Pirates’ rotation in 2019 has been unexpectedly weak. Injuries to Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams and some alarming regression for Chris Archer have overshadowed solid performances by Joe Musgrove and offseason signee Jordan Lyles. Longtime prospect Nick Kingham entered the year out of minor league options and struggled so greatly that the team begrudgingly designated him for assignment last week and now seems likely to lose the righty.
Pittsburgh isn’t currently certain who’ll start for the organization on Wednesday this week, but general manager Neal Huntington told reporters that the Pirates will “look externally” to see if there are any palatable options available (links via Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Adam Berry of MLB.com). Top prospect Mitch Keller is a candidate to make that start, but the Bucs have already recalled and optioned Keller once this season. The next time Keller is called up to the Majors, Huntington noted, the team would like it to be a permanent promotion. Adding an external option would allow the team to give Keller a bit more time in Triple-A, where he has 100 1/3 total innings since last season, but the Bucs won’t find a more talented option than Keller to plug in for that Wednesday outing.
In the meantime, the Pirates will explore the trade market to see what kind of interest there is in Kingham. Huntington noted that players with that type of prospect pedigree “tend to get traded” if they’re designated for assignment and expressed optimism that he will “be able to get something for him” even in spite of his considerable 2019 struggles. Kingham allowed an incredible 38 runs on 54 hits and 17 walks in 34 2/3 innings to begin the 2019 season, but he has a solid Triple-A track record and was long viewed as a potential big league starter. A rebuilding club like the Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers, Royals or Giants could be intrigued by seeing how he fares in a change of scenery. An injury-plagued team like the Angels or Athletics could make some sense, too.
Perhaps a more intriguing source of trade speculation surrounding the Pirates, however, resides in the outfield. Corey Dickerson returned from the IL to join a mix that already had Bryan Reynolds, Starling Marte and Melky Cabrera playing well. Gregory Polanco has posted roughly average numbers at the plate since returning from shoulder surgery and has a solid track record prior to this season. With all five healthy, it’ll be tough to sort out playing time Huntington unsurprisingly declined to go into specifics but did at least acknowledge the possibility of a trade, stating that while the Pirates like all five outfielder, they’re “always open to opportunities to make this club better.”
That said, with the team slipping in the National League Central, it’s only natural that there’ll be increased speculation about the possibility of trades in the coming weeks — particularly when dealing from a position of strength like the outfield. Moving an outfielder, even to another contender (probably not within the division) could potentially net some help for a pitching staff that hasn’t performed up to expectations so far. If the Pirates surge back into contention — they’re seven back in the NL Central and five and a half back of a Wild Card spot — moving a short-term piece like Dickerson for another veteran could boost the staff. If their slide in the standings worsens, the Bucs could even entertain offers on Marte, who is controlled through 2021 by way of a pair of club options ($11.5MM in 2020, $12.5MM in 2021). Doing so could reap prospect value while opening a long-term spot for the cost-controlled Reynolds.
Also of interest in a selling scenario would be whether the Pirates make standout closer Felipe Vazquez available, but the fact that he is cheaply controlled through the 2023 season would make it extremely difficult to bite the bullet on a deal. “The ask will be big, and they won’t move from it,” one rival executive told ESPN’s Buster Olney when asked about a potential Vazquez deal (subscription required).
That’s probably an understatement. Vazquez has a 2.30 ERA with 14.2 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.99 HR/9 and a 34.4 percent ground-ball rate in 27 1/3 innings so far in 2019. He’s being paid $4MM this year, $5.25MM in 2020 and $7.25MM in 2021 before the team will be able to decide on a pair of club options in 2022 and 2023 — both valued at $10MM. That’s four and a half seasons of control over Vazquez, who’ll turn 28 in July, for a shade under $35MM.
For the time being, it’s likely that the Bucs will find some kind of deal for Kingham (or that he’ll be claimed on waivers) and monitor the market for at least a potential spot-start option Wednesday. There’s sure to be more afoot over the next several weeks, as the Pirates will soon have to give a long-term audition to one of the game’s best overall prospects (Keller) and perhaps resolve an outfield logjam on the trade market. Whether that move is made with an eye toward 2019 or an eye toward 2020 and beyond will probably be dictated by the team’s performance in the near term.
Its hard to say which direction the Pirates are going. Clearly they don’t want to rebuild, nor are they going all in. Signing Keuchel would have brought the Pirates payroll to $83mil and they wouldnt have had to surrender any prospects or draft picks. It almost seems as if their goal is to be a .500 ish team, if so, then Huntington is doing a great job.
It is hard to say which direction the Bucs are going in, and that is a huge problem–they make some moves which suggest they’re all in, and they make others which suggest they have no interest in being more than an 80-win unit. They are acting distressingly like the Orioles of mid-decade, and they will soon be in the same position of having a rebuild thrust upon them as opposed to doing it now, which is really their best option.
Great post and great comparison. You summed up my thoughts beautifully.
Both parties need to agree to signing a contract. Why would Keuchel sign with a team, such as the Pirates, when he had suitors that are actually in contention.
What contenders? You mean Atlanta? Whom the Pirates just took 2 of 3 from with their injury pleted pitching staff. Atlanta has 3 awful starters in Gausman, Fried, and Folytewicz.although, Fried has 7 wins, he hasn’t looked good the last 3-4 starts.
Pirates winning 2 of 3 games doesn’t mean Atlanta isn’t a contender.
This was a basically a half year of a pitcher that will be paid 2/3 of a season of salary. Said pitcher will be going to be a FA again with no hope of the Pirates resigning. If Kuechel was so desirable, another team that was even stronger that had some injury issues. Same goes with Kimbrel. It was not like they had team falling all over each other to try to sign them.
Does a team’s record mean nothing to you? I mean, it must since you just lauded the Pirates taking 2 of 3 from the Braves. But if you don’t think the Braves are contenders for at least the WC and even their own division, then you are a sad person.
But yeah, the Braves are head and shoulders above the Pirates for contention.
Agree, i had the same thought that they only want to play .500 ball so the league and players union can’t come down on them. They had the salary room to sign Keuchel but chose not to. Proves to me they don’t want to compete if it costs them money.
Why would Keuchel consider PGH for the same deal, or at all? He’s pitching for his big deal and Pittsburgh really doesn’t seem be an ideal spot for that.
Pittsburgh is probably one of the most ideal spots for that. They’ve had success with veterans from outside the organization, and PNC park is a pitcher’s park, especially for lefties.
Frankie was doing so good as a starter the last year or so as a starter in Pittsburgh. Finally settled in a relief pitcher and dong better now. He was hammered in that pitchers park as a lefty as a starter.
I’m sure DK didn’t want to come to Pittsburgh…J’s
I honestly think the Pirates messed up Kingham’s development by sending him down and recalling him so often, they used all his options in 1 season.
Actually once optioned in a season, no matter how many times you are sent up or down only 1 option is considered used. So you can’t use all of a players options in 1 season
I thought he was optioned and recalled multiple times last season. I might be wrong, but it says he was optioned/recalled multiple times on his MLB.com page under transactions.
That doesn’t matter. You have three option years, not actual options. He could’ve been sent down 40 times last year and it would still only count as one option.
Kingham pitched last year & tired in September and got bombed. His fastball is only average & he doesn’t have that really good strikeout pitch, similar to C. Kuhl, although Kuhl throws harder.
I agree. Kingham got derailed by his arm injury and is just not the same pitcher he was before the injury. I was looked as maybe the best of the prospects before his arm went. He pitched a 7 inning 1 hitter in his debut last year. After that he had moments but got lit up a lot afterwards. Continued on this year. Bummer cause he had so much promise before he hurt his arm.
Only one option per year gets used
Keller won’t do much worse than Rookie Davis.
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That’s not their point.You and I could do better.They do not want to yo-yo Keller up and down and hurt his confidence.They did not want to bring him up last time but had no choice.You saw what happened that first inning against the Reds.They do not want to have another Glasgow on their hands who suddenly figures it out after he is traded.
We will see what happens to Kingham once he finds a new team.
Not to be the dictionary guy, but regression doesn’t mean what you think it means. I like the article I just am annoyed when people only use regression to mean decline. It works both ways.
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It seems to me that it is used properly.
The opposite is “ progression”.
Regression in general terms does mean a step back. In statistics obviously there’s another definition. But I’ve seen writers on here tend to say “positive regression” if the player has underlying peripherals that suggest better results ahead. Anyway I don’t see how you can knock them for using regression when a guy takes a step back.
I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but it’s used correctly
Sounds like something a weird college professor told him
Kingham injuries killed him he needed a year in AAA to continue recovering but out of options hurt his development. Keller needs to be the guy on Wednesday and going forward they have to sink or swim by letting the kids play. Frazier is some one I am interested in moving maybe to bmore for givens. I was hoping to move Marte to Cleveland cause we need young pitchers and catchers but that ship as sailed. These next 10 games will tell if we have a shot at playoffs or should sell
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I wouldn’t trade any of the younger and controlled players unless they can really get a haul.
They will trade Dickerson and try to trade Cervelli but this will probably happen whether they start playing well or not.
Frazier is somewhat of an enigma to me in that he hits hot and cold.David Freese said last year that Frazier would win a batting title some day but if he does I want it to be with the Pirates.
Frazier has been pretty disappointing this year. Not terrible, but he’s not really doing much of anything. He may be better suited as a utility player instead of a starting 2B. Next year, look for Hayes at 3B, Tucker at SS, and Newman at 2B.
As long as nutting owns them they wont win bring keller up and let him progress in the majors good or bad
Hayes is isn’t an option next year before the all star game he is really struggling in AAA Moran has been good enough that he is 3rd basemen for the near future. Kramer and Craig have played OF neither can play CF though. Which is why I see them moving Frazier for pitching cause Newman and tucker are the new double play combination.
No but be touching Cervelli his career is over way to many concussions if this was hockey he would be ltir for cap lol
Um ownership has nothing to do with all the injuries and spending money don’t mean wins.
I agree with your infield assessment. Hayes may not be ready offensively until mid year next year. But Newman at 2nd and Tucker at shortstop yes!
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I am concerned about Hayes’ lack of power at a power position.My gut feel that right now he projects to no more than 10-12 home runs a year.The Pirates will always be short on power as they will rarely have any superstar hitters.I think that if Moran hits like he has been that he may have to be platooned but even then he is good for 25 home runs a year.
His fielding,on the other hand,must improve as he makes too many errors.
Liriano might also fetch a prospect or 2 if they decide to go that route, but I agree that Dickerson and Cervelli are the most obvious trade candidates… if either are ever healthy long enough and show that they can still hit. I wouldn’t trade any of the young controllable guys unless they don’t think they are part of the plan going forward.
Given the injuries, they are actually doing pretty well. If the bullpen hadn’t coughed up nine late leads, they’d be right in it.
Trade Dickerson for a prospect and then flip said prospect for a reliever. Bring up Keller. Hope that Williams and later Taillon come back strong.
I think the Pirates should trade Vazquez for a stud pitching prospects. He should require a serious haul and they need starting pitching. They are never going to sign a real starting pitcher, but have been good at getting relievers via trade and signing. A stud closer is a luxury an average team like the Pirates can’t afford.
Then who would you expect to close out games? Kyle Crick? The legit guy who was set up for closer for the future is recovering from Tommy John. I think it is too soon to trade Vazquez. The haul could be alright right now, but I think it’s too soon to trade him. Marte, Polanco, Cabrera, and Dickerson can be traded. Might as well let Martin and Reynolds get some playing time. Tallion should be a option next year for a trade. But 3 out of the 4 OF players I mentioned, should go on a trade. Polanco might be kept because of his arm and poor production this year. Marte, Cabrera, and Dickerson should get a decent haul of players. It is like setting up a rebuild, but what options do the Pirates have at this point? You do have Martin, Reynolds, Osuna, and few others that can step into starting roles on the major league team. Pirates need SP help and a catcher or two.
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There is nothing worse than having a bad bullpen to blow games that you should win.
See 2019 Pirates.
Vasquez needs to stay.
Technically it’s a little under 5 healthy outfielders since Polanco can only lob the ball to the cutoff man on deep balls to right and he can actually lob it to second or the pitchers mound on balls medium depth to him in right. If he and Marte end up near each other getting to a gapper he should just flip the ball to Marte if he gets to it first.
Sign James Shields for 3M rest of year contract
Kind of a stretch on musgrove. He’s been okay but a 4-6 record 4.44 Era/3.77 FIP. XFIP has him at 4.59 and SIERA at 4.64. Bottom line numbers aren’t so hot and the advanced metrics paint a split picture.
I never wanted Dallas on a 1 year deal would have done 2/20 but his not starting til July Williams will make a start before him I would gladly take shields or Santana today though
You are only as good as your payroll
Can they just forfeit the game on Wednesday?
Kingham and Dickerson to the Whitesox