There are few players more likely to be traded this winter than Joe Musgrove. After putting up the league’s worst record, the Pirates are clearly not in position to immediately contend. That means GM Ben Cherington and the rest of the Pittsburgh front office are likely to be open to offers for most of their veteran players.
It’s not a good time for the Pirates to try to move most of those players, though. Gregory Polanco, Adam Frazier and Josh Bell all struggled to varying degrees in 2020. Trading any of that trio would be selling low; indeed, the Pirates are expected to first try to work out an extension with Bell this offseason. Unlike most of the Pittsburgh roster, Musgrove is coming off a strong season. He tossed 39.2 innings of 3.86 ERA/3.42 FIP ball. More impressively, Musgrove punched out 33.1% of opposing hitters, a stark improvement over his previous career marks.
Musgrove’s jump in strikeouts and whiffs might be a bit of small sample blip, especially since a brief IL stint for triceps inflammation limited him to eight starts, but he’d carved out a role as a solid mid-rotation starter over the prior couple seasons. Since joining the Pirates in advance of the 2018 season, Musgrove has thrown 325.1 innings with a 4.23 ERA and solid strikeout (22.8%) and walk (5.7%) rates. That level of production would appeal to a number of pitching-needy teams.
In an offseason when many teams are expected to cut payroll, Musgrove would also represent a more affordable addition than many of the options available in free agency. MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projects Musgrove to bring in an amount in the $3.2MM-$4.4MM range via arbitration. He’ll be eligible for arbitration once more next winter before reaching free agency in the 2022-23 offseason.
The Blue Jays and Pirates reportedly got close to a deal involving Musgrove during the season. It’s possible Toronto revisits those talks again, although they subsequently acquired Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling, both of whom remain in the fold. Virtually any team looking to contend in the short-term could try to strengthen their rotations by exploring a Musgrove deal. The A’s, Angels, Braves, Phillies and Yankees are among a host of teams who might fit the bill. There hasn’t been any movement on the Musgrove front to this point, but his name figures to be bandied about quite a bit in the coming months.