The Pirates traded Josh Bell to the Nationals last week, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that Pittsburgh righty Joe Musgrove is drawing “keen” interest and could get a look from clubs that missed on Blake Snell (not that the two are comparable in terms of track record). Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offers a similar sentiment, tweeting that multiple sources have told him they believe “Musgrove is next” for Pirates as they look to continue their rebuilding effort.
Musgrove, who turned 28 earlier this month, is among the most obvious trade candidates on the market. He could very well have been dealt this past summer had he not landed on the injured list with what proved to be a fairly minor triceps issue. Musgrove missed about three weeks with the injury and, upon returning, rattled off his best starts of the season.
The triceps issue and the shortened slate of games in 2020 combined to limit Musgrove to 39 2/3 innings. He was solid when on the mound, however, pitching to a 3.86 ERA and 3.42 ERA with a 33.1 percent strikeout rate that shattered his previous career-high (21.9 percent). Musgrove saved the best for last in 2020, closing out the year 13 shutout innings against the Cardinals and Indians. He yielded just six hits and two walks against 21 strikeouts in that time — the best two-game stretch of his career. Musgrove upped not only the usage of his slider and his curveball in 2020 but also his spin rate on both pitches, which may help to explain the uptick in missed bats.
Musgrove headlined the return in the trade that sent Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh to Houston back in Jan. 2018, and just under three years later, he finds himself in a similar spot. While he obviously is not the same caliber of pitcher as Cole, Musgrove is a prime-aged starter with a quality track record who is under control for two more seasons at a highly reasonable rate. He’s owed a raise on last year’s $2.8MM salary, although the injury will suppress some of his earning power in arbitration, and is controllable through the 2022 season. An extension doesn’t seem likely to come from the Pirates, though an acquiring club could have interest in trying to keep him long term.
Musgrove was the No. 46 overall pick by the Blue Jays back in 2011 and was regarded as a Top 100 prospect prior to his Major League debut. He’s been a solid mid-rotation arm to this point in his career, though his overall 2020 results and his excellent finish might lead to some optimism that he still has another gear into which he can tap. Since being traded to Pittsburgh, Musgrove has given the Pirates 325 1/3 innings of 4.23 ERA/3.69 FIP ball, averaging 8.6. K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and 1.05 HR/9 to go along with a 45.9 percent ground-ball rate.
The Blue Jays are on the hunt for arms and nearly acquired Musgrove this past summer, so it stands to reason that they’d have interest again. Others known to be in the market for starting pitching include the Angels, Mets, Mariners, Twins, Red Sox and Giants. Given Musgrove’s affordable salary, he’d be a logical fit on any contender or hopeful contender looking to add to its rotation.