The Pirates recently had a video chat with free agent starter Kyle Gibson, reports Rob Biertempfel of the Athletic. According to Biertempfel, the Bucs have ongoing interest in the veteran right-hander.
Gibson, 35, just wrapped up his first full season in Philadelphia. He originally landed with the Phillies at the 2021 trade deadline, dealt midway through a three-year free agent deal signed with the Rangers. While he was sitting on a 2.87 ERA through his first 19 starts of the 2021 campaign in Texas, Gibson posted an ERA north of 5.00 through his season and a half in Philly. Through 43 appearances (42 starts), he pitched to a 5.06 ERA across 236 2/3 frames.
That’s not a particularly impressive run prevention mark, but the 2021 All-Star has had more effective underlying numbers. His 20.3% strikeout rate over the past year-plus is a bit below average, although that’s offset by a quality 7% walk percentage. As he has throughout his career, the sinkerballer induced grounders at a quality 48% clip in Philadelphia. That lower-strikeout, high-grounder approach wasn’t necessarily an ideal fit in front of a below-average infield defense. Opposing hitters had a .243 batting average on ground balls against Gibson this past season, slightly above the .235 league mark. He also had one of the league’s lowest left-on-base rates at 67.7%. For his career, Gibson has stranded just under 71% of baserunners he’s allowed. A few more grounders finding gloves and timely outs could lead the 10-year veteran to an ERA closer to the low-4.00’s range, where defense-adjusted estimators like FIP and SIERA have pegged his recent production.
Pittsburgh was one of the league’s better teams at turning grounders into outs this past season. Ke’Bryan Hayes is an elite defensive third basemen, although shortstop Oneil Cruz drew mixed reviews from public metrics for his rookie season. The Bucs have acquired a trio of capable defenders at first base this offseason — free agent signee Carlos Santana, trade acquisition Ji-Man Choi and waiver claim Lewin Díaz — while their second base job still seems largely up for grabs.
The Pirates have a young rotation with potentially multiple vacancies to plug. As things stand, Mitch Keller, JT Brubaker and Roansy Contreras look to have the inside track at rotation spots. Keller and Brubaker, each of whom are entering their first seasons of arbitration eligibility, could find themselves in trade rumors this winter. Even if they return, the final two spots are up in the air. Neither Bryse Wilson nor Zach Thompson pitched particularly well in their 20+ starts this past season. Johan Oviedo, who came over from the Cardinals midseason in the José Quintana and Chris Stratton trade, had a solid seven starts to put himself in the mix. The 24-year-old has been inconsistent as a strike-thrower, though, and he was primarily deployed out of the bullpen in St. Louis. Luis Ortiz, Miguel Yajure and Mike Burrows are depth options already on the 40-man roster, and top prospect Quinn Priester could pitch his way into the mix midseason after a strong year at Double-A.
It seems likely the Bucs will add at least one veteran arm, both to eat innings and add some experience for a generally young group of hurlers. Last year, they inked Quintana to a $2MM bounceback deal. He provided them with 20 starts of 3.50 ERA ball before the midseason trade that brought back Oviedo and minor league first baseman Malcom Nuñez. Quintana’s again a free agent, and Biertempfel reports the Pirates are interested in bringing him back to the Steel City. Quintana will certainly land a far better contract this time around — MLBTR predicts him for a two-year, $24MM deal — and it remains to be seen if the Pirates are willing to meet a loftier asking price. Gibson doesn’t figure to be quite so expensive, although he should fairly easily beat the $2MM guarantee Quintana received last offseason.
The additions of Santana and Choi added roughly $11MM in projected spending to the 2023 ledger. Nevertheless, the Bucs still have just over $54MM in estimated commitments, per Roster Resource. Even a modest hike from this year’s approximate $56MM Opening Day payroll should allow them to continue building out the roster with lower-cost veteran additions.
Pittsburgh is certain to bring in at least one experienced catcher, and general manager Ben Cherington has previously expressed an openness to adding in the middle infield. Biertempfel writes the Pirates are similarly willing to supplement the outfield. It’s hard to envision the Bucs making a huge splash in any of those areas, but they figure to explore the lower tiers of various areas of the market to continue shoring up the weakest points on a roster coming off a 62-100 campaign.