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Pirates Do The Right Thing & Get Burdi In Rule 5 Draft, Amazingly

In Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, the symbolic end to every MLB Winter Meeting, the Pirates made a trade that was somewhat bold and innovative.  I’m writing about it because ‘bold’ and ‘innovative’ are two words that I have not had to use lately to describe GM Neal Huntington.  The Pirates made their own selection in the Rule 5 draft, the uninspiring choice of Jordan Milbrath from Cleveland, but then traded $500K of international slot money to the Phillies for the rights to Nick Burdi, who the Phillies selected earlier in the Rule 5 draft themselves from the Twins.  This was a strategy that we advocated the Pirates pursue two weeks ago during the fallout from the Braves scandal and Ohtani fever, so better late than never.

Nick Burdi has long fascinated me from a distance.  He was selected in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft by the Twins and was being fast tracked as a pure reliever by them.  No messing around with him as a starter to work on his pitches.  Just have him rear back and let that fastball fly, which he did with speeds regularly at or around 100 mph.  But unfortunately, injuries have put Burdi on the slow track the past two seasons.

In 2016, he only pitched 3 innings all year as he dealt with a bone bruise on his pitching elbow.  Then after coming out of the gate strong in 2017 at AA (20 K, only 4 walks, 9 hits in 17 innings), he tore the UCL in his pitching elbow in May and required Tommy John surgery.  Somewhat logically, the Twins thought that would scare teams away from selecting him in the Rule 5 draft, so they did not add him to the 40-man roster last month.

But as we’ve seen with Tommy John patients Drew Smyly and Michael Pineda on the big league level, teams are willing to sign impact players and nurse them through their recovery year to gain their services the next year.  In the case of Burdi, if the Pirates can bide their time in 2018, they’ll have him for 6 future controllable years.

There’s actually no downside to this for the Pirates.  He’s on the 40-man roster right now, which may or may not affect moves in the remainder of the offseason, but once the season opens, they’ll stash him on the 60-day disabled list and free that spot back up.  The stipulations of the Rule 5 draft are that the Pirates must keep Burdi on the 25-man Pittsburgh roster in 2018 for 90 days, or else they must have him open the 2019 season on the Opening Day roster to make up whatever days are necessary.  If you presume that Burdi won’t start a minor league rehab assignment until June, the Pirates could bring him up from July 1st to October and most likely meet the 90 day requirement.  But if he comes up later, especially in September if they want to game the roster requirements, and impresses them suitably he’d be on the 2019 Opening Day roster anyway.  If he’s terrible, they offer him back to the Phillies or work out a side deal to stash him in the minors.

Now, there’s no guarantee that Burdi can stay healthy enough to do anything of note for the Pirates.  In his four professional seasons, he’s totaled only 104 innings.  But a blazing fastball of 100 mph that he appears to have reigned under control in 2017 is a valuable asset.  In his 2015 season, he ran a BB/9 rate of 4.95; last year in a small sample it was just 2.12 BB/9.  He complements it with a biting 88-90 mph slider.

Let’s fast forward to 2019 for a quick second.  Imagine a bullpen with Felipe Rivero as the closer and Nick Burdi as the 100 mph setup man.  Now you can have George Kontos and Dovydas Neverauskas in the 7th inning.  If health holds up well, that has the makings of a very solid back end of the bullpen.  There’s a lot of miles and games to go between now and then, though.

So I tip my hat to the Pirates for doing the right thing today in the generally terrible Rule 5 draft.  They used their large pool of international money to obtain an interesting prospect.  Now if they’ll only augment the 2018 Opening Day roster with some MLB talent…


Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

13 Comments on Pirates Do The Right Thing & Get Burdi In Rule 5 Draft, Amazingly

  1. Sorry Kevin….what you think is bold and what I think is bold are two very different things. What the Cards did is bold….what the Pirates did hardly even hits my radar….it’s sad they can’t give you something good to write about.

    • Bob Stover // December 14, 2017 at 4:21 PM //

      I think it was bold with respect to that move, but not bold as the team’s only move at the Winter meetings. Still, we knew damn well that the Pirates were not going to be players for Ohtani, Stanton or Ozuna.

    • Daquido Bazzini // December 14, 2017 at 4:37 PM //

      Spot on, Jim.
      It’s so bad with the Pirates, that these kinds of moves actually stick out as some kind of a positive.
      Lately…Neal Huntington has taken to comparing his payroll splits to the Penguins and Steelers.
      He would be wise to never even utter the names of those two finely- run organizations.
      Huntington will continue to look under every rock possible in trying to find something/anything that fits under Bob Nutting’s ultra skin-tight budget.
      It’s a sad act that has been going on for well over two decades now.
      Thomas Tull (a guy that wants to win)is looking for a MLB team to buy.
      If Nutting had any decency, he would sell to Tull, make a huge profit and clear out for good.

      • mark delsignore // December 15, 2017 at 7:48 AM //

        “Thomas Tull (a guy that wants to win)is looking for a MLB team to buy.
        If Nutting had any decency, he would sell to Tull, make a huge profit and clear out for good.”

        You are correct on the “uuuuge” profit what’s his name will make (cant even say his name anymore) if and when he sells the Pirates.

        Maybe there is something in the newly proposed tax bill that will incent him to do so.

    • Kevin Creagh // December 14, 2017 at 6:39 PM //

      As Bob mentioned, I’m only saying ‘bold’ in what they did w the Burdi move. The rest of the offseason has been a huge disappointment so far.

      • mark delsignore // December 15, 2017 at 7:52 AM //

        I think the word you are looking for instead of “bold” is “different”.

        I’ll even give you “smart”……but no way are we even in the universe of “bold”.

  2. Bob Stover // December 14, 2017 at 4:19 PM //

    If he regains his arm strength and stays healthy, he would then be the next closer when the time comes that the Pirates cannot afford to keep Rivera, as it inevitably will.

  3. betterthanchickwood // December 14, 2017 at 5:24 PM //

    Good Grief. Is Don Orris incognito?

  4. I see no bold in anything related in that move……it’s a move, a simple move and the same type move they always make….I’d call it the “norm”.

    • Kevin Creagh // December 14, 2017 at 9:56 PM //

      The Pirates have never traded international slot money for a prospect. They never traded for a prospect that they knowingly were going to keep on the shelf for 1/2 a year, with the hopes that he would regain his luster.

    • mark delsignore // December 15, 2017 at 7:50 AM //

      Agree Jim

      I might call it a somewhat brilliant move to take a cheap chance on a gut with tremendous upside “potential” (I hate that word but….) and not take up a 40 man roster spot but I would expect brilliant moves like this from a GM of one of only 30 such organizations.

  5. This is how bad it’s gotten for the Pirates. Another snoozefest of a winter meeting (which was easily predicted) by this sad organization, and we’re supposed to see something bold in a Rule 5 acquisition. This is damning with very faint praise. Such moves simply do not come close to amounting to a truly bold move.

    I’m still waiting for some Bob Stover style bold moves. You know, the ones he promised were coming since, as he indicated, Nutting is not an idiot and will have to substantially raise payroll to get fannies in the seats before his tv deal expires.

  6. I agree that this was a surprisingly bold move for Huntington. Trading a $500,000 international slot for a 50 grade prospect is great value. A 50 grade prospect is worth about $13,000,000 in surplus value according to fangraphs. And it’s not as though the Pirates ever sign any of the high end international players anyway. While the Pirates will always concern themselves with profit over winning, at least this move gives us a little hope of having a “super pen” like most of the legitimate contenders have.

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