When confronted with a large project, it’s always a good idea to split it into smaller pieces if you can. That way you can focus on completing sub-tasks with more efficiency. Plus, I always like to check things off a list.
In essence, Neal Huntington can check ‘Assemble Pitching Staff’ off his 2019 Pirates whiteboard. His work at the trade deadline solidified what is looking like his strongest pitching staff (from spots 1-12) of his entire tenure. Sure, he’s had Gerrit Cole/A.J. Burnett/Francisco Liriano provide dominant seasons. He’s had Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, and Mark Melancon provide dominant seasons, too. But each rotation and bullpen has had some lesser lights in it from time to time.
Pitching variance from year-to-year can provide whiplash to fans and GM’s alike, but the 2019 squad looks exceedingly competent and deep. So deep, in fact, that some familiar faces may be moved in the offseason to bring in help in other areas.
The rotation looks like it has this configuration:
- Jameson Taillon
- Chris Archer
- Trevor Williams
- Joe Musgrove
- Ivan Nova *
The bullpen’s configuration:
- Felipe Vazquez
- Keone Kela
- Kyle Crick
- Edgar Santana
- Richard Rodriguez
- Steven Brault
- Chad Kuhl *
Those top five guys (Vazquez, Kela, Crick, Santana, Rodriguez) all have K%’s over 20%, with Vazquez/Kela/Rodriguez surpassing the 30% mark. That’s a dominant trio that doesn’t have to worry about shifts or launch angles; they’ll take care of the problem themselves.
Now about those asterisks next to Nova and Kuhl. Some ill-informed Pirate sites will repeatedly mention that Ivan Nova is terrible. He’s not. He’s a very competent back-end starter. I have him in the rotation, but I could see him on the trade market this offseason to a pitching-needy team.
In that case, Chad Kuhl could come back into the rotation. However, I have concerns about his arm troubles. Forearm tightness is typically a precursor to Tommy John surgery and rest doesn’t magically fix ligaments. That said, if the Pirates trade Nova AND Kuhl needs surgery, the Pirates can still plug someone like Nick Kingham into the rotation.
Let’s talk about Kingham and a few other pieces that may not fit this puzzle at first glance:
Kingham is out of options after this season. Heck, he was out of options this season, but the Pirates lobbied for him to get an extra option due to his medical issues.
Kingham probably pitched the single greatest game by a Pirate pitcher this season and it was in his Major League debut, to boot. On April 29th against the Cardinals, Kingham took a perfect game into the 7th inning. It was the game of his life and it was his first one in the Majors. It’s pretty much all downhill from there anyway.
He’s had a 1st inning problem, as documented by Alex, and it has continued even since that article was published. Kingham is lugging a 4.70 ERA/5.18 FIP mix around his neck for the season. Next year is his age-27 season, so it’s not like he’s a young guy with all this room for growth. The mortar is fairly well-set on Kingham at this point.
Dovydas Neverauskus/Clay Holmes
Both of these guys have been human gas cans when they’ve come in from the bullpen this year. With the players ahead of them (and behind them in the minors, like Jesus Liranzo), I’d like to see the Pirates move these guys in a deal that at least clears up 40-man roster space.
Both of them have one option remaining, so it wouldn’t hurt the Pirates to stash them in Triple-A, but I just don’t think they’re any good. These kind of arms are always laying around on the waiver wire or can be replicated in a team’s own minor league system.
I could have put Tanner Anderson in the heading, too, but he seems destined to be outrighted off the 40-man roster so I didn’t want to belabor the point.
The Pirates took Burdi in last year’s Rule 5 draft. It was a move I really liked, even though he was recovering from surgery. A Rule 5 pick needs to spend 90 days on a Major League roster or else the team has to offer him back to his original team.
Burdi arrived with the September callups, so that means 30 of his 90 days will be used up this month. The Pirates need to keep him up with the Major League team for 60 days in 2019 or else he’d be eligible to return to the Twins or then be run through waivers.
Burdi has the same kind of strikeout profile as the top guys in the Pirates’ bullpen. He could be a find for them at virtually no cost. But I wouldn’t move heaven and earth to keep him on a roster, especially for a team that seems like it could be a division contender in 2019.
With the pitching side of the equation fairly set, Huntington can focus all his energies on improving the terrible infield. If you like Adam Frazier at 2B, that means “only” 1B, SS, and 3B need addressed. If the Pirates can get two legitimate options in free agency or a trade, they can grind it out with one of the Newman/Moran/Bell trio.
There’s plenty of money available in payroll capacity. The GM has assembled an amazingly deep rotation and bullpen. The outfield should be set with Dickerson/Marte/Polanco. Catcher looks fine with Cervelli (if healthy) and Diaz. Just fix the players on the dirt.