Steve did a great job laying out yesterday what the Pirates’ needs are heading into Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline. Over the next couple of days, TPOP will highlight certain players the Pirates may be targeting to address those needs. Today, let’s look at two candidates that could help shore up the late innings in the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Mark Lowe has been like a ronin these past few years. His quixotic journey has taken him from the Angels to the Nationals to the Indians to the Mariners just since 2013, with plenty of time in AAA stops along the way. But the 32-year old has had a resurgent year in 2015 after signing a minor league contract with the Mariners this past offseason.
His stats are eye-popping — 1.03 ERA/1.84 FIP with a staggering 11.83 K/9 against a 2.83 BB/9. His groundball rate is only 36.1%, but that is the only quibble the Pirates could possibly have with Lowe.
Lowe has built his success on a fastball that has gained 2.8 mph this season over 2014’s campaign, an unheard of feat for a young pitcher, let alone one in his early 30’s. Lowe has coupled this 95 mph fastball with an 86 mph slider that has been his primary out pitch.
Lowe is making barely over the minimum, so since he’s owed chicken feed money of less than $200,000 maximum there will actually be some surplus value to return to the Mariners. Assuming something like $3.5M of surplus value, a mid-tier prospect like SS Jacoby Jones or RHP Chad Kuhl could be needed to facilitate the deal.
Perhaps you follow baseball quite closely. Perhaps you are just a casual observer. Either way, your reaction to seeing Kevin Jepsen’s name was probably the same — “Who?”
Such is the life of a middle reliever, especially one that has played the majority of his career for the Angels on the West Coast and this year for the Rays in the mausoleum known as Tampa Bay. Kevin Jepsen has carved out a solid, if unspectacular, career as a middle reliever. The Rays are frittering around the edges of the wild card hunt in the AL, so considering that they’re always keeping one eye on the bottom line finances, they are looking to offload some potential salary.
Jepsen’s superficial stats don’t jump out at you (2-5, 2.88 ERA with 7.3 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 rates that are trending downward), but he does two things that appeal to the Pirates — he throws hard (94.4 mph average fastball) and generates groundballs at a rate of 48.7%, thanks to a strong 2-seam sinking fastball worth +2.84 runs/100 pitches. I hesitate to call Jepsen a project, but he’s still got some refinement potential that can extracted by pitching coach, Ray Searage.
Jepsen’s salary in 2015 is $3.025M, so he is owed just a shade over $1M for the remainder of the year, well within the Pirates’ trade deadline budget. If the Pirates agree to take on the whole salary (and why wouldn’t they), the return to the Rays would only need to be minimal. Perhaps a player like AA reliever Jhondaniel Medina would do the trick. Here’s the interesting part for both parties, though. Jepsen is still eligible for arbitration in 2016 and is slated to earn something in the neighborhood of $4.5M. The Pirates know the tightly-budgeted Rays are probably not going to want to pick that up and that Jepsen is an offseason trade/non-tender candidate. But the Pirates also know that they have their own upcoming salary crunch this offseason, with Melancon probably on track for $8M, Watson $3.5M, and Hughes $2M, so for them Jepsen may also be a trade/non-tender candidate. In essence, the Pirates may be viewing Kevin Jepsen more or less as a rental, in terms of what they are comfortable giving up to the Rays.
Adding either Lowe or Jensen would hopefully lock down the 7th inning, giving Antonio Bastardo and Arquimedes Caminero innings of lower leverage. This would allow Jared Hughes to continue to act as a fireman, coming in to get a key grounder in a high leverage situation. Adding a reliever is never a headline-grabbing move, but more often than not it is the kind that carries a team deeper in the postseason.