As the Major League Baseball season rolls towards yet another trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves back in the playoff discussion after a tremendous stretch of victories. The starting rotation could use an upgrade, and some teams that have fallen out of contention have pitchers that could help out the Pirates during the final months of the season and even next year.
If there is one area that the decision makers for the Pittsburgh Pirates should look to upgrade in the next few days, the starting rotation probably makes the most sense to focus on given how well the offense has been hitting and the bullpen has in general been performing well.
Compared to the other 29 teams in the league, the Pirates rank in the bottom half for ERA (4.27, 18th), FIP (4.09, 15th), WAR (8.2, 18th) and K/9 (8.42, 19th). Clearly these numbers need to improve for the team to become a more serious contender heading into August.
With a record of 54-51 and sitting seven games behind the division leading Chicago Cubs and three games back of the second Wild Card spot in the National League, these seems like the type of season where the organization should not sell the farm for a top of the line starter like Jacob deGrom (although his addition to the rotation would certainly be welcomed).
Instead, the team should look to take a chance on pitchers in the tier below the top available pitchers, and try to get someone who either a) has some baggage b) could benefit from a change of scenery or c) both. Here are a few starters on teams well out of playoff contention that the Pirates should be kicking the tires on before Tuesday’s trade deadline.
Zack Wheeler, New York Mets
Wheeler represents a total roll of the dice for a team considering acquiring him.
He missed all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons and saw his 2017 campaign limited to just 86.1 innings of work. Because of his injury history, Wheeler may not cost as much as acquiring deGrom or Noah Snydergaard.
However, so far in 2018 Wheeler has pitched well. In 114.1 innings, he has posted his best BB/9 (3.23), second best K/9 (8.58) and best HR/FB (9.7) of his career. While his ERA of 4.33 may not look good on the surface, his FIP of 3.69 indicates that he is a better pitcher than what his ERA shows, especially his the BABIP against him is .304.
An acquisition of Wheeler would also give the team another arm heading into 2019 since he has one more year of arbitration remaining.
In fact, Wheeler has been pitching well most of the summer. Since June 1st, he’s tossed 64.1 innings and struck out 56 and allowed just four home runs. His ERA of 3.50 during this time frame is not much higher than his FIP of 3.40, indicating that he is getting results close to what he deserves based on his pitching.
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles
With the Baltimore Orioles apparently selling off anything and anyone as the deadline approaches, they have some pitchers that could be in demand. Fangraphs writer Dan Szymborski recently detailed some moves that he thinks would make sense for the Baltimore club to make, including a deal sending Kevin Gausman to the Pirates.
While Gausman would be a good fit for the Pirates, Dylan Bundy would be another Baltimore pitcher that should be in the mix for the Pirates if they are looking to bolster the rotation.
Bundy, like Wheeler, has gone through his fair share of injuries, but in the last few years has shown that he can be a capable middle or back end of the rotation option.
He’s thrown 108.1 innings this year, so barring an injury he should surpass his career high of 169.2 that he tossed last year. His strikeouts per nine innings this year is at 9.64, over a strikeout better than the 8.53 he set in 2016. His walks per nine innings has been steadily dropping over the last few years and his mark of 2.91 so far in 2018 is right around his career average.
However, there are some areas of Bundy’s game that could be seen as concerning by an acquiring club. His home runs per nine innings this year sits at 1.91, which is a slight uptick from the 1.31 he posted last year. Also, in the three years that Bundy has logged at least 100 innings on the mound, his FIP has routinely been higher than his ERA, indicating that perhaps Bundy is getting some luck with balls in play.
However, Bundy does have three more years of arbitration left, so he would be a good young pitcher, albeit with an injury history, the Pirates to target.
Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds
While he has been used exclusively out of the Cincinnati bullpen in 2018, Amir Garrett represents an interesting option for both the rotation and the bullpen. In 50.2 relief innings this year, Garrett has been striking out an impressive 10.48 hitters per nine innings while walking 3.02. With an ERA of 3.73 and FIP of 3.75 to go along with those numbers, Garrett has been a solid late inning option for the Reds.
Last year Garrett spent most of the season in the rotation, and did not fare very well. He walked 5.09 hitters per nine innings and had a fairly serious issue with home runs, allowing 2.93 per nine innings. Both his ERA and FIP were 7.39 last season, so there is not beating around the bush that he has a lot of problems last year.
If acquired and eased back into a starting role, Garrett would be quite the project for Ray Searage and the coaching staff. Of the 14 games he started last year, he only had six that registered as quality starts.
In at least five of his starts last year, he gave up at least six runs and exited the game before the sixth inning. Garrett would come with many years of team control as he is not set to hit free agency until 2024. So the Reds may not want to part with him since he could be part of a rebuild.
Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals could be looking to move some players that will not be around after this season, and Gio Gonzalez certainly fits the bill. Gonzalez is in the final year of control under the Nationals, pitching this season on a $12 million team option for 2018 so he would be a rental instead of someone that will be in the team’s plans for the future.
Gonzalez would bring two things to the rotation if acquired: a lefty to break up the all right handed rotation, and additional veteran leadership during the stretch run. He is walking more hitters (4.44 per nine innings) than he has since 2011, but he has kept his strikeout and home run per nine innings right around his career averages.
His FIP of 4.01 shows that his ERA of 3.94 is not too far off from his true performance on the mound, so he would be a pitcher that if acquired, the team has a good idea of what they are getting with him.
But given that at the moment the Pirates are fighting for a Wild Card spot and are still pretty far back in the division, Gonzalez probably makes more sense for a club that has a more secure path to the postseason.
It’s hard to envision Huntington trading away young players just for two months of Gonzalez, because he most likely would not look to sign a multiyear deal with Pittsburgh and nor should that even be an option of they trade for him.
How this all shakes out is anybody’s guess. If Huntington’s track record is to be considered, then it’s highly doubtful that he swaps any highly regarded prospects at the deadline.
But if he is able to trade for a starting pitcher that can help out this year and at least in 2019, he should give it some serious consideration. Especially since many of the pitchers listed above are on clubs that will not be competing any time soon.