The way it looks right now, the need for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline might be pitching. That need could be reduced if Jeff Locke continues pitching well (3.46 ERA / 3.54 xFIP after tonight, so no regression is expected this year), and/or if Vance Worley turns out to be back to his pre-2013 self. That said, the Pirates currently have a rotation made up of Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Edinson Volquez, Locke, and Worley. That doesn’t scream “playoff rotation”, and things really won’t change much when the struggling Francisco Liriano returns.
The Pirates will hopefully have a lot of questions answered by the end of the month. Are Locke and Worley the real deal? Will Cole and Liriano start pitching like top of the rotation guys? These questions could determine how big of a need starting pitching will be.
Looking at the long-term, the Pirates have a bigger need for starting pitching. Their 2015 rotation currently includes Cole and Morton, plus Locke and Worley if they turn out to be legit. Basically it’s the same situation the Pirates will be in at the deadline this year, only the Pirates will need an upgrade for multiple years, rather than two months.
One solution would be to trade for someone with multiple years of control, like David Price. That could solve the rotation problems this year, and could fill a spot next year. The problem here is that this type of deal would cost a lot in prospects. And considering the type of prospects the Pirates have, they might be paying too much in the long-term, and not getting enough in the short-term.
Two of the biggest trade chips the Pirates would have are Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow. Kingham has been on fire in Triple-A, and might be a second half solution for the Pirates if they ignore the desire to get a name, and ignore the philosophy that you can only upgrade the team by making a trade. Glasnow has been tearing up the Florida State League, and could be on the move to Altoona by the end of the month. He’s looking like a potential top of the rotation guy.
I can’t see the Pirates landing someone like Price without dealing at least one of their top pitching prospects. This is where we get into the balance of short-term needs vs long-term needs. The Pirates have some need for pitching, although with their current five, plus guys like Brandon Cumpton, Kingham, Stolmy Pimentel, and Casey Sadler, the “need” would actually be a need for comfort. They don’t have any sure things in the rotation right now, and they don’t have three top of the rotation guys like they had last year.
A key difference this year could be the offense. The Pirates have been hitting well lately, finishing with one of the top five offenses in the majors during the month of June. They also had one of the top five pitching staffs, but I think people would be more confident in the offense continuing their success. Last year the Pirates needed three top of the rotation guys, because the offense was struggling. This year they might be able to get by with several reliable starters. That reduces the need for a starter at the deadline.
The way I see it, the Pirates would be much stronger in the long-term by keeping both Glasnow and Kingham. Add in Jameson Taillon next year, and then factor in what is already in the majors (Gerrit Cole, plus whoever else turns out to be legit), and the Pirates might not have to worry about starting pitching for a long time.
A starter like David Price would be nice right now, but a rotation full of young, top of the rotation guys in the future would be better. This is a similar situation to a few years ago, when the Pirates had Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco coming up, with the dream of a star outfield. That outfield has now arrived. The next step is adding these potential top of the rotation pitchers. The first one arrived last year. The second one should have arrived this year, and could arrive next summer. Kingham profiles as a strong number three, with the chance to be a number two due to his control. Glasnow has a lower floor, but a very high ceiling. Not all of these guys will work out, but there’s enough talent in this group that the Pirates should be set if they keep them all together.
Glasnow and Kingham should be untouchable. If the Pirates need pitching help, just turn to Kingham. If they can get a top pitcher without giving up a huge piece of the future, then go for it. But as much as I’d like to see someone like David Price added for the next year and a half, I think the better sight would be a future rotation that could challenge for the best in the game, just like the current outfield looks to be the best trio in the game in the not too distant future. That combination together could make the Pirates some serious contenders. And they can still contend in the short-term without dealing the future of their rotation.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.