Whether it’s the trade market or free agents, the starting pitching market is currently being held up by one person: Jon Lester. Once Lester signs, other dominos will fall.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will be one of the teams looking for a pitcher. They have the money to spend, and they have the need. That need is not only for a pitcher, but for a quality pitcher who can be one of the best starters in the rotation. They needed two starters heading into the off-season, and have already filled one of those needs by signing A.J. Burnett.
The current rumor is that the Pirates are making Francisco Liriano a priority. This makes sense, as they offered Liriano a $15.3 M qualifying offer. At the time, many felt that he would accept that offer. The fact that they were willing to make that offer shows that they were willing to sign him for that much on a one-year deal. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re still interested.
Whether it’s Liriano or Brandon McCarthy or Ervin Santana, the Pirates could use a starting pitcher from “Tier 2”, after the Tier 1 combo of Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields are gone. But should the Pirates stop there? Should they consider adding a third starter this off-season?
The current rotation includes Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, and Vance Worley on Opening Day. Charlie Morton will be in the mix, but won’t be ready by the start of the season. Jeff Locke should take his place until he returns. Adding a third starter would be replacing Locke or Worley until Morton returns, and possibly Locke and Worley after Morton returns.
The Pirates have done an outstanding job with reclamation projects. A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez all went from posting some of the worst numbers in the majors before signing with the Pirates, to posting outstanding numbers with the Pirates (although in the latter case, the outstanding numbers weren’t backed up by advanced metrics). They also took a struggling Worley and turned him back to his pre-2013 form, which looked like a league average starter. And they might be hoping for round two of a Burnett reclamation project this off-season.
So what about rolling the dice again? If the Pirates got someone like Liriano on a $12 M per year deal, they’d be projected for around $84 M in payroll in 2015. They have already said that they will likely end up over $90 M in payroll this year. So there would be room left for a third free agent starter in the form of a reclamation project. And there are a lot of reclamation projects out there right now. Brett Anderson, Brandon Beachy, Justin Masterson, Kris Medlen, Brandon Morrow, and Alexi Ogando are just a few of them.
If the Pirates did add a third starter, it would make the team stronger in multiple areas. If they replaced Jeff Locke in the rotation, then they could move Locke to the bullpen as the second lefty, where he might undergo the Zach Duke/Andrew Miller transformation from a struggling lefty starter to a dominant lefty reliever.
Morton returning might provide a bit of a problem, although I don’t think any team has ever had a “problem” of too many starting pitchers. If everyone in the rotation is healthy and productive, they could shift Worley to the bullpen. Odds are, not everyone will be healthy and productive. They’ll probably have to replace one starter by the beginning of May, and at least one more by the middle of June. Having extra starters around never hurts.
As for the payroll, it’s not like the Pirates are spending it on many other positions. They seem to be content with Pedro Alvarez at first base. Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart look to be the catchers. Every other position is locked down with starters. They recently added Sean Rodriguez to the bench, and the other infield bench player will likely be a league minimum guy. Radhames Liz will probably cost a little over a million, but that shouldn’t impact things.
The main need on this team is pitching. The Pirates have plenty in the budget for someone like Liriano. After that, they’ll still have room for another reclamation project. And based on their recent history with reclamation projects, that would be a wise way to spend the remaining money they have.
Links and Notes
**Pre-Order the 2015 Prospect Guide. I’ll be sending the book to the publisher on Friday for a test copy, to make sure that everything prints out alright. The last of the profiles should be finished by Sunday night. The book will officially be finished a week from Thursday, following the Rule 5 draft and all of the transactions during the Winter Meetings.