The Pittsburgh Pirates have done an outstanding job finding great relief pitchers at low prices. This has come in all forms, whether it’s a Mark Melancon type, or an Arquimedes Caminero, or a non-prospect turned into a MLB reliever, such as Tony Watson or Jared Hughes.
A look at their primary bullpen last year shows a ton of value. Melancon was acquired for Joel Hanrahan in a classic buy low/sell high move. Tony Watson and Jared Hughes were struggling Double-A starters turned legit prospects once they moved to the bullpen. Arquimedes Caminero was acquired for cash. So was Vance Worley. Antonio Bastardo was added for Joely Rodriguez. Rob Scahill was added for Shane Carle. The last two are Grade C pitching prospects with some value, but definitely an area where the Pirates have a lot of depth in their minor league system. Then there’s Joe Blanton, who was added via waivers.
The biggest expense the Pirates paid for a reliever last year was at the deadline when they sent out JaCoby Jones for Joakim Soria. And that wasn’t a huge expense at all.
Going into the 2016 season, the Pirates will be in need of relievers. Bastardo is a free agent, you can expect Melancon to be traded, and that leaves Watson, Hughes, and Caminero as the main guys returning. They’ll need at least four more relievers, including a few guys who could step up as late inning options. Just like before, you can expect the Pirates to go the value route.
They may have made one of their biggest value moves of the off-season today when they added Allen Webster from the Diamondbacks for cash. Webster was recently one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He has averaged 94 MPH in the past with his fastball, and has touched 97-98. Perhaps the best argument for Webster being a good reclamation project comes from Eno Sarris at FanGraphs, which came a day before the Pirates added him:
If you’re interested in stuff and stuff and then stuff some more, you want Allen Webster. Even despite enduring a horrid year, he has three pitches that are above-average in whiff rates, and the changeup would rank in the top 20 (minimum 100 thrown) if he got more chances to throw it. The problem is that he has no command, and his velocity has fallen to the point that it’s average for a righty.
Bottom-of-the-league command and average velocity on a straight-ish four-seamer, even when paired with a sinker, change, and breaking ball that are above-average by movement and results — that package doesn’t make for a great pitcher. But Webster went into this season preparing to be a starter. What would his velocity look like in short stints from the get-go? If it were back up to 94, that might mitigate some of his command issues, and it would help to have empty bases and a directive to get three outs.
If you look at a lot of the successful reclamation projects in the past, you’ll find that they came to the Pirates with serious command issues and sometimes a lack of ground balls or balls thrown down in the zone. The Pirates have a good tendency of fixing those command problems and getting more ground balls, either by fixing mechanics to get a fastball working down in the zone, or by focusing more on a two-seam fastball to generate grounders.
Webster has some of the best stuff of the guys the Pirates have added so far. It’s not a big group, and they haven’t really added anyone at a bigger expense than Webster. But this is a guy who isn’t far removed from being one of the best prospects in the game, and he hardly has enough time in the majors to totally write him off. Most of his time in the majors has been as a starting pitcher, and as we have seen many times, some of the best relievers come from failed starters. If Tony Watson can go from a failed starter in Double-A to one of the best relievers in baseball, then it’s absolutely possible that Webster could go from a failed starter in the majors to exactly the quality of reliever the Pirates need next year.
I say “failed starter”, but that might be unfair for a guy who only has 23 starts in two hitter friendly environments over three seasons. Webster could still make it as a starter. But the reality is that the Pirates don’t need him as a starter right now (assuming they will add a sure bet for their rotation spot, which isn’t a big assumption), which means Webster has the easier task of turning things around in a reliever role. And if he can turn it around as a reliever, then perhaps the Pirates could move him back to the rotation in the future.
They’ve got Webster under control for six full seasons, and if he works out, this will be a great long-term move. If he can’t turn it around, they’ve lost nothing. This is exactly the type of move the Pirates need to make to build their next top bullpen, and find their next big reliever. Webster seems like a great bet to work out, based on his previous prospect status and the track record of the Pirates. I don’t see the Pirates stopping at just him, and with more moves like this, they’re bound for at least one of them working out and adding a huge value reliever to replace Melancon and the rest of the 2015 group.
**Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Hope you have a great holiday! We have some articles prepped for tomorrow, including the reveal of the cover for the 2016 Prospect Guide, which will go on pre-sale on Friday. Sean McCool worked on the cover, and did an outstanding job. I can’t wait for you to see it, and especially can’t wait to finish the book, which will probably be done shortly after the Rule 5 draft is complete. But tomorrow I’m taking off, as I’m in charge of cooking the turkey around here. It’s currently sitting in a brine made up of Apple cider, Wild Turkey 101, and herbs and spices. After 12 hours in that brine, I’ll stuff it with a yellow onion and a honeycrisp apple, both cut into quarters, along with a few sticks of celery and fresh rosemary, all to add flavor. Then I’ll rub it down with a combination of butter and spices, and throw it in the smoker, using a combination of apple wood and hickory chips every 45 minutes. And then after dinner I’m going to go for a bike ride for the rest of my life to work off all the turkey.
**Pedro Alvarez Believes the Time is Right For a Trade. I think the Pirates would be in agreement with him. The only problem? I don’t really see another team dealing for him, and if they did, I don’t see the Pirates getting much back.
**Pirates Acquire RHP Allen Webster From Diamondbacks. The biggest move of the day, and what could be a key addition to the bullpen this year.
**Pirates Sign 1B/OF Jake Goebbert, Added to 40-Man Roster. I see this as a replacement for Andrew Lambo, adding more depth to the organization at the corner spots, and a backup option at first base. Goebbert didn’t really show any platoon splits in 2015, although he struggled against lefties in 2014. He seems like a good second option for the left side of the first base platoon, but I doubt the Pirates stop at just adding him for their off-season plan at first base.
**Winter Leagues: Strong Outing For Heredia, Ortiz Provides Offense in Win. John Dreker breaks down the winter league action for the day, already looking at one of the newly signed minor league free agents.
**No Pirates Mentioned Among Top Names For Upcoming Rule 5 Draft. From Tuesday, the Pirates didn’t have any names among the guys mentioned as risks to be taken, which is good news for those who would like to see Clay Holmes and Barrett Barnes remaining in the organization.
**Austin Meadows Named Second Best Prospect in AFL. Meadows got a lot of attention this off-season due to his time in the AFL, despite poor numbers in the process.