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Friday, December 9, 2022

WTM: The 2023 Pirates Could Have a Major League Rotation. No, Really…

The one segment of the 2023 Pirates that should be very interesting, and could be actually good, right from the start of the season is the rotation.  The usual caveats apply, since we’re talking about pitchers . . . injuries, disappointing performances, and — this being the Pirates — management bungling, could all intervene.  But the rotation next March will be a different creature from what we’ve seen the last quite-a-few years.

Think back to the early season this year.  The rotation looked like a fiasco.  Some hope arose because of some very effective middle relief pitching.  For a while, it looked like the Pirates could go full-on Rays-type openers, on a large scale.  But it all fell apart due to a combination of talent that really wasn’t very good and management mishandling that undermined whatever was working.

Yet out of the ashes arose something different.  Mitch Keller went heavily to a sinker and, maybe just as importantly, started thriving in tough situations, getting that key GIDP instead of walking one more guy.  Roansy Contreras, once he was liberated from Service Time Manipulation Purgatory, looked as good as we’d hoped.  JT Brubaker looked like a reliable starter when he wasn’t being hampered by minor injuries.

Barring unwanted circumstances, those three guys figure to headline the 2023 rotation.  The interesting part is the rest, because there are more options than expected.  Those last two spots — or, realistically, 4-5 spots, since nobody manages all year with five starters — are the focus here.  It’s quite possible that, instead of an unorthodox, new-age sort of rotation, the Pirates could have a more traditional one, with five guys expecting to go 5+ innings game after game.

The most fundamental question right away is the possibility of adding a veteran.  The Pirates have already said they want to do so, although they’ve carefully steered clear of any discussion of trying to bring Jose Quintana back.  It’s a shame, because he’d be an even better fit now than he was a year ago.  He’s not going to get Scherzer money or anything crazy like that, but he’s going to get a whale of a lot more than Nutting money, so we can probably forget it.

The worst thing Ben Cherington could do is follow his usual practice of waiting to see what veteran is the most desperate and therefore the cheapest.  Yeah, it worked out great with Quintana, but does anybody remember Trevor CahillDerek Holland?  The team’s need is different now.  They’re not, or at least shouldn’t be, looking for somebody to eat innings.  They need more innings to distribute, not fewer.  And trading somebody for prospects in July is fine, but getting a staff of established starters out of the guys on hand would be better.  So if you want Jose Quintana, sign Jose Quintana (or somebody equivalent to today’s Quintana).  Otherwise, forget it.

So what’s on hand for the other spots?  Mike Burrows and Quinn Priester are among the top options, but won’t be choices for a while.  Burrows, at least, should get an outside shot in Spring Training, but he won’t because he’ll be on the Wallet Development List until June.  Priester may not have to deal with that chicanery because his ideal timeline probably keeps him in Triple-A until June anyway.

But there’s a surprising number of other possibilities.

Johan Oviedo – St. Louis decided Oviedo was a reliever and he pitched much better out of the bullpen for them, so the Pirates decided he’d be a starter.  The Pirates successfully reversing a Cardinals’ decision isn’t something you’d bet on at any odds, but this time it may work out.  Except for one meltdown, Oviedo pitched well over seven starts.  He sits at over 96 mph and has a good slider.  It’s surprising the Cards weren’t able to get further with him, but he won’t turn 25 until next March.  He’ll probably have a leg up for one of the remaining spots.

Bryse Wilson – Wilson’s been consistently frustrating since the Pirates acquired him.  If you check the Statcast data, his main skill is giving up extremely hard contact.  The latest tease is a splitter that’s replaced his change.  This supposedly explained Wilson throwing eight shutout innings in his last start of the season.  The Pirates seem determined to keep Wilson as a starter, but there’s a lot of evidence that his stuff just isn’t good enough.  Maybe the splitter will work well for him in relief.

Zach Thompson – In a way, Thompson’s problem is Bryse Wilson, or vice versa.  They’re both trade acquisitions with, at best, fifth starter stuff whom the team is obviously desperate to salvage.  Among MLB starters with 80+ innings, they had the fourth (Wilson) and 15th (Thompson) worst ERAs.  (This sort of horror-factoid is part of the Cherington regime’s stock in trade.)  Thompson’s story is a bit different.  While Wilson had a magical ability to allow three runs in every single start (if any of his starts had been rained out, I’m sure he’d still have allowed three runs), Thompson was actually outstanding for a two-month stretch.  The rest of the time he was awful on a level Wilson never reached.

So the questions become, How long do you keep trying to salvage these guys as starters?  And, if starting success remains elusive, How many failed fifth starters can you carry in one bullpen, especially after you blew a bunch of games late in the year because you had no late-inning relievers?  The Pirates already have Wil Crowe, Duane Underwood, Jr., and Chase De Jong, all of whom they seem to regard as bullpen mainstays and none of whom has any business trying to close or set up the closer.  How long do they keep trying to pursue mediocrity, especially in such large volume that there’s no room for actual, potential upgrades?

Luis Ortiz – Ortiz is, of course, going to run into service time manipulation.  Just pretending for a moment, though, that Bob Nutting’s voracious wallet didn’t run the team, it’d be fun to see Ortiz open the 2023 season in the rotation.  (The prospect-hound types are pretending now that they knew about Ortiz all along, but that’s not how I remember it.)  He’s got stuff to work through.  For one thing, whatever happens with him seems to happen all at once.  If he gives up four hits in six innings, three of them will come in a row, together with a walk or two.  And left-handed hitters are definitely a problem.  But the stuff can be so dominant, more so than Priester or Burrows, that it’s not at all implausible that the majors might be the best place for Ortiz to work on the negative things.

Miguel Yajure – Not going well.  His velocity was back in 2022, but he was terrible anyway.  This is not looking like a just-needs-to-get-healthy situation any more.  When I think of the Pirates’ rotation depth, Yajure doesn’t come to mind these days.  The Pirates have used three options on Yajure, but Ethan Hullihen reports that he’s eligible for a fourth.  They’re going to need it.

Cody Bolton – As far as I know, the Pirates have never definitively delineated the plan here.  Bolton started most of the time in 2022, but generally only went three innings.  He missed 2021 with a knee injury, not arm trouble, so you wouldn’t automatically assume the Pirates figure he won’t stand up to a starting role.  Maybe they see him as a starter, or maybe as a middle reliever or in an opener-type role.  Whatever, he had a good season in 2022, especially considering all the time he’d missed.  He should be in the running for something or other next spring, if they don’t lose him to Rule 5.

Blake Cederlind – The Pirates supposedly were going to try Cederlind as a starter, but his 2022 season disappeared due to setbacks in his Tommy John recovery.  He’s now expected to be ready for Spring Training.  Obviously, he’s not going to be an option, starting or relieving, for a while.  Pitching roles are getting a lot more flexible than they were in the Huntington days, maybe in part due to Dewey Robinson.  Anyway, I wouldn’t bet against Cederlind popping up at some point, maybe as a starter.

The 2023 Rotation

With all this in mind, personally I’d be most intrigued by a rotation of Keller, Contreras, Brubaker, Oviedo and Ortiz, unless of course they sign Quintana or somebody similar.

I find it hard to believe, though, that the Pirates will give up on Wilson or Thompson just yet, which is fine, as long as they’re realistic about it.

By June, with Burrows and Priester hopefully in the picture, and maybe somebody like Bolton or Yajure becoming an option — or something even further out there like Kyle Nicolas or Osvaldo Bido — the Pirates could be 7-8 deep, or more, in starting possibilities just with the pitchers on hand now.

+ posts

Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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pittsburghbob69

When does Trey McGough come back? He’s got a starter profile.

Probably the best lefty starter prospect the Pirates have other than Solometo and Barco.

Omar Cruz looks more like a bullpen option. But McGough was good in 2021 and in AAA to start 2022; albeit a lower K rate.

PiratePrimate

Even if they cobble together a successful rotation and compete for a playoff spot, don’t expect Nutting to spring for additional talent. Talent costs money. The money belongs to Nutting and he ain’t letting go. Nothing will change as long as he’s the owner because human nature doesn’t change. Nutting has already proven who he is. Don’t expect a feel good Xmas movie where the Pirates unexpectedly compete and Nutting springs for trading deadline talent. That ain’t happening. If the Pirates are going to compete, they’re going to do it with youngsters. Good luck with that.

Y2JGQ2

When you have prospects you trade for talent, you don’t buy it via free agency. No small market teams make big signings in free agency- none. so….stop. Last run we DID sign Liriano, Burnett, Russell Martin, dor are you so negative that you refuse to count those successes.

PiratePrimate

That was before Nickles realized he didn’t have to spend ANY money and it wouldn’t matter because Pittsburgh is so desperate for a winning team they’ll put up with his thieving ways and allow this crime family to continue their grift.

jon6er

Only 25 more wins in 2023 and they could be in the playoffs, lol. Let’s see, some more better starting pitching might get you a few more wins, sign some power at first base and it might get you a few more wins, shore up the bullpen might get you a few more wins, then oh wait, Shelton’s back forget it.

Y2JGQ2

There really isn’t a realistic run at playoffs in 2023, its 2024. The development of all the power talent we have is worth an additional 10 games by 2024, our top 100 MLB prospects will add another 5ish, We will need at least 5 from a positive trade or two (first base), and we need 5 more from solid low budget pullpen Free agents to give us some 7th and 8th inning guys. We probably get 10 more wins next year from a slightly better rotation, Kebryan healthy, and our rookies continuing to develop. Best case scenario is 15 in my mind without a solid pickup that i doubt we’d make just yet.

jon6er

Since they really didn’t make a legitimate attempt to improve the overall picture in 2022 it slows the progress. They didn’t seem to seem interested in keeping the line moving till months into what was known to be a lost season. I’m just a fan and my opinions are what they are just opinions. But my opinions are based on what I see around the league in terms of what works for small market teams. But even though the Pirates are a small market team Nutting has made enormous profits the past couple of decades and he isn’t spending any of it to improve the team.

roberto

You raise an important point: teams seldom improve dramatically in the span of a year. But the number of holes has been reduced, so there’s room for hope. FB is clearly an issue, as is a RH OF. An additional SP would be nice. But do you really think the FO doesn’t know this?

jon6er

Knowing something and not acting on it is a conscious decision. I’m not expecting them to take the enormous steps it would take to improve that much considering Nutting’s spending history. While improving that much is not impossible it is realistically not possible with this organization.

Catch_22

Deep thoughts by Jonny 6 pack

mpg43952

Well, think about it – if something’s working and you’re making money, why change unless someone makes you change. I don’t think he gives a hoot, and we have no power except spending our money. Unless the league owners insist on a change, things stay the same.

Anthony

“League owners” are far more egregious than little ole Bob. They could care less about how the Pirates spend their monies. The small and small-medium revenue markets just help feed the beast and perpetuate the cycle.

Last edited 1 month ago by Anthony
Catch_22

The last thing I worry about is Nutting’s spending. he’s not going to spend, Tampa’s owner isn’t going to spend, Cle owner isn’t going to spend, Oak isn’t going to spend.

If Cherington can put together a competing squad, Nutting will pony up more than he is now…we’ve seen it when Huntington was winning.

I worry more about drafting, development, trades, international signings. Find ways to get ahead of the curve, be an innovator, these are the ways a small market can compete. Worrying about the same issues over and over and not seeing change is insanity.

jon6er

It comes down to this on spending, lol. You can spend an exorbitant amount or a responsible amount. Just because some of us criticize ‘Bob’s Wallet’ doesn’t mean we are advocating for him to mortgage his children’s future. I bet he’s glad you are defending his fortune Catch-22.

Y2JGQ2

Exactly man

ArkyWags

Q should be #1 on their list. And should get another solid arm (or a potential arm who fell off this year with some talent like Sean Manea) to a short term contract. Two arms like that and with the reserves and some of those internal guys to the pen, that helps both areas.

One thing this front office (and the previous regime) does is take forever to chart a course on a pitcher’s development. Why is Bolton not in the pen?

Catch_22

My God

k1rainey

Are you wondering who stole his account?

Catch_22

The article is more about Nuttings wallet than anything.

b mcferren

I’ve had enough of the Brubaker show.

Time to move on while there is any perceived value left

b mcferren

Seeing that the chances of us resigning Cantina are slim, I’ve decided that the left handed starting pitcher that I’d most like us to give innings to in 2023 is Steven Brault

robertkasperski

I would want someone much better and healthier. He only has pitched 99 innings combined since 2019.

jaygray007

Anyone know how i can get a hold of Tim for account questions?

Catch_22
john_fluharty

You guys need a contact us link in the menu at the top

John Dreker

Site is being updated very soon and I’ve seen the layout, there is a contact us link

kend

Yes, absolutely. The two times I have needed to contact someone, I have found it impossible. No one responds to emails.

SouthernBuc

Great article and a good reminder that there are some areas of progress. Given the attrition of pitchers I think an outside signing is needed and although left handed is an area of need I very much prefer good pitching over ‘handedness’ concerns.

I like your proposal for the preferred starting 5 but I will make one change for my list. With Ortiz issues with left handed hitters, this actually seems like a REAL not service time reason to challenge a player and send them to AAA. Tell him to improve vs. lefties and you will get called up. Until then I think it will be Wilson or an outside add as the 5th.

Loved your comment on Wilson magically giving up 3 runs over 5 or 6 innings every outing and to me it always seemed to be either in the first inning or the 5th or 6th. If you eliminate his total faceplant at the start of the year, his old school numbers (ERA etc.) probably look like a mediocre #5 . If he has a short leash as the #5 to start the season and continue to test out the miracle splitter than I can live with that.

I am also intrigued if the kid gloves come off of Bolton. His stuff seems to be as good as many higher on this list… but 3 innings does not make a real starter.

The Cobra

I do think the rotation could be sneaky good next year. Contreras seems to be a solid #3 with #2 potential. Keller has the potential to be a solid #3 . Brubaker could be a solid #4 if injuries leave him alone. We seem to have a bunch of guys that are #5 and #6 ’s.

Priester & Burrows coming in for half a season would be a boost. I think in order to hover near .500 through mid-June until they arrive, a LH veteran SP needs to be brought in. Someone to provide leadership and maybe even give us #3 (or at least #4 stuff.) Otherwise I just don’t see this rotation getting out of the bottom third of the league.

skliesen

I guess you’re not buying into the Pitcher Keller was over the last 4 months of the year? His stats after introducing the sinker to his repertoire were definitely better than a middle of the rotation guy.

tmcgowan

I love the weird / random links to years old comments and articles that magically pop up sometimes (like the above)

PirateRican21

Never thought about clicking it, until now!

EightMenOut

Great article, thanks for writing, although by now I do get the fact that you are not a fan of Cherington.

Seems like we have 10-20 million in payroll room to spend on 1 or 2 quality starters on short term deals. Not spending that in 2021/22 seemed mildly understandable to me, given the rebuilding that was needed, not spending in 2023 will seem to be overwhelming cheap and put me in the camp that ownership which seemed to care about winning in the mid 2010’s is no longer that interested.

Y2JGQ2

There is no harm in getting a real first baseman, a real late reliever, and doing everything possible to lock up Reynolds. That’s all we should be doing.

Mtgj

Your making way to much sense. Your last 2 posts were spot on, although people dont like you pointing out that the pirates actually spent a little bit of money when they were competitive. It obviously could have been more, but to say that they didn’t try when the window was open is just not true, but you still hear people say it over and over.

JoeNastasi

My anticipation for this rotation come next June is really, really high even without outside help. BP come June should get a few recruites also, which should really make them really strong

mpg43952

New team slogan, “Pursuing mediocrity since 2016.”

SouthernBuc

I look at it more like,
2016-2019: failing miserably at maintaining a winning team and then making panic moves
2020 – present: not caring about the major league wins/losses (and of course that can’t be said out loud) and focusing totally on a rebuild.

I always say the real test for Cherington (and I say while gagging Nutting) is approaching.

EightMenOut

I think it is just too easy for fans to look at the years after the 2015 wildcard year as all the same.

According to Cot’s baseball contract payroll from 2016 – 2021 was:
2016: 100 Million (year end 40 man), 110 Million (CB tax 40 man)
2017: 96 M, 109 M
2018: 91 M, 104 M
2019: 78 M, 84 M
2020: 24 M, 70 M
2021: 50 M, 62 M
2022: TBD, 75 M

2016-2018 were not cheap years. I get the rebuilding from 2019-2022, but now is the time to start spending again.

Y2JGQ2

adjust the lists for inflation please 🙂

mpg43952

I agree. Some well placed vets in the lineup and rotation would do wonders.

AdministrativeSky236

For all of our flaws, our pitching should at the very least be an intriguing story to follow next year. Imo theres top half of the league potential in there, especially if augmented from the outside

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