In the previous week’s Pirates Roundtable, the Starting Rotation wasn’t selected for “Which position do the Pirates need to upgrade the most this offseason?”, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be an area of focus.
As has been mentioned before, I am of the opinion that it would behoove the Pittsburgh Pirates to acquire two starting pitchers to fill out a rotation that includes JT Brubaker, Roansy Contreras, and Mitch Keller.
On Monday, Fangraphs writer Ben Clemens released his 2023 Top 50 Free Agents, complete with contract estimates. One thing that interested me was the amount of projected salaries in the $10M-$15M AAV (Average Annual Value) range, which is where I think the Pirates should seek to upgrade.
A pitcher such as Chris Bassitt is projected by Clemens at three years for $51M. That is a little on the “steeper” side, and Bassitt would be someone I’d imagine will be chasing World Series opportunities. Jose Quintana is only a month older than Bassitt, and is projected at two years for $24M while seemingly open to an opportunity at being a mentor to young pitchers.
The reality is that there are going to be more Bassitt’s than there are Quintana’s, so I want to focus on a couple other names for individually specific reasons that each have their own risks.
Beginning with Mike Clevinger. What I’m about to say will likely turn a lot away, as such with the case of Roberto Perez (a lot of Guardians ties going on here), but Clevinger hasn’t been able to stay healthy for the life of him.
Between 2017 to 2019, Clevinger pitched 447.2 innings for the Cleveland Guardians and amassed 10.8 fWAR. From 2020 through the 2022 season, he threw only 156 innings and amassed 1.1 fWAR.
For what it’s worth, Roberto Perez caught Clevinger for 238 IP in Cleveland with a 2.50 ERA. This could be part of a step-by-step process of rolling one signing into the next.
A full season removed from Tommy John surgery, there’s a good chance Mike Clevinger would be open to a bounce back contract as Clemens has him projected for 1 year at $9M. Pirates could add incentives and tack on an option while affording the opportunity for a definitive rotation spot.
With a clean bill of health, Clevinger could reclaim his previous form just as another injury-riddled Cleveland Guardians pitcher (you thought I was done with Cleveland mentions) Carlos Carrasco did with the New York Mets in 2022.
Leaning on the opportunity for a definitive rotation spot is the basis for the next two names: Ross Stripling and Zach Eflin.
Stripling is projected to receive $30M over three years while Eflin is projected for one year at $9M.
Over his seven year MLB career, Stripling has made 204 appearances with only 104 of those coming as a starter. He has eclipsed 20 starts in a full season only twice, falling one start short in 2021. Stripling is coming off his best season as a pro (3.1 fWAR) and will likely be looking to parlay it into a multi-year payday entering his age 33 season. The Pirates could be the team that gives him assurance of getting the ball every fifth day.
Zach Eflin on the other hand has spent the majority of his MLB career in the Philadelphia Phillies rotation, with 2022 being the first year he saw a more extended bullpen role. Unlike Stripling, Eflin will only be entering his age 29 season and more interested in building value. A situation where the Pirates could entice him with a clear starter spot while tacking on incentives and/or an option.
The last name I’m bringing up is Andrew Heaney who is projected for one year at $12M. Heaney has battled inconsistency and injuries over the last few years. He’s also had issues with given up the long ball over his career.
That being said, his K numbers really jumped in 2022 when he was healthy for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Heaney’s Baseball Savant page shows a pitcher that was 97th percentile in K%, 96th percentile Whiff%, and 96th percentile Chase Rate.
As would be the case with most of the names in what should be the Pirates price range, Heaney comes with risks. But I think the potential upside they would be acquiring with his 2022 metrics makes him worth the risk.
Within reason, who are some targets you’d like to see the Pirates focus on? Be it a free agent or a trade acquisition.
After some research for this article, I like the idea of seeing if Roberto Perez could sway Mike Clevinger, then signing one after the other before the ink dries.
Raised in Cranberry Twp, PA, Jeff attended Kent State University and worked in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, before moving to New Orleans in September of 2012. His background is as an Engineering Designer, but he has always had a near unhealthy passion for Pittsburgh sports. Hockey and Baseball are his 1A and 1B, combined with his mathematical background, it's led to Jeff's desire in diving into analytics. Jeff is known as Bucs'N'Pucks in the comments, and began writing for Pirates Prospects in 2022 after contributing so many useful bits of information in the comment section.