Pirates Roundtable: Where Do the Pirates Need to Add to Their Pitching Staff?

The Pittsburgh Pirates added a few pitchers in the last week, with their 2023 starting rotation and bullpen becoming a bit more set.

The team signed right-handed pitcher Vince Velasquez to be a starter, and added a pair of left-handed relievers in Jarlin Garcia and Jose Hernandez.

For this week’s Roundtable, we’re focusing on the pitching with a simple question:

Where do the Pirates still need to add to their pitching staff?

JOHN DREKER

The Pirates could still use a veteran starter and a lefty out of the bullpen before the 2023 season begins.

The starting rotation looks intriguing at the top, with Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras. JT Brubaker and Johan Oviedo should take the next two spots.

The fifth starter role should be up in the air, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a rental in that spot. One that has possible trade value, as well as some who is more of a certainty — rather than the best of a group of fringe starters competing for the final spot.

I’d rather see a solid pitcher in that spot through July, so they don’t rush a prospect like Mike Burrows, Quinn Priester, or Luis Ortiz to the majors — with the latter needing time to develop a third pitch and have more consistent control.

With the three-batter minimum in place now, there is less of a need for lefty specialists. It’s not a bad idea to have a strong lefty option when you play half of your games at PNC Park.

It seems highly unlikely that Rule 5 pick Jose Hernandez will be thrown right into important spots if he makes the team out of Spring Training, but beyond him, there are zero options on the 40-man roster.

I’d only be adding a lefty if he’s also serviceable against right-handed hitters. Unlike the starting spot, I think the Pirates could go for more of a long-term piece here, because it’s not a strong spot in the minors either.

WILBUR MILLER

The Pirates’ needs with the pitching staff are the same as their needs throughout the roster. They have a great deal of depth, but they need frontline, above-average players.

The depth is especially extensive with the pitching. There are 22 pitchers on the 40-man roster (not including Jarlin Garcia, who’s still in no-man’s land as I write this). Of those, all but Max Kranick, who’ll be recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Jose Hernandez are ready for a major league role, or within as little as a month or two of being ready. Of course, Hernandez has to be on the active roster all season if they’re going to retain him.

The question is whether the Pirates have enough pitchers who profile as above-average starters or shutdown relievers.

With the rotation, the answers could be present already. That’d be in the form of Roansy Contreras, Mike Burrows, Quinn Priester (who’s not on the 40-man roster yet) and maybe Mitch Keller.

It’d certainly be nice if the Pirates had signed Jacob DeGrom or Justin Verlander, but that was never happening. So their rotation “needs” were, realistically, a bit less lofty. One thing they don’t need is another bounce back candidate they might be able to trade in July for still more depth.

Their one, realistic need for the rotation was a solid, veteran starter who’d give them at least average pitching over the full season. Instead, they brought in Vince Velasquez, whose primary skill is getting hit very hard. So they still need that solid veteran.

In the bullpen, the Pirates have stockpiled middle relievers with very modest ceilings, far more of them than they can possibly use. What they lack are guys who can put up zeroes in the late innings. Those middle relievers don’t fare well in that role, which we saw very clearly late in the 2022 season.

It’s possible, though, that some of the answers are already on board. Colin Holderman, Yerry De Los Santos, Hernandez, Colin Selby, Nick Mears and Robert Stephenson all at least arguably have the ability to be the sort of relievers the Pirates need. Relievers are so volatile, though, that it’s quite possible that none of those guys will come through.

Of course, the team’s unwillingness to spend means they won’t be bringing in any established late-inning stars, but that’s where the volatility of relievers helps. It seldom makes sense to spend big bucks on a reliever, so a money-conscious approach actually makes sense here.

The Pirates should be looking everywhere they can for relievers with potentially dominant stuff, even though they may be scuffling now. Oh, and lefties if possible. Neal Huntington found three outstanding closers that way.

ANTHONY MURPHY

At this point it’s kind of clear they are setting up the rotation to make it an easier transition for the top prospects that will be waiting in the wings in Indianapolis. Mike Burrows and Luis Ortiz are already on the 40-man roster, while Quinn Priester could also make his debut in 2023.

That’s all well and nice to have confidence in your prospects, but it leaves little room for error. It seems that the team is done adding to the rotation after signing Vince Velasquez, and will have some sort of competition for the fifth spot between him, Bryse Wilson and Johan Oviedo.

Adding another starter could make it a little bit harder to keep a path cleared for the prospects, but it also adds the depth that would make it easier to get through an entire season — and maybe steal a couple of extra wins.

JEFF REED

During the Winter Meetings, the Pirates added to their pitching staff, but they didn’t really add to their pitching staff. 

Adding left-handed reliever Jarlín García was a positive. At the time, the Pirates had zero left-handed options in their bullpen. From the 2019 season through 2021 – spanning 137.2 IP – García carried a 2.48 ERA with a 3.68 FIP and 4.28 xFIP. So, in the least, he is an established bullpen arm with a track record of success that should be reliable, rather than the string of options the Pirates have run through the last couple seasons. 

The Pirates also added right-hander Vince Velasquez, who doesn’t move the needle much. My issue with the signing is that he’s been essentially written into the rotation from day one. If he was signed under the guise that he’d be competing for the fifth rotation spot in Spring Training, then fine. I don’t like that the front office openly communicated they were looking to add starting pitching, then settled on Velasquez. 

I believe the Pirates still need two starting pitchers. Unfortunately, the off-season is at a point that the options available have now become very thin. If we’re considering the pool of free agents the Pirates are likely to dabble in, adding a left-handed starter like Wade Miley and right-hander Dylan Bundy would be up their alley. Both have at least had some more relatively recent success in the rotation, with Bundy having shown some immaculate command and could be an “upside” play if the Pirates found a way to untap previous velocity.

As for the bullpen, I’m a believer that it’s mostly fungible. The Pirates definitely aren’t going to be handing out backend reliever money. There’s also the fact if they were to sign any legitimate starters, the remaining arms that would’ve been in play for a rotation spot battle then get pushed to the bullpen.

I feel the success of the bullpen is going to center more around whether or not Oscar Marin and Derek Shelton are able to bring the best out of their arms.

TIM WILLIAMS

I was a bit surprised by the fact that many seemed surprised when the Pirates announced Vince Velasquez as a starting pitcher. It seemed obvious, to me at least, that Velasquez was the next in line of budget-friendly free agent additions — following Jose Quintana and Tyler Anderson.

I get the outrage that came with the surprise from Pirates fans.

To this point in the offseason, Ben Cherington has shown an early trend in adding to one of the worst teams in baseball: Stabilization.

He stabilized the holes at first base and DH with early additions. Were they the most impactful first base and DH options you can add this year? No. Will they massively upgrade the positions over the 2022 team? Absolutely.

Velasquez stabilizes the rotation, but I feel this group needs actual leadership from a second veteran addition. The Pirates were pursuing Kyle Gibson, who signed with the Orioles. Gibson would have been an ideal choice for that second addition, making Velasquez more palatable as a fifth starter flier.

The difference between the two pitchers is that there’s a big question of what you’ll get from Velasquez. Gibson is a guy who can give you reliable innings all year, and who can lead the rotation with experience and performance.

Right now, the leader of the rotation is Mitch Keller. I think that 23-year-old Roansy Contreras can step into an impactful role. Both pitchers are young, with limited MLB success. It would be good for the Pirates to make them the number two and three guys, by adding a guy like Gibson.

I think the Pirates have a shot at matching last year’s rotation. From here, they would greatly benefit from adding a veteran starter who is more of a sure thing on the field. That will cost money, and should be one of their primary expenses this offseason.

As for the bullpen, I like how Cherington has stabilized that group. I wrote about the relievers on Tuesday. Again, this is where I would aim for veteran leadership, adding a setup man to complement and reduce the load from David Bednar.

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.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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.

Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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.

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joesolo6181

the truth be told is that the Pirates are waiting for the Spring sale of pitchers that no other team is inclined to sign. So without any competition from other teams the Pirates can pick and chose among those players desperate to play and will sign for a bag of peanuts and all the popcorn they can eat. Year after year the Pirates do the same thing expecting a different result, “winning”. I think that is the definition of insanity.

bradlej31

My thoughts automatically go to the bullpen because Keller, Roansy, JT, Velaquez, Oviedo, Ortiz, Priester & Burrows, have the rotation in OK shape.

Cederlind is the big mystery to me. He was trending towards “CLOSER” when he went under the knife. While he didn’t have ridiculous strikeout numbers he had very low H/9 and HR/9… and if THAT Cederlind comes back he’s the setup man we need.

JD or Tim have you heard anything about him?

1979andCounting

Was just going to pump up Michael Lorenzen……but he’s off the board to Tigers.

NMR

Been on that wagon since his time with the Reds, oh well.

TNBucs

I liked him too and while he signed at what seems like a very fair deal, even team-friendly, it was still a lot more than Cherington has been willing to spend on a FA pitcher. Oh well.

Wilbur Miller

Pirates signed a couple MiL FAs. SS Edwarli Brioso and RHP Jonawel Valdez.

Wilbur Miller

These appear to be int’l amateur signings.

Danatural08

I aint got no type,
Bad pitchers are the only things that I like,
Most that pitch with their Right,
5 to 6 runs, ya we give these every Night.
I aint check the price
When you spending Bob’s money, you spend it how he likes
It’s just Bucco life,
And let these fans tell me, I ain’t spending right

– No Type, Ben C

Danatural08

If u dont get the reference:
https://youtu.be/wzMrK-aGCug

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

Huh, are child rappers big these days? Seems like the range of life experience and wisdom their music could impart would be….limited.

(I didn’t get the reference)

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

He does have a type. Oviedo, Ortiz, Moreta. All starter build guys with FB, Slider, Change. RHPs. There are a few more.

NMR

boy that really narrows it

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

The pitch mix and usage sure does. I’m glad switching websites hasn’t made you any less of an ass.

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

OT but dammit, you know Cherington is going to claim or trade for Jeter Downs off DFA, isn’t he?

Last edited 1 month ago by RaisetheJollyRancherGirl
SBRO

oh please, no.

MB21

Sadly, I wasn’t shocked at the Velasquez signing as a starter. Disappointed (for the 1,037th time – why do I stay a fan? I can’t help myself!) is more like it. I agree that the bullpen is always somewhat of a crapshoot but simply one decent starter that could be signed for more than $10M a season would have been nice. They have kept falling off the free agent list like dying partridges in a diseased pear tree and there aren’t many left. I sure hope the new shiny prospects don’t take as long as Keller to have any value!

Oh well, another offseason, another missed chance at buying necessities at the store. Better settle for out of date Halloween candy and off-brand limon chili-cheese chips for this year.

One other thing – the Pirates won’t hide in the NL Central basement as much this year, either. The “balanced” schedule will have them playing the $1/3 billion east and west coast teams more often and the $Gazillion NY All Stars half as much as the Reds or Brewers. 3 games for every AL team; 6 games for every non-division NL foe and 13 games for each team in their division. This has a just wonderful potential impact of less-than-mediocrity for a low (or is it “no”) budget team.

Last edited 1 month ago by MB21
TNBucs

Only tangentially related, but wow has Jeter Downs had a quick fall, from being BA’s 71st prospect two years ago (and Pipeline’s 49th) to being DFA’d today. Tangentially related because many of us want to see Cherington trade prospects for MLB-ready players, and that’s often the way to get the most value from a prospect.

1979andCounting

Evidently it is just not easy to pick prospects for a trade. To Huntington’s credit, at least we got BRey for Cutch!

Wilbur Miller

The scouts always loved BRey’s swing but didn’t think he’d hit for power. Oops.

b mcferren

sounds like Canaan

NMR

That’s literally opposite – big raw, terrible swing

Born4rf

The only logical reason I can see in appointing a gas-can like Velasquez to the rotation is to shut down any talk of using one of our top Indianapolis starters until June, by which time VV will be so bad as to be easily cut/traded/demoted. Our only chance at really good starters is already in the organization.

bradlej31

Plus we need to give Oviedo some run…

SufferinBuccotash

Did they really “massively” upgrade 1B, though?

I mean, I get that it was basically a black hole last year, but upgrading from a group of AAAA players putting up a negative combined WAR for two guys who will probably combine for something like 1 – 2 total WAR doesn’t scream “massive upgrade” to me.

Signing someone to a multiyear deal who could put up 3 – 4 WAR per year would be massive to me. But we know that no 3 – 4 WAR player is going to sign a $6 million a year contract, so….

AdministrativeSky236

Since our 1B were worth -3ish war last year, a positive 1-2 is a 4-5 win swing which is pretty massive imo

Wilbur Miller

But the failure to try to get somebody actually good represents a lost opportunity for a legitimately massive upgrade.

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

It does but it’s helpful to me to remember that Josh Bell was probably the most realistic FA target at 1B this year, he’s projected for 1.9 fWAR by STEAMER and is getting $16.5M a year. They should see similar production for about $9M less and for better or worse that’s $9M less we’ll be snipping coupons over for the season.

Duckhunter

There was a rumor that the Mets and the Pirates were talking about Carlos Carrasco with the pirates sending back a younger starter like JT.

Anthony

Where did you see this rumor?

Duckhunter

I believe it was Jon Heyman the Mets are looking to cut salary and they are looking for a controllable pitcher

NMR

What would JT do for them, pitch batting practice?

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

He’d honestly be better than 3 of their relievers. They still have some work to do in the bullpen.

melkel

Maybe the could swap JT and 1 of our left handed outfielders to the Angels for Jo Adell, Ky Bush, and Ben Joyce. Wishful thinking

Last edited 1 month ago by melkel
TNBucs

That wouldn’t be a bad move, though I’d prefer a lefty and someone with at least two years of control instead of only one.

skliesen

I think they add one more veteran SP to compete for a spot in the rotation. Probably be for even less money than Velasquez and may even be a minor league deal with a promise to release them if they don’t break camp on the 26-man roster.

Seriously, is there one single reason to believe any differently?

bradlej31

I don’t know why we sign another FA starter. We kinda have to promote THREE starters by mid-season. We need to get Mitch, JTB and Roansy 30 starts. Oviedo needs at least 10-15 starts to see if he’s a SP or Reliever. VV gets starts until he fails or the kids come up….

skliesen

Pitchers get hurt. A lot. Plus they still don’t have a LHSP.

Maybe you’re right, but nothing to lose by giving a vet a Minor league deal with an opt out. Happens all the time.

JimEastTennessee

My cup is half empty today; I concur.

SBRO

A lefty SP and the gumption to cut bait on the many, many low upside/no options relief pitchers on the roster would be enough.

Take it at face value that they intend to start Velazquez, ok fine. Bring in a #4 lefty starter. Smyly is definitely the safest option – healthy and effective. I don’t know whether Danny Duffy is ready to take the mound again, or Wade Miley, or whether Mike Minor can still pitch, but those would be viable (if less palatable) fallbacks.

Now Oviedo joins the pen and becomes one of your better late inning options. I also wouldn’t waste roster spots on Underwood, Stephenson or DeJong when there’s better, higher upside arms in Holderman, de los Santos and Ramirez available. Stephenson’s salary would be guaranteed but the others would only get severance.

All this does is move the needle from horrible to uninspiring, but whatever. Cherington has successfully reset the bar so low that ok looks like a breakthrough.

TNBucs

I agree on adding a lefty to the rotation, both because of how the lefty should help in PNC and because it adds more different looks in the rotation. For example, if we’re facing a team with a dominant lefty hitter, it would be nice to know that he won’t be facing righties for the whole series.

jfwolfgang

Is there a team that has a MLB quality #2 starting pitcher with several years of control that they would trade for prospects? Like we did for Archer. What would it take? Is Cleveland or Washington a possible candidate?

b mcferren

hoping Rodon and Cueto sign with Toronto so we can trade Reynolds for Manoah

1979andCounting

I’m wondering if the loss of 11 Rule 5 players drafted away translates at all to how the rest of Ben’s farm is viewed. If that’s any indication, then now is definitely the time to package a few prospects (it could take 3 or 4) to acquire a stable under-control MLB starter. That checks the BN box to not spend any substantial money on a FA starter.

leefieux

I’m with Wilber ‘The question is whether the Pirates have enough pitchers who profile as above-average starters or shutdown relievers.’

And I don’t see any coming in before the season starts. Even if they trade Reynolds.

70 wins tops at this point. Their hitting and pitching is easily below average.

SouthernBuc

I’ll tackle the Velasquez disparities in your responses.

I was surprised basically all but Tim didn’t mention him or listed him as in competition for a staters role. While maybe (I tend to agree with Tim and assumed this) there was uncertainty when the signing was announced, now that they have stated he WILL start I think that needs included in the responses. Having said that, taking the question literally as ‘what they need’, I can see if the writers who feel he did not help the situation why you excluded him from your response.

Now to disagree with Tim, I don’t believe there is really any proof Velasquez is a stabilizing presence. Reading between the lines I think you are stating as a veteran he will be in that role. I guess I just don’t always think that years of service translates to that conclusion. For all we know Brubaker (random choice) may be the best leader. Who knows.. maybe Burrows has leadership skills that will be obvious when he arrives. Speaking from experience (and maybe in some circumstances making fun of myself), knuckleheads and/or professional behavior does not always have a lot to do with years of service or age. We disagreed on this same point in the ‘adding a veteran middle infielder’ discussion.

Last edited 1 month ago by SouthernBuc
SouthernBuc

I’ll just agree to disagree Tim and some of it may be semantics. I think adding a ‘good’ starter would help. I just don’t agree (knit picking?) that a ‘veteran’ that easily equates to stabilizing or knowledge transfer or other wanted qualities. Some people can do that and some can not regardless of innings pitched or years of service and some of that is a beyond baseball observation.

tventimiglio

I think the stabilizing influence comes from an expectation of consistent, quality innings with the ability to persevere during tough outings, pitching out of jams or giving solid performances in the middle of losing streaks. I agree, that can be Mitch or Roansy.

b mcferren

Throwing the ball with your left hand is a pre’requisit if you plan to resurrect your starting pitching career in Pittsburgh. You can ask Tyler Anderson and Jose Cantina

Danny Duffy might could win the Cy Young if he pitched in PNC park over the course of a season

jeffw3000

I like the idea of Wade Miley. He might not be that expensive. We could sign him for 1 year, and he could do extremely well in PNC.

SouthernBuc

Jimmy Anderson on Line 5..

b mcferren

like Brault

leefieux

Wasn’t that a Tony Orlando song? ‘Oh my Cantina’?

b mcferren
leefieux

A quirky but enjoyable movie.

jaygray007

There was a time in this offseason where i thought they could push payroll to 90ish and fill the holes and get up to a nice 82 win projection with a 20 pct shot at getting into the playoffs. If this was the case, i’d have some serious opinions about the remaining FA starters.

it’s clear that that’s not the direction that theyre going.

While i’d never ever decline a good veteran starter with sleeper appeal, esp one that comes cheap, i’m now of the opinion that all real dollars spent from here on out should be spent on frontloading a Cruz contract, Hayes style.

i’m sure nutting said “hey, youre allowed to spend 65. i dont care how you get there”. the best thing they can do for future clubs is to spend more Cruz dollars now in exchange for fewer Cruz dollars later. This does more good than getting Dylan Bundy to come here for 8 million or whatever.

if it was clear that they were in a take-a-big-step-forward-and-try-to-luck-into-the-playoffs mode, my answer would be different. But yeah.

tventimiglio

And as far as fans are concerned, is a Bundy type going to move the needle in attendance, viewership or whatever popularity index that you want to note? I don’t think that a 8-10 million signing does that and it also seems to keep the kids in the minors longer.

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