Two other pitchers, as projected depth are Drew Hutchison and Jeff Locke. Hutch is projected at 47 innings started, 3.96 ERA, and a 3.88 FIP. Jeff Locke is projected at 56 innings started, with a 4.15 ERA and a 4.20 FIP.
The top three is a pretty solid top three, especially if Gerrit Cole’s arm can actually holds up, and which in that case, he will likely be better than his projection. But the back two spots is an area of need in terms of upgrading.
Chad Kuhl in 2016, including both the minors and his time in Pittsburgh, struggled with left handed hitters. Lefties hit .299/.345/.490 in 264 plate appearances off of Kuhl. Lefties had a .326 BAbip, which is very sustainable. Kuhl basically projects as a 2014-2015 Jeff Locke, or a bullpen arm, so an improvement over him looks like a need. Steven Brault is left handed, which helps him, but an upgrade over him should be enticing, unless they view Nick Kingham as the answer over him, or Drew Hutchison, who I still believe can be a back end starter. However, at least one improvement is needed.
One pitcher who could help is former 2013 American League Wild Card game starter Alex Cobb. Cobb is entering his last season of arbitration, projected at $4 million by MLB Trade Rumors, and is a free agent after the season.
After posting a 2.76 ERA and a 3.36 FIP in 143.1 innings in 2013, Cobb posted a 2.87 ERA and a 3.23 FIP in 166.1 innings in 2014. Cobb missed all of 2015 following Tommy John Surgery, and he made his return on September 5, making just five starts. He struggled, especially in his final two starts as he allowed 15 runs in 4.1 innings, but his struggles are expected.
His steamer projections have him at a 3.94 ERA and a 4.03 FIP in 119 innings. Cobb is also projected to have a ground ball rate of 53.1 percent, which should intrigue the Pirates. He doesn’t walk many batters, doesn’t give up a lot of home runs, and keeps the ball on the ground. Alex Cobb is basically the Pirates model.
A move to the National League Central would also boost Alex Cobb, just look at Ivan Nova and AJ Burnett when they came to Pittsburgh. Adding Cobb would improve the Pirates 2017 starting staff for 2017, and it would likely be at a reduced cost compared to other starters.