Pittsburgh Pirates: Four SP Pitching Trade Targets This Off-Season

Pittsburgh Pirates to acquire Starting PItchers

Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington has said numerous times that the poor starting pitching he brought in last off-season was on him for the team’s struggles.  Here is some info on the starting pitchers that could be trade targets for the Bucs:

Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said that he would like to bring in a few starters via free agency or trades.  The issue is that the free agent class is relatively weak compared to other years.  Many teams may over pay for pitchers who are not actually worth the money they could receive.  The free agent list is made up of many middle of the rotation type arms, none that would be considered high-end necessarily.  The top two arms are Ivan Nova and Rich Hill.  Nova, who Pittsburgh fans are familiar with, had a five plus earned run average before joining the Bucs on August first. Hill is entering his age 37 season.

The best place for the Pittsburgh Pirates to look and improve the starting staff is most likely the trading block. The Pirates made a trade last off-season for Jon Niese, and it did not work out. However, they also have had success in acquiring starters in trade, see JA Happ and Ivan Nova. Often times, when working the trade market, it is easier for a team to get a player who they truly want rather than in free agency.  In free agency, General Manager Neal Huntington could have a list of five pitchers and not get one of them, due to essentially every other team knowing those players are available.  However, on the trade market, Huntington can target specific players and has to sell a deal to the other General Manager rather than an agent.

Time to look at the Trade Market

With that being said, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to look at the trade market to improve this team’s rotation for the 2017 season.  If they leave it as is, or try to improve it via free agency, chances are the rotation will not be much better than this past season.  I am not saying to completely avoid free agency.  If they can re-sign Ivan Nova, who proved to be solid as a Pirate than yeah go for it, but chances are he will be grossly overpaid.  The other option is signing a pitcher like Edinson Volquez or Jaime Garcia, pitchers who have experience in the NL Central.  Even if they sign one free agent, they still need to make a trade to get a more solidified starting pitcher. Here are four pitchers they should target:

Pittsburgh Pirates Could Target Santana

Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana is a 33-year-old pitcher currently pitching for the Minnesota Twins. After starting his career with the Los Angeles Angels, Ervin Santana was dealt to the Kansas City Royals in the 2012-2013 off-season.  In Kansas City, he posted the best year of his career throwing 211 innings and posting a 3.24 earned run average.  He was set to be a free agent for the 2013-2014 off-season and many Pittsburgh Pirate fans wanted to see the Bucs make a run at him.

Instead, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed reclamation project Edinson Volquez and were criticized at the time for the buy-low move.  Meanwhile, Santana remained unsigned through much of Spring Training, due to the Royals making him a qualifying offer.  Volquez, as many of us know, worked out well for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Santana ended up settling for a one year contract with the Atlanta Braves, where he had an average year, and a worse year than Volquez.

With that, Santana found himself as a free agent after the 2014 year.  He still landed a pretty solid contract, collecting 55 million dollars over four years with the Twins.  There now is two years remaining on his contract, and the Twins seem to be in full on rebuild.  Many were speculating that he was a candidate to be traded at this past deadline.  Instead the Twins decided to hold on to him.  He most likely will be available this off-season again.

The Numbers

The Pittsburgh Pirates need a solid number three starter, and Santana fits the bill.  Since 2013, the now 33-year-old right-handed pitcher owns a 3.59 earned run average.  If he could continue that trend he would fit nicely behind Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.  The other big thing is, he is a veteran.  The current rotation is made up of a lot of young pitchers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates could use the experienced Santana.  He has thrown over 180 innings in three of the last four seasons.  With two years remaining at 13.5 million dollars, it is reasonable for a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates to commit to.  He is not long term and is at an average salary for a player of his quality.

<img class="size-large wp-image-87910" src="//cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/4/files/2016/10/9499955-james-paxton-mlb-seattle-mariners-chicago-white-sox-846×560.jpg" alt="James Paxton Would be a Solid Pickup for the Pittsburgh Pirates” width=”590″ height=”391″ /> Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

James Paxton

The Pittsburgh Pirates currently have a right-handed heavy pitching rotation.  The only left-handed “starter” currently on the team is Jeff Locke.  Locke will most likely be traded or designated for assignment this off-season.  The other option would be Steven Brault, but he has initially failed to prove that he should be counted on as a big league starter next season.  Currently, the rotation sets up with Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Chad Kuhl most likely as locks.  These pitchers are all right-handed.  With the right handed dominate trio, the Bucs should be looking to add at least one left-handed pitcher this off-season.

Blockbuster Deal?

A few days ago, Rum Bunter posted an article discussing the rumor that the Seattle Mariners have interest in Andrew McCutchen.  Much of the speculation suggests that the Pittsburgh Pirates could demand at-least one of James Paxton or Taijuan Walker.  Of the two, Paxton seems to be the better fit.  Paxton has put together a nice career so far for himself, and as mentioned earlier will fit into the rotation better as a lefty.

The biggest thing that can make Paxton attractive to the Pittsburgh Pirates, is that he has three years of control left.  This is one of the biggest things we see with the Pittsburgh Pirates when making trades.  When they traded Neil Walker last year, they acquired Jon Niese with the option to have him for three years.  When they received Felipe Rivero in return for Mark Melancon, they also received five years of control with him.  Paxton is entering his first year of arbitration which would make him a lock here in Pittsburgh for at-least two more seasons.

The Numbers

The one main issue with Paxton is he is very injury prone. The 27-year-old has not made more than 20 starts in a season in his four-year career.  However, in his career he owns a 3.43 earned run average.  This includes a solid 2016 campaign making 20 starts, posting a 3.79 earned run average, a 2.80 FIP, and a career high in innings pitched at 121.  However, it will not be easy to acquire James Paxton, but if the Bucs are serious about moving Andrew McCutchen, he would be my primary target in trade talks.

<img class="size-large wp-image-87911" src="//cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/4/files/2016/10/9545005-gio-gonzalez-mlb-washington-nationals-atlanta-braves-850×560.jpg" alt="If made available the Pittsburgh Pirates should check in on Gio Gonzalez” width=”590″ height=”389″ /> Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Gio Gonzalez

This is a similar explanation to the James Paxton reasoning. Gio Gonzalez is another left-handed pitcher who could be on the trade market this winter.  Gonzalez is in the final two years of a contract that will pay him 24 million over those final years.  At 12 million dollars a year, this is very affordable for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Will he be available?

As of this past season Gio Gonzalez is the Washington Nationals number three starter, behind Scherzer and Strasburg of course.  However, the Nationals have high upside and cheaper options they could roll with next season.  The first option is Tanner Roark, who is now just entering his first season of arbitration and will likely make a third of what Gonzalez will make. The other options are young top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez.  Both were considered two of the top pitching prospects in the game and made their MLB debuts last season.  Both will make league minimum and need to be in the rotation next season to continue and develop.

The reason money keeps on being brought up is because the Nationals have a hole in their outfield.  They got little production from their center field spot when Trea Turner was not playing there.  They ideally would like to use Turner at shortstop next season.  With the money saved by trading Gonzalez, the Nationals could reallocate it for a better center fielder, and they could allow their younger, and cheaper pitchers, to be a part of the rotation.

The Numbers

Now, for the Pittsburgh Pirates side of things there is not much to say.  They could use at-least a veteran, or at-least a left-handed pitcher.  With Gio Gonzalez, they could get both!  In Gonzalez’s career he owns a 3.73 earned run average along with a 3.53 FIP, suggesting that he pitches better than his results.  This would likely be a good thing coming to a ball park that is friendly to pitchers, especially left-handed ones.

Gonzalez is also a work horse.  We saw what injuries can do to a team’s rotation and playoff chances.  The left-handed pitcher has only had one season with less than 30 starts since 2010, and his low was at 27 games started.  Gio Gonzalez would be a solid pickup for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He is a veteran, who can eat innings, and pitch effectively at PNC.  He might be the top pitcher on the list I would like. The lone problem is that the Nationals will need to make him available, and there is no guarantee that they will.  However, with plenty of other rotation options they could look to cut ties with him.

<img class="wp-image-87912 size-large" src="//cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/4/files/2016/10/9539228-drew-smyly-mlb-tampa-bay-rays-toronto-blue-jays-850×560.jpg" alt="Pittsburgh Pirates had interest in Drew Smyly at the 2016 deadline” width=”590″ height=”389″ /> Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Smyly

At the trade deadline it was reported that the Pittsburgh Pirates were scouting the Rays pitching staff.  Many assumed it was Matt Moore, and the Bucs were.  However, it was also reported that the Pittsburgh Pirates were looking at Drew Smyly. Smyly would fit more of the mold of a project arm.  I am not willing to call him a reclamation because he is still relatively young and has never pitched above a four earned run average until this past season.  Most reclamation projects are pitchers who had success early in their careers, and have not over the last few years.

Smyly was a second round pick by the Detroit Tigers in 2010.  He was one of the key pieces that was sent to the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2014 blockbuster trade for David Price.  At the time he was viewed as a young, high ceiling, power lefty arm.  After being trade to Tampa Bay he found success right away.  In the seven games he started for the Rays, he pitched to a 1.70 earned run average. The following year in 2015 Smyly was very good again. The 6’3” left-handed pitcher made 12 starts pitching to a 3.12 earned run average, along with a 1.17 WHIP and a solid 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.  So obviously his stuff is there and he has the ability to be a good pitcher.

The Numbers

This year was his toughest season of his five-year career so far.  He pitched a career high 30 starts, along with 175.1 innings pitched, but did not have a lot of success.  On the year, Smyly owned a 4.88 earned run average along with a record of 7-12.  At first glance this seems like a pitcher you want to stay away from.  The one positive is that his FIP and XFIp were significantly lower than his ERA.  His FIP was at 4.49, while his XFip was at 4.51.

If anything Drew Smyly would be a nice bounce back candidate. He has strong career numbers. Over his five-year career he owns a 3.74 earned run average along with a good 1.27 WHIP, and a 8.6 strikeout rate.  The nice thing about Smyly is he still has two years of team control being arbitration eligible through 2018. This would give the Pittsburgh Pirates a solid option to plug-in as their number four starter over the next two seasons.  He would also be relatively cheap being that even if he puts up his career averages, he will never be in line for big pay raises.  The cost to acquire him would not be overly high either.  Also, the Rays are a team notorious for targeting prospects in trades. The Pittsburgh Pirates are a good match as they have plenty of them to offer.

Pittsburgh Pirates most logical target is Smyly

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Who is the Most Likely Target?

It is imperative that the Pittsburgh Pirates add a couple starters this off-season.  Neal Huntington knows it, the teams knows it, and the fan base knows it.  Huntington said immediately following the season that he needs to do a better job of it this off-season.  He admitted that last off-season he did not bring in enough quality pitching options for the team.  We saw how that affected the Pittsburgh Pirates through the course of 2016.

Recap of the Options

Of the players listed Smyly seems the most realistic. Ervin Santana is a player who has a nice background and solid upside.  However, it just does not seem like the type of pitcher that the Pittsburgh Pirates would target in a deal.  Plus, the team should be hunting for left-handed pitching.  James Paxton is the highest upside of the group.  But he would require the biggest return.  The Pittsburgh Pirates do not like to go out of their comfort zone when making deals. Unless they plan on dealing away a major piece like McCutchen, or a big time prospect such as Kevin Newman, it most likely will not happen.

The last two might be the most realistic options for the Bucs. Gio Gonzalez would be a really solid pickup that you would not have to worry about.  He is proven and would be expected to perform as the team’s number three pitcher, something he has always done in his career.  However, there is no guarantee that Nationals will be willing to make him available.  Smyly, on the other hand, was available this past deadline and the Pirates were interested in him.  He would require a package of 2-3 prospects most likely, and none that would be considered substantial.

In Conclusion

The best thing about all of these players is that they have years of control.  Over the last few years we have seen the Pittsburgh Pirates acquire pitchers who have had success here then leave after that season.  Players like JA Happ, Edison Volquez, and now most likely Ivan Nova have led to this teams struggle in having legitimate rotations each season.  The Pittsburgh Pirates had a down season in 2016. It is mostly to blame on the lack of consistent starting pitching. If they want to get themselves back into the playoffs, they need to acquire not only a few starters, but ones such as these players who can make a significant improvement to the team.

Also, stats are courtesy of FanGrapsh and Baseball Reference

Furthermore, contract numbers are courtesy of Spotrac

Finally, comment below!

This article originally appeared on