With the on again, off again and on again talks that the Pittsburgh Pirates are in involved with the Chicago White Sox for lefty starter Jose Quintana, it’s clear that the organization would like to bolster the rotation. But if that deal never materializes, who are some potential fallback options?
The Pittsburgh Pirates shored up their 2017 rotation and beyond when they were able to bring back Ivan Nova after his terrific second half last season. But if Neal Huntington and company plan to explore other free agent options for the rotation, the pickings are slim. This offseason did not have a very strong class of free agent pitchers, and the number of players still unsigned is an example of this.
However, if the Pirates decide to explore the free agent market as an option for a cheap, back end of the rotation pitcher, they may be able to find someone who is looking to bounce back on a short, incentive laced contract. Let’s take a look at some potential options.
Henderson Alvarez is an intriguing option given his age (he’ll turn 27 in April) and track record (when he isn’t injured). After being traded to the Miami Marlins from the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2012 offseason, Alvarez went 17-17 over the next three years with the Fish, including a 12th place finish in the NL Cy Young voting in 2014. While he has never been a strikeout pitcher in his career, he has done a fantastic job of limiting home runs and walks, with a career 0.9 HR9 and 2.1 BB9 over 563 innings.
So what’s the red flag with Alvarez? In 2016 he was only able to pitch 33 innings in multiple stops in the Oakland system before undergoing shoulder surgery in September.
His shoulder has given him problems every year since 2013, including another surgery in 2015. Because of the uncertainty of the health surrounding his shoulder, it’s hard to envision any club giving him much guaranteed money. But he could be a decent gamble for a back of the rotation spot with an incentive based contract for 2017.
C.J. Wilson is another pitcher recovering from recent injuries that could potentially be in the market for a contract heavy on incentives. Since converting full time to a role as a starter, Wilson has been a very consistent pitcher. Like Alvarez, Wilson limits home runs (0.7 HR9 over 1,430.1 career innings) but also has the ability to strike hitters out at a decent clip (7.9 SO9 in his career). As of now the Pittsburgh rotation lacks a left handed starter (unless Steven Brault is slotted in), so Wilson could split up the all right handed rotation.
So what’s the red flag with Wilson? The injury that sidelined Wilson for some of 2015 and all of 2016 was related to his elbow, specifically bone spurs. Wilson is coming off of a monster contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim so unlike Alvarez, he may be of the mind that he deserves more money based on his long track record of success. But given that he was not able to pitch at all last season, it’s hard to see any team offering a contract for more than one or maybe two years.
Jake Peavy has won two World Series championships and also a Cy Young Award. He is also looking for a job for the 2017 season.
Peavy’s numbers in 2016 were not good, ending the season with a 5.54 ERA as well as making his first appearance out of the bullpen for the first time since 2011. But like the two pitchers profiled above, Peavy does an excellent job of limiting the number of home runs he allows, averaging one per nine innings in his 15 year career.
So what’s the red flag with Peavy? Other than the unsightly ERA last year (which was much worse than his 4.36 FIP), he still shows signs of consistency in other aspects of his game. As mentioned, he does a fantastic job of limiting home runs. He also keeps the free passes down to an acceptable rate, 2.7 per nine innings last year and in his career. Since he is not coming off a serious injury like Alvarez or Wilson, I suspect that Peavy will be looking to latch on to a team for more than one season. But at the right price, he could be a back end of the rotation for the Pirates.
The last entry is one of the more curious free agents available. Jason Hammel, he of the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs, did not have his $12 million option picked up by the club. On the surface, it seems wild that a team with so much disposable income would not exercise the option of a pitcher who went 15-10 with a 3.83 ERA last season.
He did see a slight uptick in the number of walks he allowed in 2015, his first full season with the Cubs. He’s strikeouts declined, going from a career high 9.1 SO/9 two years ago to 7.8 in 2016, which is still a respectable number. But with a FIP of 4.48, it appears that Hammel definitely benefited from playing for such a stacked club last year.
So what’s the red flag with Hammel? The Cubs obviously feel that Hammel is trending in the wrong direction and/or believe that he was not worth the $12 million attached to his option. It’s clear that the market did not develop the way Hammel thought it would, and he will more than likely need to come to terms with signing a one year deal to prove himself once again.
Why these four?
One reason that I chose these four pitchers is because according to brooksbaseball.net, which tracks the types of pitches each pitcher throws, they all have a sinker in their arsenal.
Given that the Pittsburgh Pirates have emphasized pitch to contact in their past, a sinking fastball is a great pitch to have to induce those types of outs. Alvarez is a good example of this, as Brooks Baseball notes that his sinker gets more groundballs compared to the sinkers of other pitchers. Because the Pirates focus so much on defensive positioning, a pitcher with a good sinker could succeed with Pittsburgh. With a little over a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, it will be interesting to see how the Pirates move forward if a deal for Quintana never comes together.
Featured Image Credit – Julie Fennell – Flickr Creative Commons