Welcome to the weekly Pittsburgh Pirates Rumor Mill, where we update you on all of the latest Pirates trades, signings, rumors, injury news, promotions, demotions, and the like from the past week.
We decided to kick back up our weekly Pittsburgh Pirates Rumor Mill with the season back under way, and despite the off-season coming to an end, there are still plenty of notes to take a look at during the opening of the regular season. The trade deadline isn’t a talking point yet, but it’s still interesting to see who’s still available as a free agent and the depth that the Pirates have at the Triple-A level should a call-up be needed.
The Pirates aren’t facing any injuries, like they were at the beginning of last year with Jung Ho Kang and Gerrit Cole. Gregory Polanco was battling some minor injury concerns at the end of spring training, and started as the designated hitter in the first game of the season. But in the second game Polanco returned to left field, and should be good to go now.
Although he’s not injured, the Pirates certainly miss Jung Ho Kang, at least the impact he has on the field. And we know that the Pirates believe that they can get Kang a visa so he can return to the United States. But as of now, Kang’s situation is still murky at best.
Remaining Free Agents
Yesterday I noticed that the Braves picked up Ryan Howard, who I had even forgotten was a free agent. It got me to thinking that there are still players out there available, should a Pirate fall to injury or if the Pirates wanted to add an insurance policy or reclamation project to stash in Triple-A, like they did with Justin Masterson last season.
If the Pirates are looking to add someone in a similar situation as Masterson, Henderson Alvarez is still available. Alvarez was looked at as a major part of the future for the Marlins after great years in 2013 and 2014, but shoulder surgery knocked him out early in the 2015 season, and he hasn’t pitched in the majors since. He could be an intriguing reclamation project at a low price.
Last off-season, many Pirates fans were clamoring for Doug Fister as a bounce-back candidate. He ended up signing a cheap, one-year deal with the Astros, and he didn’t return to the form he showed pre-2015. He’s still out there. Other starting pitchers in this vain that are still available include Chris Capuano, Matt Harrison, Edwin Jackson, Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, Alfredo Simon, and C.J. Wilson. They could all be had for cheap.
If the Pirates want to add to their pen, Jonathan Papelbon is out there. He may come with baggage, but the upside is there. Luke Hochevar is an interesting name, who had pitched his entire career with the Royals until Kansas City declined to pick up his 2017 option. He was a part of that dominant bullpen that saw the Royals go to back-to-back World Series. He’s pitched less innings each season as a reliever, but he could provide some in-season value should it be needed.
And on the bench-side, we know the Pirates have expressed interest in Angel Pagan, and he’s still available. Kelly Johnson has consistently been a decent utility player, even if he is getting older and his performance has dropped off a bit. And Coco Crisp was a veteran presence for the Indians’ trip to the World Series last season and is still on the market.
None of these players are impact players. If they were, they wouldn’t still be on the market. But they could be had for cheap should injuries occur at some point in the season.
It’s always good to see where the Pirates depth lies at Triple-A at the start of the season. In 2015, the starting pitching depth the Pirates had was remarkable. In 2016, that wasn’t the case. This year, they have Steven Brault and Drew Hutchison as the two first men up at Indianapolis, and Brault at the least should be able to provide spot starts at least at a number-five starter level. Nick Kingham, a former top 100 prospect, could be a mid-season call-up. Clay Holmes could also be a September call-up.
A.J. Schugel is likely the first bullpen arm in the wings, and a good depth option at that. Elias Diaz is a good option as the third catcher. Max Moroff, Gift Ngoepe, and Jason Rogers are the infield depth options at Indy. Rogers has proven time at the major league level, Ngoepe is a defensive whiz. Moroff might need to improve his play at Triple-A, but the potential is there.
All-in-all, the first few options out of Triple-S are good ones for the Pirates. But beyond that, the depth is iffy. Hopefully they won’t need to go that far down.