The Pittsburgh Pirates are not going to target any of the top pitchers in this year’s free agent class, but instead will kick the tires on starters in the tiers below. Even though he probably cannot help the team until June of next year at the earliest, Drew Smyly could be worth taking a flyer on this offseason.
Nontendered by Seattle, Drew Smyly was going to cost around $6.85 million if the Mariners decided to retain the pitcher they traded for just a year ago. The reason Smyly is hitting the market this winter is almost assuredly because after beginning last season on the disabled list, he eventually went under the knife and had Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the season. As we’ve seen before, the Pittsburgh Pirates may be interested in Smyly:
#Pirates have a scout in Tampa tonight to see Drew Smyly's start vs Yankees, per source. Rays have several starters they are open to moving.
— Stephen J. Nesbitt (@stephenjnesbitt) July 30, 2016
With his current situation, would the Pirates still be interested in grabbing the lefty at a reduced cost and stash him away?
Profile and Performance
Smyly, a five year veteran, has spent his entire career in the American League, splitting time between Detroit and Tampa Bay before he was traded to Seattle. Sporting a 31-27 record and a 3.74 ERA in his career, he has shown the ability to be a solid rotation option when not on the disabled list. Smyly’s best season was 2014 and he followed that up with a solid and injury shortened 2015 before seeing his numbers slide in 2016. He threw a career high 175.1 innings in 2016 but also saw his ERA rise to 4.88. His FIP of 4.49 that season indicates that he was still below league average, but his career mark of 3.82 is above average compared to the league.
The case for Smyly
- When he is not hurt, Smyly has been a very good pitcher. With a career BB/9 of 2.5 and a K/9 of 8.7, Smyly represents a solid rotation option. He averages 1.2 home runs per nine innings, so he’s not a starter that has been plagued by the long ball throughout his career. This kind of consistency can command a pretty penny on the free agent market, but his injury history may drive the cost down. If that is the case, the Pirates should take advantage of the situation and sign him.
- The Pittsburgh Pirates do not have many lefty options for their rotation this year or next year. Steven Brault represents the top option internally if the Pirates want to add a lefty to their rotation, and they also have Taylor Hearn working his way through the minor league system. So bringing in Smyly would give the team a solid lefty option for the rotation potentially for the next few seasons.
The case against Smyly
- Because it usually takes at least 12 months to rehab from Tommy John surgery, Smyly will not be able to join a major league rotation until at least June. A setback could conceivably push his return back until 2019, so there is a decent chance that he will not have a huge impact, if any, for a club next season
- Even before last season, Smyly has dealt with other injuries, as recently as 2015 when a torn labrum limited him to 12 games that season. This is yet another major red flag that comes along with Smyly. While on 28 years old and 570.1 innings pitched in his career, Smyly’s shoulder is already showing serious signs of wear and tear. The buyer beware sticker on this particular starter could not be any larger.
What it might take
Given the severity of the injuries that he has dealt with recently, it’s hard to see him earning an annual salary that is higher than the $6.5 million he signed for in 2017. This is especially true when he will miss some or all of 2018 and will not have a huge impact on a team until 2019.The Pirates were obviously comfortable enough to hand Daniel Hudson a multiyear deal even after he went through two Tommy John surgeries so Smyly should not scare them away from at least an initial conversation. A two year, $12 million deal seems fair given that Smyly will miss the first few months of 2018 and might not really make an impact until 2019.
Smyly represents a real gamble for interested clubs this offseason. When healthy and on the mound, he is a very good pitcher. But due to the injuries that he has dealt with, and the severity and frequency of them, there is a chance that he cannot return to his old form and the contract is not going to be money well spent. Given that the Pirates has rolled the dice recently on a pitcher that had multiple surgeries on his arm, Smyly should not necessary scare the Pittsburgh Pirates off this winter. If the team can sign him to a reasonable contract, they should definitely go for it. He might not be a big boost to the team in 2018, but a team will need to commit to next year to get him in 2019.