Taking Inventory: The Pirates’ Starting Pitchers

This is a snapshot of the Pirates’ 2022 rotation options as they stand right now.  Obviously, a lot will change.  They’ve got a lot of guys to sort through, and they’re going to have to do some sorting soon.  They currently have a full 40-man roster, plus eight players on the 60-day injured list who’ll have to be returned to the roster once the World Series is over.  Really seven, because Trevor Cahill (or was it Trevor Chisenhall?) will become a free agent.

So here’s the list.  The number in parentheses is options remaining after 2021.  A * means the player can’t be optioned without his consent due to service time.

Steven Brault (1):  I’m sure the Pirates would like to see Brault get through most of a season.  The last couple years he’s generally been good when he’s been healthy.

J.T. Brubaker (2):  The numbers in 2021 were all pretty good except for the one, huge problem with gopher balls.  As with Brault, the Pirates will almost certainly stick with him.

Roansy Contreras (2):  Under Neal Huntington, there wouldn’t have been a chance in the world of Contreras getting to compete for a rotation spot in spring training.  With this front office, I think it could actually happen.

Wil Crowe (1):  Crowe fits a template that describes an amazing number of the starting pitchers the Pirates have assembled.  He hasn’t had meaningful success in the majors but isn’t young enough to be considered a prospect.  He has a fifth starter ceiling, really more of a AAAA ceiling except on a last-place team that’s just trying to get through 162 games.  And his stuff isn’t good enough for him to string together more than a couple good innings, or to pitch in the strike zone without giving up dingerz.

Chase De Jong (0):  Like most of the Pirates’ would-be fifth starter types, De Jong had an ERA north of 5.00 and made it rain baseballs in the outfield seats.  The lack of options means he’s not useful as a depth guy.

Mitch Keller (1):  I got nuthin’.

Max Kranick (2):  Kranick’s career has been one long set of disruptions and he’s thrown just 70 IP in AA and AAA combined.  Seems like it might help if he could just stay in AAA for half a season.  He’s still only 24.

Chad Kuhl (*):  I haven’t read one way or the other that the bullpen experiment was or wasn’t a potential long-term move.  The experiment certainly failed.  Surely they’ll learn from it, like they did with the Tucker-in-the-outfield experiment.  Oh . . . wait . . . no, they didn’t.  Anyway, Kuhl always seems to get mentioned as a potential trade chip, but I don’t think he’d bring a meaningful return.  He actually had a good stretch as a starter this year when he was healthy.

Connor Overton (3):  Overton is 28 and he never pitched very well even in the minors until 2021.  I assume the Pirates just claimed him off waivers to help them get through the season.

Dillon Peters (0):  Peters was the one depth-starter type who actually pitched pretty well for the Pirates.  Of course, we’re only talking about 26.2 IP, but at least he didn’t give up a barrage of dingerz.

Cody Ponce (1):  Ponce as a starter never made any sense to me, because the Brewers moved him to relief before the Pirates got him, and the Brewers seem to have gotten good all of a sudden at developing pitchers.  I think the current front office finally concluded he shouldn’t be a starter, but I’m not sure.  He didn’t even pitch well in AAA this year.

Bryse Wilson (0):  Wilson won’t turn 24 until December, so he’s one of the few guys here who can still be considered a prospect.  That said, he didn’t pitch very well for the Pirates and missed very few bats, but he’s probably got a leg up on a rotation spot for 2022, especially since he’s out of options.

Miguel Yajure (1):  He should be a strong favorite for the 2022 rotation.

A few points emerge pretty quickly from this list:

  • This is way too many starting candidates to take into spring training, especially because several of them (Brault, Brubaker, Wilson, Keller) are probably close to locks to be in the rotation if they’re healthy.  And, as Ben Cherington has acknowledged, the Pirates need to add talent in the off-season.  Of course, he didn’t specify “talent other than Waiver Wonders,” but they need to go into March with some added options.
  • Neal Huntington, to justify the fact that he wasn’t making any effort to improve the team, liked to talk about how the Pirates were “young,” as if they could be expected to improve on their own.  His teams weren’t young, though.  Their average age was generally on the low side because they had few players above 30 or so (’cause, y’know, they expect to get paid).  The roster was always loaded with players who, based on age, should have been in their primes already.  Same with the list above.  There are 13 pitchers on it and, even though there isn’t a single truly established major league starter, nine of them will be at least 26 by the first week of the 2022 season.  Their ages at that point:  29 (Brault, Kuhl, Peters), 28 (Brubaker, De Jong, Overton), 27 (Crowe, Ponce), 26 (Keller), 24 (Kranick, Wilson), 23 (Yajure), 22 (Contreras).
  • The bargain basement approach doesn’t work.  This list includes waiver claims (Overton), cash deals (Peters), minor league free agents (De Jong) and throw-ins on salary dumps (Crowe, Ponce).  Unless you count Peters, all these guys got pummeled.  I think it’s noteworthy that the only bargain basement acquisition who worked out was Tyler Anderson.  Unlike all the others, Anderson had been successful in the majors before.  He was available on the cheap because he’d been plagued by injuries.  Instead of hoarding them on the 40-man roster, the Pirates need to relegate these guys to their proper role, which is AAA depth.  Guys like this are readily available all the time, which is how the Pirates accumulated so many.  There’s no need to stockpile them.

The bottom line is, the Pirates need to seriously pare down this list and add a few more guys to it.  The amount of flotsam is stunning.  There’s no reason to hang onto most of these pitchers because they’re easily replaceable.  Hence the term “replacement value.”  I just got so used to Huntington clinging to players who were mediocre at best that it’s hard to accept yet that the current front office won’t do the same.  But we’ll see real soon.