First Pitch: Looking at the Best Free Agent Starting Pitchers That Make Sense For the Pirates

FanGraphs released their top 50 free agents yesterday, along with crowd-sourced contract predictions.

Tomorrow I’ll be breaking down the 2021 Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation, and on Friday I’ll be looking at the relievers. The common trend is that the Pirates need pitching.

In both the rotation and bullpen, the Pirates were one of the worst teams in the league. They will need some upgrades that go beyond the prospects we’ll cover on Pirates Prospects this week. The biggest impact they can find would be a free agent starting pitcher.

Looking through the FanGraphs list, I think we can rule out a lot of the top starters. I don’t expect the Pirates to commit $60 million or more over three years to a starting pitcher. They’re not that close to contending to justify such a move.

I do think it would be a good idea for them to add someone who might be here when they’re winning, much like the Pirates did when they added A.J. Burnett back in 2012.

The “We Expect to Contend in the Next Three Years” Guys

The two guys who stand out the most to me on multi-year deals are Steven Matz and Jon Gray. They’re both projected to put up above-average results, and have done so in recent years. They’re both projected to make about $12-15 million per year over three years. Matz would be more appealing as a left-hander.

I’m not sold on the Pirates contending in 2022, so either of these guys would be coming in for at least one rebuilding year. That might help the other starters currently in the rotation, giving a veteran leader who can lock down one spot, making it more likely that the cream will rise to the top for the remaining spots.

That shouldn’t be an issue to waste a year. The Pirates should be contending by 2023, and might even have a chance in 2022. Adding a guy who can help over the next three years gives insurance and a step toward contending next season, and starts their build toward a 2023 contender early.

The “Maybe We Can Get a Nice Return at the Deadline” Guys

If the Pirates aren’t looking like winners in 2022, then it doesn’t make much sense to add players on a one-year deal. That said, they could gamble on certain guys, trying to add someone who could either help lead a surprising pitching staff to a contending 2022 season. The more likely goal would be adding someone who can land a bigger return at the deadline than a Tyler Anderson type pitcher could.

Corey Kluber and Alex Cobb are both in their mid-30s, and both projected to receive around $10 million for one year. Kluber has been losing velocity, and missed half of 2021 with shoulder issues. Cobb has also dealt with injuries throughout his career. However, they’ve both been good pitchers recently when healthy.

Both would come with a risk of sinking money that could be better used in future years. If the Pirates have a shot at contending in 2022, these pitchers could be the sleeper types that are needed to turn a worst-rotation into a contender. If the Pirates aren’t winning, they should be able to manage either pitcher well enough to preserve them for a return at the deadline.

The “Pittsburgh is a Great Place to Get Established” Guys

The Pirates are going to have to take a risk to get upside, and one of the more intriguing guys is Yusei Kikuchi. The left-handed control pitcher from Korea turned down a $13 million option from Seattle. His results this year were around league-average, with a chance to be higher going forward if he cuts down on the long ball. He could be a cheaper version of Matz and Gray on a multi-year deal, capable of giving the Pirates a solid innings eater with above-average production potential.

Paying a multi-year deal for a guy with a 4.97 ERA and a 4.43 xFIP over 365 innings poses risk, especially when he’s entering his age-31 season.

But it’s not like the Pirates will be players for Max Scherzer, so they’ve got to take risk somewhere.

I also like Collin McHugh here as a low-cost option who might still be able to start. I doubt he would get many opportunities around the league in a starting role.

Of course, the Pirates might be better off going to the Tyler Anderson/Trevor Cahill value bin than spending money on these last two tiers.

Which pitchers do you want the Pirates to target? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Daily Links

**AFL Recap: Contreras Starts, Gonzales Stars in Peoria Triumph

**Who Do the Pirates Need to Protect From the Rule 5 Draft?

**Pirates Re-Sign Nathan Kirby

**The Pirates’ Roster Restructuring Scorecard

**Card of the Day: 1922 E120 Johnny Gooch

**This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: November 9th, Nick Maddox and Johnny Gooch

Song of the Day

First Pitch