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Ask BD: Nicasio, bullpen conversions and Jed Lowrie

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Installment #2

Do you believe there is any appetite to trade someone like Juan Nicasio and bring him back after his contract is up? Do you think that the Pirates will start to convert some of their fringe starters into relievers to see if they can pull/develop another Tony Watson?

Posted by maddog41386

On the first question, I’d say no on both points. I don’t see Nicasio bringing anything of sufficient interest to justify weakening the team’s hopes of reaching the post-season this year, however faint those might be. Anthony Swarzak, recently acquired by the Brewers, is probably a good comparison. Swarzak is having a marginally better year than Nicasio and, like Nicasio, would be a two-month rental. The return for Swarzak was Ryan Cordell, a 25-year-old prospect who probably profiles as a utility player. That’s not the kind of upside the Pirates need to be moving current players for.

I also don’t see them bringing Nicasio back unless he signs a team-friendly deal, which is less likely to happen if they send him elsewhere. They’ve never been big on signing relievers to significant contracts and their one recent experience with doing so -- Daniel Hudson -- isn’t exactly an experience they’re going to want to repeat. Their best chance for retaining Nicasio is to keep him and hope he’ll agree to an extension that’s to their liking. Of course, I think the odds are against that.

On the second question, I don’t see where they have a choice. For one thing, Nick Kingham is out of options. I can’t see them exposing him to waivers and he’s done nothing to put himself ahead of guys like Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Steve Brault and Tyler Glasnow for a rotation spot. That’s not to say those guys have airtight claims on the major league rotation, but Kingham just hasn’t pitched well this year. A bullpen move seems inevitable with him.

Beyond the Kingham situation, where the Pirates probably have no alternative, there’s a curious history. The current front office had great success moving starters it inherited to the bullpen, specifically Tony Watson and Jared Hughes. It made a similarly successful move with Justin Wilson, who was selected in Neal Huntington’s first draft. Since then, there haven’t been any further examples, although there might have been had Vic Black not run into health problems.

There are two pretty obvious candidates in AAA, though, in Clay Holmes and Tyler Eppler. Holmes is a really extreme groundball pitcher and, just this year, has started missing bats. He’s scuffled with control problems, though, walking 4.8 per nine innings and running up high pitch counts that have limited him to an average of fewer than five innings per start. He’s also about as far back in line for a starting spot as Kingham. Unlike Kingham, Holmes has two options left, but a move to the bullpen now might present the best chance for Holmes to help the major league team.

Eppler also has good stuff, including a mid-90s fastball, although he’s not on a par with Holmes. He’s struggled more than Holmes as a starter, with his biggest problem this year being gopher balls. This probably means nothing, but one of the reasons Nicasio has been much better as a reliever than as a starter is that his HR/FB rate has been much lower as a reliever. Whether something similar might happen with Eppler, and whether his K rate, which is low, might improve as a reliever is hard to say, but it seems worth a try.

I don’t know whether the Pirates will actually try Holmes or Eppler in relief, as they’ve seemed very resistant to make such moves since they did it with Wilson. They’re facing a crunch with upper-level starters, though, and the alternative to making moves like this is wasting assets.

How likely is a trade for Jed Lowrie and what kind of prospect package would it take?

Posted by Peter Rauch

I’d like to think it’s reasonably likely, although Lowrie rumors seem to be non-existent. MLBTR had a note on him a week and a half ago, stating that Lowrie was surely available given Oakland’s situation, but expressing puzzlement that there’d been no interest in him. Of course, MLBTR’s source for the lack of interest was Peter Gammons, so who knows.

With Jung-Ho Kang’s MLB career quite likely over, the Pirates badly need an upgrade from David Freese at third, or at second with Josh Harrison moving over. Lowrie is a former shortstop with experience at second and third, although he’s been mainly a second baseman for a couple years. The defensive metrics aren’t wild about his defense at second, but he doesn’t seem to be a disaster there.

On offense, Lowrie has returned this year more or less to his 2012-13 level after mediocre-or-less showings in 2014-16. He was plagued by injuries in those seasons, including a broken thumb that he tried to play through and a torn thumb ligament, which can be tough for a hitter to recover from. He also had some BABIP issues in 2014 and, especially, 2015. He’s hitting the ball harder this year and his BABIP is close to his career norms. He seems like an obvious target for the Pirates, as he has a club option for 2018 for a manageable $6M. (There’s nothing at Cot’s to indicate that his option would be affected by a trade.)

It’s harder to say what it’d take to get Lowrie. There’ve been two trades recently involving infielders of roughly similar value in Todd Frazier and Eduardo Nunez, but both of them are strictly rentals. Frazier was traded along with two good relievers, so it’s hard to say what part of the return was attributable to him. For Nunez, the Red Sox gave up right-handed pitchers Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos. Anderson was a third round draft pick in 2016 out of the University of Florida; Baseball America did not rate him in the Red Sox’ top 30 after the season and he’s having just a decent year in high A this year. He throws in the mid-90s so he has some value. Santos is just 17 and in his second year in the Dominican Summer League. He has some projection but he’s a lottery ticket at this point.

If he was just a rental, Lowrie might or might not command a higher price than Nunez. He has more name recognition, but he actually hasn’t been a better player over the last several years (I guess you could blame the injuries) and he’s several years older. Of course, he’s not just a rental, so he’ll require a higher price. I don’t think the A’s would part with Lowrie just for C+ prospects, since they could hang onto him and try to trade him in the off-season. At a guess, it might take something like Jordan Luplow and Clay Holmes. Luplow, in particular, strikes me as the sort of player who’d interest Oakland. Other possibilities, as a second player in the deal, might be lower-level players who’re having breakout seasons, like Adrian Valerio or Sherten Apostel.