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Bucco breakfast: How much bullpen depth do the Pirates need to add?

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In about two weeks, players eligible for minor league free agency will become free agents. Then the Pirates can begin their search for the next Richard Rodriguez. They’re starting from a better point than a year ago, when Felipe Vázquez was the only set bullpen piece, unless you want to count George Kontos. Now they’ve got four established, late-inning relievers in Vázquez, Rodriguez, Keone Kela and Kyle Crick. (Well, five, but Edgar Santana will miss the season.) The thing is, I don’t feel much confidence that they can fill the remaining three or four spots with what’s on hand, not to mention adding the depth they’re going to need if somebody gets hurt or just sucks. After all, Rodriguez and Crick both started this season in the minors.

As it stands now, arguably the three leading candidates for the remaining jobs would be Nick Kingham, Steven Brault and Nick Burdi. Kingham is out of options and Neil Huntington has flatly stated that he’ll be on the team. With all five rotation spots locked down, barring trade or injury, that means the bullpen. This year, Kingham performed about as well as you could reasonably expect from a rookie who lacks overwhelming stuff, except for a massive gopher ball problem. Brault has an option left and, based on the way he pitched, shouldn’t be anywhere close to a lock for a spot. Burdi needs to stay in the majors for the first two months of the season and poses the usual Rule 5 issue of carrying a guy who may not contribute much. If the Pirates get incredibly lucky, his command will take a big step forward in the spring and he’ll earn a spot on merit. Relievers can be like that.

Beyond those three, the Pirates have a bunch of guys who may not be much more than lottery tickets. Michael Feliz, who has no options left, and Dovydas Neverauskas, who has one, are kinda the same guy: very good velocity with little else. Jesus Liranzo, who struggled in AAA and didn’t get a September callup, is similar. Tanner Anderson looks like a useful multi-inning guy who can be called up in an emergency, but nothing more. I doubt Alex McRae will be on the roster much longer. The Pirates moved Clay Holmes to the bullpen near the end of the season, but I don’t know whether that was a short- or long-term move. Either way, his control is so bad that it’s impossible to say whether he can help.

That’s about it. There are a few relievers who might help later, probably much later, in the season. Geoff Hartlieb and Blake Weiman are both in the Arizona Fall League. Hartlieb is hitting 100 mph, but is doing just OK after a good but not great season at Altoona. Weiman is a more advanced type of pitcher, and he’s a lefty, but he’s only pitched a few innings above class A. I suppose Montana DuRapau could get back on the charts after a shaky return from a drug suspension, but he has to get by with fairly ordinary stuff.

So it seems to me that the Pirates need to make some fairly substantial bullpen additions. They’re obviously not going to blow a lot of money (or even a modest amount) on any big name types, unless they decide to go after an established lefty. This is perfectly realistic, as it’s the middle-inning and depth spots they need to fill, not the late-inning jobs. (Of course, a bullpen is always a volatile and fragile institution.) Despite having four spots nailed down, though, they probably need to bring in quite a few possibilities. If you have any ideas for relievers to go after, please share.

Daily Links

  • This web site has a list of the five worst starting pitchers in MLB in 2018. Featured on the list is none other than Trevor Williams. In fact, three of the five were worth 2.0 fWAR or better (2.5 in Williams’ case). I’m not typically the sort of fan who insists that advanced stats have ruined baseball. When you’re purportedly determining the best or worst of something, though, and the results that directly impact the standings diverge so much from your chosen metric, maybe you’ve chosen the wrong metric.
  • The Reds have hired David Bell to be their manager. Bell is coming off a one-season tenure as head of the Giants’ farm system. Given his short stint there, it’s impossible to gauge his success at turning around a moribund system, but he sure sounded good. He comes across as the anti-Dusty Baker; strongly information-driven and progressive in his ideas, the classic post-Bill-James guy. Of course, you can have all the best ideas ever and still fail because you execute poorly. But the Pirates more and more are looking like they’ve fallen behind the times again, with their commitment to a manager who keeps one foot firmly planted in Jurassic World.