After signing Tyler Lyons to a minor league deal two days ago, it is a fair time to look back and ask how the Pittsburgh Pirates have done on their minor-league signing dice rolls over the last few years.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have rolled the dice again and signed Tyler Lyons to a minor league deal. This continues the team’s recent trend of buying low on a former Cardinals lefty reliever.
It is obviously a low-risk move, but it got me wondering about what the team’s record on these minor league “dice rolls” looks like since the club’s last playoff appearance in 2015. Here we will highlight a win, a miss and a “push.” Feel free to chime in with yours in the comments.
The Big Win
We do not have to look too far back to find the Pirates’ big win from a minor league signing. Richard Rodriguez burst onto the scene in 2018 after a nondescript MLB debut season in Baltimore turned him into an also-ran free agent. The Pirates scooped him up, and were rewarded with an excellent reliever for their faith. Rodriguez was likely the Pirates’ second-best reliever from end to end in 2018, striking out 31.5 percent of his hitters while pitching to a 2.60 FIP. He appeared in 63 games/69.1 innings after being called up in mid-April, showing that he quickly grabbed Clint Hurdle's trust and ran with it.
A quick honorable mention will go to Matt Joyce, signed to a minor league/spring training invite deal in February 2016. Joyce provided some pop in 2016 -- 13 home runs in 293 plate appearances — but Rodriguez gets the nod due to having more impact over a prolonged stretch.
I’m going to cheat here a bit and lump in two hurlers into one entry — those being Daniel Bard and Trey Haley. I’m also going to cheat by acknowledging the fact that Haley was a major league signing, but was widely accepted to start the year in Triple-A.
There was an obvious pattern here. The club was after velocity, pure and simple. Bard and Haley could both touch high-90s on their four-seam, with Haley able to reach 100.
Both were supposed to serve as live arms that the Pittsburgh Pirates could mold into reliable relievers, or serve as depth in the minors at the very least. Both are now out of baseball; Bard has retired and Haley seems to have flamed out after a non-roster invite to Baltimore’s spring training in 2017.
Our “push” is a rather unique one. Reliever Deolis Guerra first signed a minor league contract with the Pirates in late 2014. He made his major league debut on June 27th of 2015 and posted a -0.3 fWAR season for the Bucs in that campaign across 16.2 innings of 5.71 FIP ball. Guerra was DFA’ed in August, A pre-existing injury that was not known to his claimant team - the Indians - Though rough around the edges, Guerra was placed on the 60-day DL and outrighted in October.
The push here is that maybe the Pirates were a bit shortsighted in letting Guerra go. Though he has not exactly lit the world on fire since leaving Pittsburgh, Guerra showed flashes in 2016 with the Angels. He posted 0.4 fWAR that year off of the back of a 3.21 ERA/3.77 FIP performance. He has bounced around since then, most recently signing a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers.