As it stands right now, the Pittsburgh Pirates have eight contenders for seven bullpen spots. Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Justin Wilson are locks for the bullpen due to their performances in 2013. That leaves four more players for three spots.
Complicating the matter is that those four players — Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, and Stolmy Pimentel — are all out of options. All four bring a lot to the table as far as their potential value to the Major League club.
Gomez and Mazzaro had strong numbers in 2013 with the Pirates, with Gomez making a few key starts for the team throughout the year. Morris also had good results, although his advanced metrics suggest that he won’t repeat that if he continues pitching like he did without adding strikeouts. He’s leaning on a two-seam fastball this year, which he didn’t use much of last year, and which has made him look nasty in Spring Training. Then there’s Stolmy Pimentel, who might have the best stuff of the group, and could be a starting option in the long-term and a better version of Jeanmar Gomez in the short-term.
“It made it tougher for us to sign some guys this off-season, because they saw the depth and numbers in our bullpen,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said. “Not only in the guys that pitched and pitched well for us last year, but the guys that we had on the Major League roster with options. So it made it a challenge to bring guys in this off-season. We’ve had a great competition here in camp.”
If everyone stays healthy, that’s going to lead to a situation where the Pirates need to make a difficult decision. They’ll have to designate one of the players for assignment, and considering the quality of the four players, there seems to be zero chance that any of them clear waivers. It’s also possible that the team could make a trade before designating anyone for assignment, or before placing anyone on waivers.
“We feel like we’re going to have depth, and if at the end of Spring Training if everybody stays healthy we’re going to have a challenging decision or two to make with some of the guys, due to being out of options,” Huntington said. “Maybe it’s a chance to move a guy that can go help someone else for another piece that adds depth to our system, or maybe adds depth to our major league club. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Huntington has been on the opposite end of this situation. In 2008, the Atlanta Braves were in a similar situation where they had too many hard throwing relievers, and not enough bullpen spots. Huntington sent minor league starter Todd Redmond to the Braves to get hard throwing right-handed reliever Tyler Yates. Yates had a 4.66 ERA in 73.1 innings with the Pirates that year. Redmond didn’t make the majors for the Braves, but was eventually traded for Paul Janish, and later was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays heading into the 2013 season. Last year he had a 4.32 ERA in 77 innings with Toronto, along with an 8.9 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9 ratio.
With the quality of the four guys available, there seems to be a good chance that one of them will have value to another team. Huntington talked about his experience on the other side of this, and what other teams look for in a situation where you know a team needs to move a guy.
“It comes down to perceived competition,” Huntington said. “And if they perceive they have a competition and they perceive they have a need, they’re willing to give up a little bit more. If they don’t perceive they have that big of a need, or you don’t have the right player to fill their need, or they perceive there’s not competition, that they’re not going to be willing to give up that much. Ultimately it’s driven by the player, and how well the player performs and we’ve got some guys that are doing a nice job for us right now. Does it continue throughout camp? For their sake, hopefully, because it puts them in a better position to make the club, whether it’s ours or someone else’s.”
If there is an injury to the bullpen, then this whole topic becomes moot, as the Pirates would no longer have eight guys for seven bullpen spots. If everyone stays healthy, then I could see a trade happening. If it was up to me, Vin Mazzaro would be the guy dealt. That’s not saying Mazzaro is a bad option. He’s a good pitcher who would have a lot of value to many teams. He’s also the guy who makes the least sense to the Pirates.
Mazzaro is already in his arbitration years, while the other guys are in their league minimum years. He can start if needed, but so can Gomez or Pimentel. You don’t want to give up Pimentel because of his stuff and upside. You might be able to put Bryan Morris in that category as well, since his stuff is looking better so far this year. Thus, it comes down to Gomez or Mazzaro. Gomez is cheaper, and showed the ability to serve as a “utility pitcher” last year, giving him the edge.
I think there would be a team that would find value in Mazzaro, especially based off his numbers last year and his history of being a starter. I don’t know if this is the route the Pirates will take. I do know that they have four guys for three bullpen spots, and if everyone stays healthy they will need to deal one of those guys away. And I believe that all four players have enough value that some team will be willing to trade for one of those pitchers, rather than letting them hit waivers.