According to Buster Olney, free agent right-handed pitcher Trevor Cahill is considering the Pittsburgh Pirates, as he looks to sign a one-year deal, trying to bounce back from a second straight down year. The 27-year-old had a poor season in 2015, splitting his time between the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs. He made three starts and 23 relief appearances, posting a 5.40 ERA in 43.1 innings. The numbers were much worse with the Braves, as in limited time with the Cubs out of the bullpen, he had a 2.12 ERA over 17 innings, with 22 strikeouts.
He has a 4.13 ERA over his seven-year career, including a 2.97 ERA in 2010 when he was an All-Star and finished in the top ten in the Cy Young voting while with the Oakland A’s. Cahill was traded to the Diamondbacks prior to the 2012 season and in three years in Arizona, he had a 4.29 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 457.1 innings.
Pirates among teams being considered by Trevor Cahill. He's looking for a 1-year, bounce-back deal and PIT's free agent Ps tend to get paid.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 29, 2015
UPDATE 11:28 AM: Analysis from Tim Williams…
Right now there’s no word on whether Cahill would be looking for a job as a starter or a reliever, although you’d have to think he’d be looking as a starter, since that has been his role for pretty much his entire career. Going with the assumption that he’d want to be a starter, a quick glance shows that he fits all of the usual checkpoints for a Pirates’ reclamation project.
**Previous Success: Cahill had some good numbers from 2010-2013, combining for a 3.72 ERA and a 3.93 xFIP during that stretch. The Pirates have had a tendency to get players back to their best stages, and then some, even if the success has only been limited to one or two seasons. In his best year, Cahill had a 3.78 ERA and a 3.76 xFIP in 200 innings in 2012, worth a 2.6 fWAR.
**Heavy ground ball rate: The Pirates love groundball pitchers, and Cahill fits the mold. The sinkerballer has a career 55% groundball rate, and was at 63.1% last year. That fits into their approach of strong defense and defensive shifts. The defense struggled last year, but should see an upgrade in 2016 if they get better alternatives to Pedro Alvarez and/or Neil Walker.
**Control problems: One of the glaring issues for Cahill is his control, with a career 3.55 BB/9, and that number approaching 4 in his worst years. The Pirates have turned around control problems with a lot of guys. Edinson Volquez had a BB/9 ratio above 5.0 in four of the five years before coming to the Pirates. He has been in the 3.20-3.30 range the last two years. Francisco Liriano also was at a 5.0 BB/9 the two years prior to joining the Pirates, and has combined for a 3.78 BB/9 the last three years. Cahill could only benefit from better control.
**Possible mechanical issues: Cahill has only been on the disabled list once, and that was due to a bruised hip in 2013. With some of the big reclamation projects, the issue was that they developed poor mechanics after rehabbing from an injury. It could just be coincidental, but Cahill fell apart in the two years following that injury. The Pirates usually target guys who are in this situation — spotting a mechanical problem that they think they can fix by reverting the pitcher back to his pre-injury mechanics. That’s a big factor in the “previous success” section at the top.
**Good strikeout numbers: Cahill is a sinkerball guy, but he can get some strikeouts. He’s actually seen an increase in his strikeouts the last two years, although that hasn’t coincided with good overall results. At his best, he was a 6-7 K/9 guy, which isn’t dominant, but good enough to get out of some bad situations when needed.
**The age factor: Cahill is still pretty young, and will be 28 next year, so it’s not like his decline the last two years has been due to age. It’s not a guarantee that a young player with previous success will return to that success in the future, but it’s nice to know that this isn’t a player who is expected to be on a downward curve.
Overall, Cahill looks like a good reclamation candidate. He also fits the Pirates’ tendency, as he’s the type of guy who will drive fans crazy all off-season.
As for a potential deal, I don’t know if this is the type of guy they should get as their lone starting option. Cahill would be a great addition, but he seems better as a guy who could challenge Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton for one of the final two spots, and take over in the bullpen if he can’t win a spot. For whatever reason, he was dominant last year with the Cubs down the stretch, putting up a 2.12 ERA and a 2.21 xFIP in 17 innings, with an 11.65 K/9 and a 2.65 BB/9. That’s a small sample size, but if he can repeat that out of the bullpen, he’d be a solid addition in the Joe Blanton role. And if he can return to being a starting option, then he could provide a lot of value for the Pirates.
The FanGraphs crowdsource contracts had him getting a one year, $5 M deal. That would be the same thing that Edinson Volquez received. It’s hard to say whether the Pirates would pay that much for a guy who isn’t guaranteed to be in the rotation, as they usually don’t spend that much for relievers. Therefore, my “he’d be a good option as the second pitcher they signed” theory might not hold up. Then again, they spent a lot of money at the deadline to bring in Joakim Soria, paying him $2.5 M for two months of work. So it’s not like they’ve never spent money on relievers.
We’ll have to see how this plays out. Cahill wouldn’t be the most exciting option, and doesn’t provide any comfort in the off-season at this point. But you could see how he could work out in the same way that others have worked out, and you could see how he’d be a great bullpen option if that ends up being his role.