Last night it was announced that Edinson Volquez had agreed to a two-year, $22 M deal with the Miami Marlins, which reunites Volquez with Jim Benedict. This also removes another free agent option from the list for the Pirates, and one that they were very familiar with, given Volquez’s revival in Pittsburgh in 2014.
A few weeks ago, I took a look at the free agent pitchers who made sense for the Pirates and their expected prices. Two of the pitchers on the list are now gone, with Volquez and Andrew Cashner both signing since the article. Jon Heyman projected Volquez for two years and $20 M, while projecting Cashner for one year and $7 M. He was right on the years, but a few million off in each case. So the prices of the signings weren’t totally unexpected.
Looking at the remaining pitchers from that list shows little opportunity for the Pirates. I included Rich Hill in the article, but the Pirates aren’t realistically going to be a contender for him, since he’s the top option on the market and would have a lot of competition (I included him to show what the top option on the market was getting). Ivan Nova is the top remaining option that is realistic, and he’s projected for anywhere from 3-4 years and $12-14 M per year. The Pirates could afford this, although without any trades to free up salary elsewhere, this would end up being most of their off-season.
The final name remaining from the list is Derek Holland, who the Pirates have been connected to, and who is projected on a one year deal making around $6-7 M. I’ve written a few times that I don’t see Holland as a good bounce back candidate. He could be a good option for the back of an MLB rotation, especially if he bounces back. I just don’t see him returning to the 4.3 fWAR he had in 2013, due to a decline in strikeouts and velocity since that time. I also think the Pirates need someone better than Holland, and going with him as the main option would just be a repeat of last off-season.
The only way Holland would make sense is if he was the second addition made by the Pirates, with a better pitcher brought in for the top or middle of the rotation. No matter what scenario you can come up with to make that happen, it would need to involve a trade to make it work.
If the Pirates could sign Nova and Holland, it would cost at least $20 M for the 2017 season alone. They are currently projected for around $86 M, with no information on how much money they are receiving from the Mets for Antonio Bastardo. Neal Huntington has made comments that suggest their budget is $100 M, and those two moves with no trades would put them at $106 M, minus the Bastardo money. And even if they go over budget, this doesn’t leave them room for additional moves to address bullpen needs.
If they just signed Nova, and passed on Holland, that would put them around $100 M, minus the Bastardo money. There could be some room there to sign a reliever similar to the deals they made last year for Juan Nicasio and Neftali Feliz, but this also limits their chances to add depth to the roster without a trade to free up some money.
The more likely scenario would involve the Pirates trading for pitching help. This could involve dealing prospects for an established pitcher, or perhaps a bounce back guy. It could also involve getting another young pitcher or pitching prospect back in a trade involving Andrew McCutchen. That move would also free up money, allowing them to add plenty of depth to the roster, and that might be a scenario where it makes sense to add Holland as an additional starter.
The problem with the budget and the need for a starter combined is more about adding depth at other areas. We saw the Pirates do that last year with the additions of Nicasio and Feliz to the bullpen, and Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, and David Freese to the bench. They’ve got some depth heading into the 2017 season from the young players in the system, so there isn’t as big of a need for outside help this year. But there is a need for more outside help, since this isn’t a team that is just one middle of the rotation starter away from being a top contender.