The Pirates made two additions in the Rule 5 draft today that could help their bullpen in the short-term and long-term. We still don’t know whether the team is going to be buying or selling this offseason, and Neal Huntington didn’t give any hints today with his public comments.
Neal Huntington basically said the Pirates have yet to determine which direction they'll go this offseason — add for 2018 or retool for 2019 and beyond. "Depending upon what we’re able to do in this market, that goal (postseason success) may be ’18, that goal may be ’19."
— Adam Berry (@adamdberry) December 14, 2017
I’ll have more on that subject tomorrow, but the summary is that I wouldn’t take his comments here at face value. I think they have an idea of what direction they’re headed in, and I don’t think it benefits them to make that direction public before any moves are made. We’ll find out the direction eventually, but we won’t get a sneak preview.
Regardless of what the Pirates do with the overall team, they took a step closer today to having a good bullpen in the future. I’ve written that the Pirates need a good set-up man this offseason, but that really only makes sense if they’re trying to contend in 2018. If they’re not trying to contend, then it makes more sense to load up on young arms and hope that a few of them emerge as late inning relief options.
The Pirates already had two internal options in Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas. They both made their MLB debuts last year, and both will be competing for the bullpen on Opening Day. They also have a lot of starters who could switch to the bullpen, and have discussed this possibility in terms of Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow, to ease them into the majors.
Today’s additions of Nick Burdi and Jordan Milbrath give the Pirates two more hard throwers to add to the mix.
Milbrath was their Rule 5 selection. He’s a sidearm right-hander who has reportedly gotten his fastball up to 98-99 MPH, and saw a massive increase in ground balls this year with the new sidearm delivery, getting a 74.5% rate in Double-A. He also has a good breaking pitch that leads to over a strikeout per inning. He does have some control issues, and there would be questions about how much his strikeouts and ground ball rate would carry over from Double-A to the majors. I don’t see a huge upside here, but potentially a Jared Hughes reliever for cheap.
I see more upside with Burdi. He’s a hard throwing reliever who was dominating Double-A before going down with Tommy John. Without that, he might not have been available. The Pirates added him in a trade from the Phillies, who took him in the Rule 5 draft. That means he follows the same rules, requiring him to be active for 90 days in 2018 in order for the Pirates to keep him. That shouldn’t be difficult with the injury.
Burdi had his surgery at the end of May. By comparison, Nick Kingham had his surgery at the end of May in 2015, and didn’t start his rehab until July 8th, 2016. Under the same timeline, Burdi would start his rehab in early July. He would then have 30 days of rehab, putting his MLB return in early August. That would give him about 50-60 days on the active roster, and only a few weeks where the Pirates are limited to 25 players.
I don’t think they’ll be contending in August, so it should be an easy decision to keep him on the roster. Even if they are somehow contending, it wouldn’t be difficult to stash him away for three weeks. It also wouldn’t be difficult to roster him for the 30-40 days extra required in 2019. And honestly, if he’s not ready to be in the majors then, at age 27, it’s not really a big loss to let him go.
The Pirates need an eighth inning guy to step up and join Rivero. They’re pretty set as far as middle relief depth, but need that one-two punch at the end of the bullpen like they had with Mark Melancon and Tony Watson during their contending years. Fortunately, they’ve got some good candidates to step up into that role, and just added another potential late inning guy today. If they end up selling, and going for a rebuild, then they could use the 2018 season to give chances to guys like Santana, Neverauskas, and Burdi, in order to see if their future late inning complement to Rivero emerges.