Morning Report: The Pirates Should Have a Busy Offseason Looking For Relievers

Robert Murray of the Athletic reported on Sunday that the Pirates and Brewers discussed a swap of Jeremy Jeffress for Keone Kela. The trade talks obviously went nowhere, as both players remained on their same teams. The Brewers have now designated Jeffress for assignment, making him available to any team who wants him for his $4.3 M option price in 2020.

The thing about the trade talk rumors is that we don’t know where they started, or the interest of the Pirates. Did the trade talks break down because the Pirates didn’t want Jeffress? I’m guessing we’ll find that out soon, as the Pirates will have the third priority to claim Jeffress, giving up nothing more than his 2020 salary.

We also don’t know how motivated the Pirates were to move Kela, although we can take a guess that they’d be open to the idea, considering everything that went on around the trade deadline, along with his struggles this season.

What this does bring up is the question of who their setup man will be in 2020. The Pirates have been spoiled with good relievers for years. Their closer went from Joel Hanrahan to Jason Grilli to Mark Melancon to Tony Watson to Felipe Vazquez. They had strong setup men during that time, with Grilli, Melancon, Watson, and Vazquez all serving in the role before stepping up into the final inning.

They still have Vazquez, and he’s still one of the best relievers in the game. But they lack that strong setup guy who can help shorten a game in the late innings. Kela was supposed to be that guy, but he hasn’t looked much better than a middle reliever.

Michael Feliz has done well this year, but again, he’s more of a middle reliever than a late inning shutdown guy. Nick Burdi looked promising early in the season, but now it’s unknown how he’ll return after missing most of this season with a thoracic outlet syndrome. Chris Stratton has looked good at times this year, but again, you’re talking about a middle reliever.

The Pirates have the makings of a promising bullpen if things go right. We’ve seen Kela be a dominant late inning guy, and we’ve seen good things from Feliz, Burdi, and Stratton to make them middle inning guys. But like the rest of the team, there are too many question marks in this group, and the need for additional depth.

If they added Jeffress, it wouldn’t change the situation. They’d just be adding another wild card reclamation project to the mix, and an expensive one in comparison. The reclamation strategy doesn’t look as good as it used to, with Ray Searage not showing the same results lately, possibly due to falling behind on the game’s trends.

The Pirates definitely need to address the bullpen heading into next year. Considering they only have five returning relievers with positive fWAR value this year, they should be looking at bringing in plenty of options. Vazquez obviously has his spot, and Kela should get his spot to try and bounce back. Feliz and Stratton should have an inside track for middle relief roles, and Burdi should have the same, pending his health.

From there, you’ve potentially got five bullpen spots that need to be filled, and definitely have at least three that need to be addressed. That points to the need for a busy offseason for the Pirates in terms of adding relievers, with the hope of adding to Vazquez and building their bullpen back up to what it was when they were contenders.


Indianapolis has been eliminated from the playoffs.

Altoona has been eliminated from the playoffs.

Bradenton season has ended.

Greensboro has been eliminated from the playoff race.

Morgantown has one game left. They are tied for the division lead and have been eliminated from the wild card. They hold the division tiebreaker, so they get in with a win and/or a Batavia loss today.

Bristol season has ended.

GCL Pirates season has ended.

DSL Pirates1 season has ended.

DSL Pirates2 season has ended


Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 6-2 over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates have off today as they travel home for a three-game series against the Miami Marlins, which starts on Tuesday. The Pirates will send out Mitch Keller, who allowed eight runs on 11 hits over four innings against the Philadelphia Phillies in his last start. In his last home start, he gave up one run over six innings against the Cincinnati Reds. Keller has 41 strikeouts in just 31.1 innings. The Marlins are countering with 23-year-old right-hander Sandy Alcantara, who has a 4.22 ERA in 155.2 innings, with 116 strikeouts and a 1.37 WHIP. He posted a 3.03 ERA in five August starts, after putting up a 6.91 ERA in five July outings. Alcantara faced the Pirates back on June 16th and allowed three runs over six innings.

The minor league schedule includes the final four games of the regular season. First round pick Quinn Priester gets the ball for Morgantown in their big final game (see Playoff Push section). In his debut last week with the Black Bears, he gave up three runs (two earned) on three hits and four walks, with four strikeouts. Priester had a 3.03 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 32.2 innings with the GCL Pirates. James Marvel will get the last game for Indianapolis, making his 11th Triple-A start. Including his time in Altoona this season, Marvel has a 3.03 ERA in 157.1 innings, with 131 strikeouts, a 1.08 WHIP and a .221 BAA.

Altoona is sending out Sean Brady for his 22nd start with the club. He has allowed just one run over his last 16 innings. However, his last start against today’s opponent (Harrisburg) was his worth since joining the Pirates. He went 4.1 innings, allowing six runs on 12 hits. Altoona is looking to avoid a losing record with a win today. Greensboro is sending out Winston Nicacio, who allowed one run over six innings in his last start. In 55 innings between Morgantown and Greensboro, he has a 2.78 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and a .226 BAA.

MLB: Pittsburgh (60-77) vs Marlins (48-88) 7:05 PM 9/3
Probable starter: Mitch Keller (8.62 ERA, 41:12 SO/BB, 31.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (65-73) @ Louisville (59-80) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (2.91 ERA, 48:20 SO/BB, 55.2 IP)

AA: Altoona (69-70) @ Harrisburg (75-63) 1:00 PM  (season preview)
Probable starter: Sean Brady (3.75 ERA, 78:34 SO/BB, 132.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (73-62) (season preview)

Low-A: Greensboro (79-58) @ West Virginia (68-70) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Winston Nicacio (2.64 ERA, 27:3 SO/BB, 30.2 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (40-35) @ Mahoning Valley (36-39) 4:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Quinn Priester (4.50 ERA, 4:4 SO/BB, 4.0 IP)

Rookie: Bristol (34-33) (season preview)

GCL: Pirates (18-36) (season preview)

DSL: Pirates1 (34-36) (season preview)

DSL: Pirates2 (56-16) (season preview)


From Altoona, Jerrick Suiter pitches for the second time this season and picks up a strikeout on Dante Bichette Jr

Another Brett Pope highlight. He might want to think about playing winter ball just to keep this hot streak going. Pope, who is known more for his glove, and spent minimal time at High-A, put up an .882 OPS in August. He had a .591 season OPS going into the month.


9/1: Pirates activate Clay Holmes from injured list.

8/31: Jesus Liranzo and Elvis Escobar promoted to Indianapolis. John O’Reilly and Joe Jacques promoted to Altoona

8/31: Pirates claim Wei-Chung Wang off of waivers from the Oakland A’s.

8/31: Michael Flynn, Orsen Josephina and Julio Rosario promoted to Morgantown.

8/31: Pirates sign Heiron Montalban.

8/30: Pirates recall Geoff Hartlieb. Montana DuRapau optioned to Indianapolis.

8/29: Pirates place Yefry Ramirez and Chris Stratton on injured list. Recall Montana DuRapau and Parker Markel.

8/29: Matt Eckelman promoted to Indianapolis. Shea Murray promoted to Altoona.

8/28: Connor Kaiser placed on Greensboro injured list. Andres Alvarez added to Greensboro roster.

8/28: Domingo Gonzalez added to Morgantown roster.

8/27: Pirates recall Yefry Ramirez. Parker Markel optioned to Indianapolis.

8/25: Matt Eardensohn promoted to Morgantown.


Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one transaction of note. On this date in 1972, the Pirates sold pitcher Bob Veale to the Boston Red Sox, ending his 11-year career in Pittsburgh. Veale was actually in AAA at the time of the deal. He didn’t pitch well in 1971 or early in 1972, but at one time he was a dominating pitcher when he was on his game. His 1,652 strikeouts are second in team history and he owns four of the top seven strikeout seasons in franchise history.

Players born on this date include:

Gaby Sanchez, first baseman from 2012 until 2014. He had a .722 OPS in 309 games with the Pirates and he was slightly better over five seasons with the Marlins.

Yamid Haad, pinch-hitter for the Pirates on July 5, 1999. Signed as an amateur free agent by the Pirates out of Colombia, Haad was called up after Jason Kendall had his season-ending ankle injury in 1999. He grounded out to third base in his only at-bat. He was called up again later in the season when Keith Osik got hurt, but he never played. Haad made the majors briefly in 2005 with the Giants, his only other big league experience during his 14-year pro career.

Sean Lawrence, lefty pitcher for the 1998 team. He was a sixth round pick of the Pirates in the 1992 draft. Had a 7.32 ERA in 19.2 innings during that 1998 season, his only time in the majors.

Luke Walker, lefty pitcher during the 1965-66 seasons, then again from 1968 until 1973. Won 15 games during the 1970 season, then ten during the 1971 World Series winning season. Started game four of the Series, but couldn’t make it out of the first inning. Walker had a 3.47 ERA in 733.1 innings with the Pirates.

Ben Sankey, shortstop from 1929 until 1931. Hit .213 in 72 big league games, all with the Pirates. Played over 1,500 minor league games.

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Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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