To borrow from an insurer’s inescapable advertising campaign, if you are a pitcher looking to jack up your market value, you go to Pittsburgh. That’s just what you do.
It’s been a successful formula for both the Pirates and for hurlers laying down their heads on pillow contracts, as Scott Boras calls them. Edinson Volquez came for $5 million and left for two years and $20 million (and a World Series ring with the Royals). A.J. Burnett came on the Yankees’ dime and left for $15 million (before his ’15 return). J.A. Happ came with a 4.64 ERA and left for three years and $36 million.
You don’t even have to leave to cash in. Francisco Liriano came for $1 million in 2013 and remained for three years at $39 million. Mark Melancon checked in at a minimum in 2013 and has become an $8 million closer.
Word gets around. When the Pirates were contractually obligated to deal Clayton Richard to the Cubs in July, GM Neal Huntington was surprisingly OK with the time and effort spent in vain on the lefty’s rehab because “our success with him will attract others in a similar situation.”
Huntington now is counting on that to restock a rotation after Burnett’s retirement and Happ’s departure. There is a mob of free agent pitchers in bounce-back modes elbowing each other to get into Ray Searage’s lab (although Jim Benedict doubtless took some of the fix-it draw with him to Miami).
With that in mind, look for the Pirates’ 2016 rotation to include one, maybe two, of these (ages in parenthesis):
- Mat Latos (28): 28-11 in 2012-13; 4-10 last season.
- Brandon Morrow (31): 10-7, 2.96 in 2012; 5-6 since.
- Mike Pelfrey (32): Sinkerballer — Bucs love those — who went 6-11 in ’15.
- Jeff Samardzija (31): Big arm, went small (18-26) last two seasons.
- Kyle Kendrick (31): 31 wins in 2012-14, 7-13, 6.32 last season.
- Dillon Gee (30): 12-11, 3.62 in 2013; 0-3, 5.90 last season.
- Doug Fister (32): 6-foot-8 righty — Bucs also love tall downhill-throwers — who went from 16-6, 2.41 in ’14 to 5-7, 4.19 last year.
- Chad Billingsley (31): 3-3 in 49 innings since 2012.
- Gavin Floyd (33): 12-11 in 2012; 2-6 since.
- Justin Masterson (30): All-Star in 2013; 11-11 since.