Back when we were just entering the stretch drive for Christmas shopping — Dec. 2 — I came up with a different sort of shopping list for the Pirates, one their Santa Claus (Neal Huntington? Bob Nutting?) only had to check once: Top Ten bounceback starting pitcher candidates.
Seven weeks later, four remain on that list of free agents, guys searching for the proverbial pillow contract to prop up their market value. If Huntington goes Rock Hudson, who could be his Doris Day?
- Mat Latos
- Doug Fister
- Chad Billingsley
- Justin Masterson
Fister, his 5-7 slide of 2015 notwithstanding, still holds out for a two-year deal, and the Bucs wouldn’t be opposed to that (remember, Francisco Liriano started with them on a two-year contract off his 6-12 record in 2012).
Latos, at 28 and in definite I’ll-show-you mode, has his choice of several teams interested in tossing him a pillow — the Pirates definitely among them.
I would add Cliff Lee to that list, because the graybeard lefty is in definite bounceback mode after missing the entire ’15 season with elbow issues. But Lee doesn’t appear to be in make-good-contract mode. He seems more intent on big bucks than on a big opportunity, and that isn’t how the Pirates roll in these matters.
Another veteran lefty on the periphery (please try not to snicker): Wandy Rodriguez. Yeah, I’d shrug him off, too, except for three points (No. 3 totally blew my mind):
- His first Pittsburgh tenure ended abysmally in mid-2014 because he tried to pitch on a bum knee on which he finally had surgery three weeks after his release.
- He would come really cheaply, on an incentive-loaded contract.
- Who do you suppose had MLB’s best 2015 streak of 32 straight batters retired (the equivalent of 10 2/3 perfect innings)? Jake Arrieta? Max (Double No-Hit) Scherzer? Zack Greinke? Clayton Kershaw? No, no, no, no. Wandy Rodriguez — during his brief fling with the Rangers.