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Pittsburgh Pirates: 5 potential starting pitching targets


November 15, 2016

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have become the team where struggling starting pitchers go to turn their careers back around over the course of the last several seasons. Pitching coach Ray Searage has become a legend for the work he has done with the likes of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, J.A. Happ, Juan Nicasio and Ivan Nova amongst others.

But with none of these starters still in the Steel City, the Pirates find themselves in search of rotation help. The team’s ace, Gerrit Cole, suffered through an injury-plagued 2016 season. He is expected to have a fully healthy offseason, but given the issues he had last season, that cannot be counted on as a given. Youngster Jameson Taillon emerged on the scene in 2016 and will be a prominent part of the rotation. But after that, the rest of the rotation is up for grabs. Names like Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, Drew Hutchinson and Trevor Williams will be in the mix.

So now would be a good time for the team to go out and look for the next experiment for Searage. The free agent market is extremely weak in regards to starting rotation help, but there is surely a diamond in the rough or two. The trade market is always filled with reclamation projects, with this winter being no exception.

So let’s take a look at five potential starting pitching options the Pirates could look to add in hopes they become the next Pittsburgh success story.

Derek Holland

There already is a link between Holland and Pittsburgh, as the 30-year-old lefty has named the Pirates as one of the teams he would be interested in signing with. It is clear the man nicknamed “Dutch” knows the history of Ray Searage. Holland has pitched his entire career with the Texas Rangers and recently become a free agent after the club declined their club option on him.

Holland has battled through injuries over the course of the last three seasons and has not started over 20 games since 2013. This past season saw Holland post a 4.95 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and only won seven games. It is clear he needs to get out of Texas. A move to the National League and away from the hitter’s friendly ball park in Arlington could only benefit Holland. Holland is now in his 30’s, so his prime seasons are starting to run out. If he wants a chance to turn things around, a stop in Pittsburgh could be what he needs.

Clay Buchholz

Clay Buchholz had his club option picked up by the Boston Red Sox, and is set to enter his contract year. He is coming off a year where he started 21 games, leading to eight wins and a 4.78 ERA. There have been rumors over the past year that Boston is ready to move on from the former top prospect, and the club has a handful of options in the rotation. It is entirely possible the team picked up his option for the mere fact of moving him via trade.

He ended the season relatively strong, posting a 2.86 ERA in August and a 3.14 ERA in September. The 32-year-old has could strongly benefit from a move away from Boston. A trade to Pittsburgh would lead him to his first time on a National League roster. Throw in Ray Searage, and we could have a potential sleeper in 2017 if he ends up in the city of black and yellow.

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Anibal Sanchez

The Detroit Tigers are looking to shake things up this winter. As a result, several of their players could be on the trading block. While fans will continue to speculate that Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera as possible names to go, the likes of Ian Kinsler, JD Martinez, and Anibal Sanchez are certainly more likely to be dealt. Anibal has one year left plus a club option for 2018 worth 16 million dollars.

Sanchez’s career has been trending downward for a few seasons. 2016 saw him post a 5.87 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. Back in 2013 and 2014 were his two best seasons, where he posted a 2.57 ERA, 1.15 WHIP (2013) and 3.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP (2014). With his velocity on the decline, Sanchez may just need a new approach. One that Ray Searage could help him establish.

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha is one of those names which I find extremely intriguing. Only two seasons ago in 2015, he was a 17 game winner. Then in 2016 he struggled through injuries and a 5.09 ERA. He was ultimately sent to the bullpen, and the Cardinals appeared to lose faith in their former ace. But at 25, Wacha still has plenty of upside and his best years are certainly still ahead of him.

Yesterday we looked at the possible idea of the Cardinals sending him to Miami (which you can read here). In that piece, we established the Cardinals have plenty of starting pitching depth, and Wacha appears set to have a super reliever type role in 2017 if he remains in the Cardinals organization. With the team ready to give up on him as a starter and their depth at the position, a move to the Pirates cannot be ruled out. The teams play within the same division, which could lead to some roadblocks, but there is no denying Wacha could be a great acquisition for Pittsburgh.

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Andrew Cashner 

A former top prospect who has had an up and down career. Once the ace of the San Diego Padres staff, Cashner fell on hard times last season. After being acquired by the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline, Cashner was not efficient at all. As a whole on the season, Cashner put up a 5.25 ERA and only five wins. As he has done throughout most of his career, Cashner dealt with his share of injuries once again this past season as well.

But Cashner is a pitcher who once posted a 2.55 ERA and 1.13 WHIP (2014), and enters his age 30 season. As a free agent, the Pirates do not have to worry about parting with any of their current assets as well. Give him a one or two-year deal that is built upon incentives, and there is a chance he can re-establish himself. Pair Searage with an arm who has talent like Cashner and the results are likely to be similar to those of Searage’s former students.

So while these names may not be elite, they fit the profile of struggling arms looking for redemption. Who do you think the Pirates should go after to bolster their rotation? Tell us in the comments!

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com