PITTSBURGH — The holiday break is over and the new year is upon us, which means it’s time to kick the Hot Stove talk to another level. While the Pirates finalize their roster with an eye on Opening Day, we’ll answer some of the questions you’ve sent to the Pirates Inbox.
The Pirates are short on great starting options, so the chance of this is small. But, say they trade or acquire a starter and Mitch Keller and Chad Kuhl look good. Any chance they could try Chris Archer as a late-inning reliever, possibly a closer if they trade Keone Kela? He seems to be his best as a two-pitch pitcher and he’s an emotional guy. It seems like he could be a great reliever.
It’s an interesting question, and it may not take an additional starter to bump somebody out of the rotation on Opening Day. Take a look at their top options heading into the new year, and you can easily come up with six pitchers worth taking a long look at: Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams, Archer, Keller, Steven Brault and Kuhl.
I think you’re on the right track with moving somebody to the bullpen, but I don’t think it’d be Archer. He’s 31 years old and hasn’t made a relief appearance since the 2013 American League Division Series. His value, when he’s right, is as a durable starter — and it would make sense for the Pirates to try to maximize that value while they can.
That’s true, by the way, whether he’s on the team or a potential trade candidate. If he’s with the Pirates, you’re hoping that a new pitching coach will help him get back to his 2013-17 form. If you’re Pirates management and you’re also viewing him as a trade asset down the line, you could probably get more out of him as the starter he used to be rather than as an experimental reliever.
I definitely agree with your point that Archer, as primarily a two-pitch guy who tends to play with more emotion than your average starter, might be an interesting back-end reliever at some point. That said, his biggest issues last year were walks and homers; being prone to either would immediately spell trouble for him out of the bullpen, and there’s no guarantee that moving to a relief role would fix those problems.
But I do think you’re on the right track with moving somebody to the bullpen. I’d be really curious to see if Kuhl could work his way into a late-inning role. When he spoke near the end of the season, for what it’s worth, he said he was preparing to come back as a starter.
But I’ve heard from more than one player who thinks Kuhl has closer stuff — a high-90s fastball with a bunch of offspeed offerings that he could sharpen, refine and use more selectively when he doesn’t have to turn over a lineup three times. It’d be interesting to see, at least.
The risk there is pretty obvious: Kuhl is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and he’s been a starter his entire life. How would his arm respond to throwing multiple days in a row? How careful would the Pirates have to be with a potentially important arm in their bullpen? Do they really want to risk sending him to the mound 50 times or more when he hasn’t pitched in a Major League game since June 2018?
On the other hand, moving Kuhl to the bullpen would naturally restrict his workload in terms of innings and pitches thrown. There would be no expectation that he’d have to throw more than 70 or so innings out of the bullpen, probably even fewer than that.
Outside of a few pitchers, the Pirates’ bullpen was a disaster last season. But it might be an interesting group with Kela, a healthy Edgar Santana and Nick Burdi, a bounce-back year from Kyle Crick, a more consistent Richard Rodriguez, a still-developing Michael Feliz and Clay Holmes, a long man like Chris Stratton and the potential addition of Kuhl.
Who was the player to be named later that the Pirates got from Philadelphia for Corey Dickerson?
Turns out, there wasn’t one. The Trade Deadline deal was initially announced as Dickerson for $250,000 in international slot space and a player to be named later, but there was no player sent back to the Pirates.
The way the whole thing played out was strange. Every report out of Philadelphia at the time of the trade indicated there would be no player coming back, and everything I heard also signaled that the deal was just for additional international spending capacity. But for whatever reason, when the move went down, the announcement included a player to be named later … who was never named, even five months later.
After we talked at the Winter Meetings out in San Diego, my MLB.com colleague Todd Zolecki and I made one more push for information and only heard back that, “It was a cash deal.” It wouldn’t necessarily be unusual if that meant the Phillies sent the Pirates cash instead of a minor prospect; some trades allow for the final piece to be a PTBNL or cash. But that wasn’t mentioned in the initial announcement of the Dickerson deal, and there was no clarification as to whether that meant additional cash or just the international slot we already knew about.
It’s not like the Pirates gave away Dickerson for nothing — teams can turn $250,000 of international spending space into a good prospect or prospects — but I hope nobody was getting their hopes up about that PTBNL.
With a first-time manager, shouldn’t the Pirates have hired a more experienced bench coach to help with strategy? I love Donnie Kelly, but just wondering if it’s too much, too soon.
–Terry L., Pittsburgh
That’s usually how teams support a first-time manager, but I don’t know if it was necessary for Derek Shelton. For one, he’s a first-time manager, but he’s managed in the Minors, coached for more than a decade and spent two years as a very involved bench coach. It’s not like he’s jumping into the dugout with no relevant experience.
Second, Kelly spent the last year working closely with Astros manager AJ Hinch and bench coach Joe Espada. He was essentially training to be a bench coach, whether it was here, Houston or elsewhere. And in terms of in-game strategy, he spent most of his playing career thinking along with the manager. He’s prepared.
There is also experience elsewhere on the coaching staff, primarily in the form of third-base coach Joey Cora. He served as a Minor League manager as well as a big league bench coach and interim manager in the Majors before joining Pittsburgh’s staff. You’ll just about always find Cora on the top step of the dugout, closely following the game. He’ll help, too.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.