The Pittsburgh Pirates have been on the move as much as anyone this offseason. General Manager Neal Huntington has, most notably, acquired Pitchers Jon Niese, Ryan Vogelsong, and Juan Nicasio as well as catcher-turned-first-baseman Jon Jaso, who will switch in-and-out with Michael Morse, Jason Rogers, and eventual Pirate Josh Bell against lefty pitchers. Pittsburgh’s front office has seemed to simmer down since the beginning of December, but I believe there could be one more move available that could allow this team to take the next step into becoming a feared team in October.
With an all-around solid offense and defense, the Pirates should look to fill the inconsistency that was the four and five spot of the starting rotation in Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke, respectively. They’ve already shown they are working towards just that in trading Charlie Morton, the 4th starter, to the Philadelphia Phillies, as well as acquiring Jon Niese for, home-town-kid, Neil Walker; in my opinion, Niese means more to the starting rotation than Neil’s bat did to the offense. If the Pirates are looking to make another move they should look no further than free agent pitcher, Mat Latos. Latos has bounced around in pitching stints for the Padres, Reds, Dodgers, Angels, and Marlins, and could be the key element that cements the Pittsburgh Pirates’ five-man rotation. Latos is coming off a rough year, 4-10 with a 4.95 ERA, in Miami, but could see potential turnaround in the hands of pitching coach, Ray Searage.
An opening-day rotation of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, Mat Latos, and Ryan Vogelsong could earn the Pirates the few extra key wins to find themselves atop of the National League Central. This specific rotation would allow for Pirates stud pitching prospect, Tyler Glasnow, to enter in September or earlier in case of injury or fatigue, which could give them the extra boost they need entering the postseason.
But how could it happen? Push Jeff Locke (8-11, 4.49 ERA in 2015) out of the rotation and see if any team will bite on him; if not, send him to the bullpen, a-la Vance Worley, and see how he fairs there. If that is not in the cards, involve closer Mark Melancon, who very likely will not top last year’s historical season, in a three-team-trade to receive Latos and a position player, who can hit lefties, to solidify the lineup. As long as the Pirates don’t overspend, I don’t see any issue with it. Overspending could make a long-term deal with Andrew McCutchen less appealing when his free agent time comes in 2019, where, although his mannerisms wouldn’t suggest it, one would have to assume money comes before the pride of staying in Pittsburgh in this situation; you can never be too cautious. The Pirates know if they want to turn into a team to watch year after year, it all starts with Andrew McCutchen, and if they expect Cutch to stay in Pittsburgh long-term, he will need a consistent rotation to back up his offensive abilities; The signing of Mat Latos could go a long way in helping that cause.