The Pittsburgh Pirates won’t be in the running for any of the top free agents available this offseason, but a guy like Drew Smyly would be a great signing.
Unlike the NFL or NBA, free agency in the MLB is a slow burn. Whereas those other leagues make headlines for their quick signings and bidding wars, baseball free agency takes a while to heat up. In 2020, guys like Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon will likely find homes relatively quickly, but the players in the lower-tiers can sometimes wait months before signing on with a team. That said, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a unique position.
Though they won’t be in the running for any of the top guys available, expect Pittsburgh to be aggressive this offseason. After plenty of staff turnover, including Manager Clint Hurdle and General Manager Neal Huntington, it wouldn’t be surprising to see their replacements attempt to fortify the roster quickly with some underrated free agents. One player, in particular, Drew Smyly, makes a ton of sense as a potential target.
As a left-hander, Smyly is a nice fit for a Pirates’ pitching staff that is made up mostly of right-handed throwers. Bouncing between the MLB and the minors last season, Smyly’s numbers aren’t the prettiest, but they also don’t tell the full story. His struggles with the Texas Rangers were objectively ugly, but after winding up in Philadelphia to end the season, he started pitching much better. His 4.45 ERA with the Phillies is a bit high, but he was able to get strikeouts at a decent rate. Considering the Pirates pitching staff had a collective 5.18 ERA last season, Smyly would actually be a significant improvement in that area.
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The main reason why Smyly is an attractive option for the Pirates is the potential upside he still has. It seems strange to say about a 30-year-old pitcher, but this is a guy that at one point in his career looked like a potential rotation fixture. As recently as 2015 Smyly has a 3.11 ERA, and though runs aren’t the end-all-be-all of pitcher statistics he was impressive nonetheless. Things started to fall apart after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017, but he looked much healthier toward the end of this past season. Now that he has proven he can still pitch at the MLB level after that injury, Smyly’s renewed confidence could allow him to start reaching his earlier-career potential. MLB Trade Rumors agrees that Smyly would fit like a glove for the Pirates, listing Pittsburgh as the most likely landing spot for the pitcher.
The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t going to contend anytime soon, and as a result, the team won’t be in the running for most of the top free agents available for years to come. As a result, Pittsburgh needs to focus on signing guys with some untapped potential that hasn’t been realized elsewhere. Drew Smyly isn’t the signing that will make the Pirates contenders, but he would be a smart signing for a team that could use a few of those.