By Jason Shetler
The Pirates began the 2016 season with three left-handed relievers in their bullpen, which were Tony Watson, Cory Luebke and Kyle Lobstein. As the season went along, Luebke was released by the Pirates, while Lobstein was optioned to AAA Indianapolis, and eventually traded to the Baltimore Orioles in August.
Just days before the trade deadline, the Pirates sold high on Mark Melancon, as he was dealt to the Washington Nationals for lefty pitchers Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn. Watson assumed the duties as closer, while Rivero pitched the seventh inning. Following an injury to Neftali Feliz, Rivero was placed in the setup role. On the day of the deadline, Antonio Bastardo was brought back to Pittsburgh from the New York Mets in exchange for Jon Niese.
Last week marked the non-tender deadline for teams to offer or not offer contracts to arbitration eligible players. After being acquired by the Pirates from the Seattle Mariners to serve as an extra bullpen arm in September, Wade LeBlanc returned on a one-year deal, which was somewhat surprising, given that he was considered a non-tender candidate. On Thursday, Major League Baseball held their annual Rule 5 Draft. The Pirates made a selection on Tyler Webb, a left-handed pitcher from the New York Yankees organization. With the Pirates now having five lefty arms in the bullpen, how will they address the logjam? – Here are a few options that the Pirates could consider.
Antonio Bastardo is due to make $6.5 million for 2017, and the Pirates reportedly have him on the trade block. It certainly seems likely that they would move Bastardo, not just as a salary dump, but also to make a lefty reliever expendable in general. Tyler Webb will look to compete for a bullpen spot, while Wade LeBlanc is out of options. If Webb performs well and is able to open some eyes in Spring Training, then perhaps there’s a scenario where the Pirates designate or trade LeBlanc to make room for Webb on the 25-man roster. The third option would simply be Webb not making the team out of Spring, getting sent back to the Yankees, and LeBlanc being on the Opening Day roster. Whichever route the Pirates choose to address the overcrowded lefties, it appears that a couple won’t be in the picture come the start of next season.