By Jason Shetler
During his now decade long tenure as Pirates General Manager, Neal Huntington has signed his fair share of players to extensions. The list includes Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Gregory Polanco, Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and David Freese. While the McCutchen and Marte extensions in particular have really paid off, others like the Tabata and Harrison extensions haven’t panned out. You’ll notice that Charlie Morton is the only pitcher that was signed to an extension by Huntington. Although Morton had been one of the better sinkerball pitchers in the game, he dealt with the injury bug, and wasn’t consistent enough whenever he was healthy. In regards to current Pirates pitchers, is Felipe Rivero someone that could be an extension candidate for them at some point?
A couple days before last year’s trade deadline, Rivero was acquired by the Pirates from the Washington Nationals in the Mark Melancon deal. The trade was deemed very unpopular, not just because Melancon was a fan favorite, but some felt like the Pirates were giving up on the season. Truth be told, the Pirates weren’t going to be able to re-sign Melancon once he hit free agency, and the proof of that was the four-year/$62 million he signed this offseason with the San Francisco Giants. Melancon’s trade value around the deadline was very high, so the Pirates were right to cash in on the opportunity.
While with the Nationals last year, Rivero posted a 4.53 ERA, but had a much better 3.27 Fielding Independent Pitching and a K/9 of 9.6 in 47 appearances. Following the trade, he pitched very well with the Pirates, as he put up an ERA of 3.29, along with a 128 ERA+ and a 12.8 K/9 in 28 appearances. Combined with Washington and Pittsburgh, Rivero had an average fastball velocity of 95.8 mph, which was second highest among MLB lefty relievers with at least 50 games pitched, behind only, you guessed it, Aroldis Chapman. Back in January, MLB.com’s Mike Petriello wrote an article on which pitchers had the best “whiff” pitches in 2016. Rivero was tops in the changeup category, posting a 58.3% whiff rate. Petriello thinks Rivero’s changeup might have been the most unhittable pitch in baseball last year.
Rivero appears to be the one pitcher that the Pirates could realistically extend. Gerrit Cole isn’t a strong candidate, given that he’s dealt with injuries two of the last three years, as well as being represented by Scott Boras. Jameson Taillon has the potential to be an ace type starter, but injuries are just as much a concern with him than they are with Cole. Taillon underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 and had a hernia procedure the following year. Both of those surgeries happened before he even arrived to Pittsburgh last season. I would be in favor of a Rivero extension, but only if it’s the team-friendly variety, which would eliminate arbitration years, and perhaps cover one or two free agent years, with reasonable club options.