By Jason Shetler
Entering last Sunday, the Pirates found themselves eight games behind first place in the NL Central. Following a four game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers and a Friday night win versus the Colorado Rockies, the Bucs are in a position where they could actually become buyers, which was unthinkable just a week ago. The bullpen is one area the Pirates would likely add to. Here are some trade candidates that they could look to target.
AJ Ramos: Marlins closer AJ Ramos has spent his entire big league career to this point in Miami. After being named an All-Star for the first time last year, Ramos has been a league average reliever this year, posting a 4.08 ERA and a 101 ERA+ in 36 appearances. The walks have been an issue, with a 4.8 BB/9, but he does continue to rack up a ton of strikeouts, putting up a K/9 of 11.5. Ramos is making just over $6.5 million this season, and does have team control for next year.
Anthony Swarzak: One of the best bargain deals for 2017 has been with Anthony Swarzak. Signed by the Chicago White Sox on a minor league deal this past offseason, Swarzak has pitched extremely well this year, with an ERA of 2.45 and a 175 ERA+ in 38 appearances. He’s also kept baserunners in check, as evidence of his 1.00 WHIP. The White Sox have already traded Jose Quintana to the Chicago Cubs and Todd Frazier to the New York Yankees, so Swarzak is likely to be dealt, especially since he’ll be a free agent after the season.
Brad Hand: It’s been another mediocre year for the San Diego Padres, but Brad Hand has been one of their few bright spots. The 27-year-old lefty has gone from failed starter with the Miami Marlins to bonafide reliever in the Padres bullpen. This season, Hand has posted a 2.20 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and a K/9 of 11.4 in 44 games. Based on the solid numbers, and having two more years of control beyond this year, the Pirates would have to give up significantly more to acquire Hand.
Jim Johnson: After pitching for the Atlanta Braves in 2016, Jim Johnson re-signed with them on a two-year extension last offseason. In 41 games pitched this year, Johnson has a 3.92 ERA, however, he does have a much better Fielding Independent Pitching of 2.45. He continues to induce grounders, with a 51% groundball rate, but more surprisingly is the increased strikeout rate at 10.9, which stands to be his career best. Johnson is owed $5 million this season, and will make the same amount for 2018.
Justin Wilson: If you read my most recent post, I mentioned how a familiar face could be a trade target for the bullpen. That face I referred to was Justin Wilson. The hard-throwing southpaw spent three seasons in the Pirates bullpen from 2012-2014. Prior to 2015, Wilson was dealt to the New York Yankees for Francisco Cervelli. He’s now pitching for the Detroit Tigers, and is performing extremely well this year, posting an ERA of 2.75, a 2.97 FIP, a 0.94 WHIP and a 12.5 K/9 in 38 appearances. The Tigers appear to be sellers, this after recently trading J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Wilson is making $2.7 million this season, with club control for next year.
Pat Neshek: The Philadelphia Phillies have been baseball’s worst team in 2017. One of their few standouts this season however is Pat Neshek. The 36-year-old sidearm righty made his second All-Star team this year. Neshek’s numbers have been outstanding, putting up a phenomenal 1.17 ERA, along with a FIP of 2.07 in 45 appearances. He’s certainly been tough to figure out, holding right-handed batters to a .489 OPS, while lefty bats haven’t done much better, with an OPS of .549. Owed $6.5 million this year, Neshek becomes a free agent after the season.