By: Noah Wright
In one of the most recent Pirates’ headlines, the Pirates’ ace entering the 2019 season has been shutdown for now after re-experiencing discomfort in his throwing forearm. This marks another huge blow not only for the young right hander, but also for the Pirates’ staff. Last year, Taillon was the team’s ace. In 191 innings, Taillon produced a 3.20 ERA, 3.46 FIP, and 1.176 WHIP. That also included a strong 2.2 BB/9 to go with a solid 8.4 K/9. Home runs weren’t a problem either as he gave up just .9 per 9 innings. SIERRA pegged Taillon at 3.77.
While the team hasn’t directly said that Taillon will need Tommy John just yet, it is a possibility. Taillon underwent the same surgery back in 2014, 2 years before his MLB debut. Jameson could have reaggravated his UCL, and may have to undergo the knife again.
If Taillon undergoes the dreaded surgery, he could miss all of the 2020 season. The Pirates are going to have to do something. Sure, they do have a solid amount of depth to replace the right hander if he does need to miss all of the 2020 season. Dario Agrazal has been a nice surprise for the Bucs. Through his first 28 innings, Agrazal has pitched to a 2.28 ERA, and 1.214 WHIP. While his FIP is a worrisome 5.16, he still has induced ground balls to a solid 40.0% rate. However, the 24/28 of his innings have come against strong teams like the Astros, Brewers, Cardinals, and Phillies.
Before being re-optioned to AAA, Keller was showing some serious promise in the MLB. His 10.50 ERA may not represent ‘promise’, but his 11.3 K/9, and .8 HR/9 rate do. Keller has shown some great improvement between 2018 and 2019 as well, so Keller could fill in as one of the replacement starters for Taillon.
Another internal option the team has is Brault when he returns from his own injured list stint. Before being placed in the IL, Brault actually looked like a solid starter. In his past 44 and a third innings, the lefty had posted a 2.44 ERA, 3.43 FIP, and opponent OPS of just .692. Brault had been inducing many ground balls with a 89% ground ball % in the same amount of time.
Now the Pirates don’t have to choose one of these 3. J.T. Brubaker will probably be healthy for 2020 as well. Before missing most of the 2019 season so far, Brubaker probably could have taken the next step, and made his MLB debut in 2019. He had done extremely well in AAA in ‘18, and got off to a hot start in ‘19.
The Pirates might have these 4 options to choose from, and while they're not bad, they need more depth. We saw all that has happened this year with multiple injuries to the pitching staff. An easy way to add depth at a fast rate is to sign a handful of veteran innings eaters to small minor league deals, or one year deals. A couple I’d be looking into is Brett Anderson, Jhoulys Chacin, Kyle Gibson, Gio Gonzalez, Ivan Nova, and/or Clay Buchholz. If the Pirates want to go for a higher priced arm, I could see them showing interest in RHP Zack Wheeler.
If the Pirates want to go down the trade route, they could look to deal right hander Keone Kela at the upcoming deadline for something. Kela’s recent attitude has been a problem for the Pirates, which has put him on the trading block. One team that might show interest in Kela is the Braves. If the Pirates are able to work out a trade with the Braves, they could try to reel in one of their young pitchers. I highly doubt that they will be able to get Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, or Touki Touisant, but I could see them able to net a Kolby Allard, Sean Newcomb, or Luiz Gohara type. All three could be starters, more so with Allard and Newcomb. Gohara, if you ask me, has the potential to be a strong late inning arm.
What the Pirates do is up to them, but if Jameson Taillon goes town with Tommy John surgery, they’re going to need to do something. The internal options are decent enough to replace him in the rotation for one year, but the bigger problem will be the depth, or lack thereof. This upcoming off season, the Pirates are going to have to add depth, some way. Whether that’s acquiring it through trade, or signing veteran innings eaters to small deals to stash in the pen as long relievers/6th starters, or stashing them in AAA.