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Perrotto: Pirates Make Sneakily Good Late-Spring Move

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Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Eric Lauer (52) against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 20, 2023, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

It wasn’t Blake Snell, and it wasn’t Jordan Montgomery.

Of course, the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t going to sign either of those free-agent left-handers anyway. The Pirates will never play in the deep part of that pool unless, by some incredible stroke of luck, someone with unlimited money buys the team.

Bad news alert: Bob Nutting isn’t selling any time soon.

So, general manager Ben Cherington is forced to do his pitching shopping at baseball’s version of The Dollar Tree. Or make that The Dollar and a Quarter Tree.

However, Cherington might have made a sneakily good move Thursday when he got lefty Eric Lauer to agree to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. The deal is pending Lauer completing a successful physical examination.

Looking at Lauer’s 2023 statistics makes it easy to wonder why the Pirates would bother. He was 4-6 with a 6.36 ERA in 10 games (nine starts) for the Milwaukee Brewers and 3-4 with a 5.15 ERA in 12 games (nine starts) at Triple-A Nashville.

However, there was a reason for Lauer’s bad year. He was hampered by a balky shoulder much of the season.

The two previous seasons show that Lauer is a capable major-league starting pitcher. He was 7-5 with a 3.19 ERA in 24 games (20 starts) in 2021 with the Brewers then had an 11-7 record and 3.69 ERA the following season for Milwaukee in 29 starts.

That might not get any Cy Young votes. Yet it makes Lauer an intriguing addition for a team with just three of five spots in the starting rotation set with opening day less than three weeks away.

Lauer starred at Kent State before being selected in the first round – 25th overall – by the San Diego Padres in the 2016 amateur draft. He had a microscopic 0.69 ERA for the Golden Flashes that spring, the lowest mark by a Division I pitcher since St. John’s Chris Rich posted a 0.62 in 1979.

While Kent State is a mid-major program, it should be noted that it made a shocking run to the 2012 College World Series. He also completed his business degree in just three years.

Though Lauer did not go until the 25th pick, the Philadelphia Phillies considered taking him first overall, a source close to the draft process that year told Pittsburgh Baseball Now. The Phillies instead chose Mickey Moniak, a high school outfielder from San Diego who has yet to gain his footing in the major leagues.

Granted, Lauer’s 36-37 career record and 4.30 ERA in six seasons, which began with the Padres in 2018-19, would have classified him as a disappointment if he had been the 1-1 pick, though not to the level of Moniak.

The Pirates’ rotation at the end of the upcoming season certainly won’t look like the one on opening day. The Pirates have many pitching prospects close to being ready for the big leagues, a group headlined by Paul Skenes, Jared Jones and Bubba Chandler. All figure to make their debut sometime in 2024.

However, the Pirates need starters to bridge the gap until the prospects are ready.

Lauer could certainly handle that role – and maybe more.

 

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