NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Winter Meetings are always a breeding ground for rumors.
It is only natural when you have baseball people and media gather in the same hotel lobby for the better part of four days and nights.
However, the rumor mill was extremely quiet when it came to the Pittsburgh Pirates during this year’s meetings, which ended Wednesday at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort. They were hardly mentioned.
The only trade the Pirates made came out of nowhere when left-hander Marco Gonzales was acquired from the Atlanta Braves late Tuesday night. There had not even been a hint that the 31-year-old was coming to Pittsburgh, especially after the Braves had just acquired Gonzales from the Seattle Mariners on Sunday in a trade.
Pirates general manager Ben Cherington is good at keeping things under wraps and so is Alex Anthopoulos, his Braves’ counterpart. They were exceptionally adept at staying quiet this time.
“It came together very quickly,” Cherington said Wednesday before returning to Pittsburgh. “Basically, as soon as they made their trade, Alex and I connected, and we were able to work through it and get to a spot last night where we could do it.”
Cherington will keep trying to try to acquire starting pitching between now and the start of spring training in mid-February. Gonzales is one of only two set members of the rotation along with Mitch Keller.
“We continue to have different kinds of hooks in the water,” Cherington said. “It’s hard to predict when these things go, but we’ll certainly work to add more to the rotation.”
Among free agent starters that the Pirates are said to have interest in are Mike Clevinger, Lucas Giolito, Dakota Hudson, Brad Keller, Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha.
Cherington should have some money to spend free agents as the Pirates will just $3 million of Gonzales’ $12.25-million salary next season. The Mariners are paying $4.5 million and the Braves are contributing $4.75 million.
Gonzales was limited to 10 starts last season with the Mariners, going 4-1 with a 5.22 ERA, before undergoing surgery to repair a nerve in his left forearm.
However, Gonzales is expected to be ready for spring training. He lives in the Seattle area and has been working out regularly at the renowned Driveline Baseball training facility in Kent, Wash.
“We were able to learn more through this process, what he’s been doing recently and where he is in his training,” Cherington said. “We feel pretty good about where he is physically and his progress towards next year. He feels good. He’s into his training. He’s into his throwing.”
Gonzales has a 65-49 career record and a 4.14 ERA in 163 games (155 starts) over nine seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals (2014-15, 2017) and Mariners (2018-23). He pitched 183 innings two years ago and his career high for innings in 203 in 2019.
The Pirates hope he can show that kind of durability next season, especially with the rotation so thin at this point of the offseason.
“(Gonzales) has a pretty long track record of reliable innings and performance in the major leagues,” Cherington said. “As we’ve talked before, a left-handed starter at PNC Park is always desirable for us. This was an opportunity to add someone to our rotation who has filled that role really, really well in the past.”
The Pirates have had success reviving left-handed starters’ careers in recent seasons, doing so in 2021 with Tyler Anderson and Quintana a year later. Cherington believes Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin, who was once in the Mariners organization with Gonzales, can do the same thing again.
“In all three of those cases – and we’re getting to know Marco better now – there are common traits in that there’s a really elite competitor, guys are all left-handed, guys who obviously thrive on good execution, fastball execution, good changeups, use the breaking ball and know how to pitch,” Cherington said. “When that kind of pitcher is feeling good physically and is healthy, which was the case with Tyler and Jose, and gets in our environment … it would be certainly great if we got the same outcome.
“Marco has pitched at the same level in the past and is still relatively young in his career. We’re looking forward to working with him and seeing what he can do.”
If Gonzales can have a bounce-back season, it would be big for a team with such questionable starting pitching.