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Potential Pirates Trade Targets: Back-End Rotation Help From Oakland



Paul Blackburn, Pittsburgh Pirates

This is one in a series of examining potential trade targets for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2023-24 offseason.

After examining the possibility of the Pirates looking to acquire Oakland A’s first baseman Ryan Noda, there’s another member of the green and gold who could be a potential target for Pittsburgh.

Starting pitching is a key area that needs addressed this coming offseason. The Pirates will be in the market for at least one starter and could look to add multiple arms to their rotation.

In Oakland, right-hander Paul Blackburn presents a potential option for the Pirates to stabilize the back-end of their starting rotation.

Blackburn was originally drafted out of high school by the Chicago Cubs with the 56th pick in the 2012 draft. He was a part of two trades, the latter of which landed him in Oakland from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Danny Valencia in the 2016-17 offseason.

After getting inconsistent opportunities with Oakland from 2017-21, Blackburn has found a home in the A’s rotation each of the last two seasons. Since the start of the 2022 season, the 29-year-old has totaled 42 appearances, all but one of which have been starts.

Blackburn represented Oakland in the 2022 All-Star Game. He finished that season with a 7-6 record to go along with a 4.28 ERA. This previous season, the right-hander posted a 4.43 ERA with a career-high 104 strikeouts in 103.1 innings pitched.

While opponents hit .286 against him in 2023, Blackburn did a good job of limiting the long ball. Opposing hitters hit only 11 home runs against him on the season. He thrives off of generating weak contact and induces groundballs at an impressive 47.5% rate for his career, though his ground ball rate was a career-low 41.2% this year.

Blackburn’s year-over-year strikeout totals from 2022-23 increased by roughly three percent, but so did his walk rate.

Over the last two seasons, Blackburn’s numbers are stronger than what is seen on the surface. His 4.09 FIP, compared to a 4.35 ERA, indicates he has been a better pitcher than what he’s shown. That bodes well when looking at his projectability.

In Blackburn, the Pirates would have team control over him through the 2025 season. He’s projected for a $3.2 million salary in 2024, according to MLBTradeRumors arbitration projections.

The return for Oakland in any potential trade wouldn’t be earth-shattering, and the Pirates — even with their budget constraints — could easily take on his projected salary.

While Blackburn wouldn’t provide the Pirates with a front of the rotation pitcher, he would serve as a needed reinforcement to a rotation that ended the season with only two full-time members.

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