It’s been a couple weeks now since the Pirates may have raised some eyebrows when they chose to designate Colin Moran and Steven Brault for assignment and non-tender Chad Kuhl. The decision on Kuhl was probably less surprising when you consider he lost his rotation spot towards the end of last season, but the decisions to move on from Moran and Brault, while not unjustified, were a bit more noteworthy.
This is especially the case when you look at the other names on the 40-man roster. The Pirates axed some of their longest-tenured players from the roster when the likes of Eric Hanhold (7.11 ERA in 12.2 MLB innings), Anthony Banda (career journeyman) and others survived.
Although all three players have had varying degrees of injury problems, the trio offered the Bucs three of their most veteran presences in the clubhouse and on the field. None of the three have been All-Star-caliber players, but all three were solid contributors, at least at times. So why choose now to move on?
Looking at the current state of the rotation outside of Jose Quintana, who was signed earlier in the offseason, the options are essentially all young and/or inexperienced. While that is the case, the Pirates actually do have some depth in terms of options. Quintana, Mitch Keller, JT Brubaker, Bryse Wilson, WIl Crowe and Dillon Peters are all among the in-house options to earn a rotation spot. Additionally, another option in Zach Thompson has since been acquired from the Marlins in the Jacob Stallings trade. Roansy Contreras and Miguel Yajure expect to join the rotation at some point and Max Kranick is another young arm available.
Are any of these players significant upgrades over Brault or Kuhl? No. But are any of them significantly worse than them? Also, probably not. The Pirates saw what Brault and Kuhl offered and what their potential was, and may have decided it’s time to give the younger players more innings. Ben Cherington said the Bucs will continue to look to add to the rotation post-lockout.
In Moran’s case, his fate was sealed when the Pirates re-upped with Yoshi Tsutsugo on a one-year deal. Tsutsugo made an instant impact after coming over to Pittsburgh in August, and Moran struggled through a couple different injuries in 2021. Moran was a fairly steady option for the Pirates with the bat, but never developed to big-time power that the Pirates were hoping for.
Of course when you talk about the decisions the Pirates make, salary plays a big factor. All three of Moran, Brault and Kuhl were arbitration-eligible, and the were projected to earn a combined $9.2M. How much money have the Pirates spent this offseason on free agent contracts? $11M, so the money the Pirates opted not to give to the trio was all used elsewhere.
Another reason the decisions shouldn’t come as big of a shock is simply that none of the three were brought in under Cherington. Former general manager Neal Huntington drafted Kuhl, acquired Brault from the Orioles and Moran in the famous – or infamous – Gerrit Cole trade. Looking at the Pirates 40-man roster, 24 of the 39 players have been acquired by Cherington, proving his efforts to overturn the roster since he took over about 25 months ago.
Some weren’t surprised by the moves, some seemed to be. Overall, the Pirates chose to opt for younger and less-expensive players who offer at least similar production moving forward.