The SF Giants will look to solidify their starting rotation through free agency, but if the Pittsburgh Pirates shop Joe Musgrove, they should be interested.
If the SF Giants are trying to build a contender in 2021, they will need far more consistent production from their starting pitchers. They have already offered a qualifying offer to free-agent righty Kevin Gausman and should be well-positioned to bring him back into the fold. Still, that won’t be enough to solve their problems.
While most of the focus remains on some of the possible free-agent fits, the rebuilding Pittsburgh Pirates could offer an alternative if they make Joe Musgrove available for trade. ATF’s sibling site for the Pirates, Rum Bunter, already made the case to shop Musgrove this offseason and listed the Giants among Pittsburgh’s potential trade partners.
Most fans probably only know Musgrove as a piece of the infamous Gerrit Cole trade, but the 46th overall pick in the 2011 draft has quietly become one of the more consistent starters in baseball. Over the last three seasons in Pittsburgh, Musgrove has made 58 starts, thrown 325.1 innings, and produced a solid 4.23 ERA.
Advanced statistics have been even higher on Musgrove. His fielding independent pitching (FIP) estimated a 3.69 ERA over that time period and, according to Baseball Savant, had an expected ERA of 3.23. His strikeout rate ranked in the league’s 90th percentile, and his opponents were not making hard-contact either, ranking in the 93rd percentile by exit-velocity allowed.
Needless to say, playing on an atrocious Pirates team, Musgrove was not getting much help from his defense or bullpen. Perhaps a change of scenery could help him unlock another level of production. Even if he’s never quite able to perform up to his peripherals, he’s still been a consistent mid-rotation starter that would help solidify a shaky Giants rotation.
Under team-control through the 2022 season, the Pirates probably understand that they will not be competing in that window and would be inclined to maximize their return by moving him this offseason. They already nearly traded him to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline and are clearly open to the proposition.
We reached out to our friends at Rum Bunter to ask what they thought a potential package would get the Pirates to pull the trigger, and they said, “they’d want a pair of 45 FV guys.” By our most recent Giants prospect rankings, the team has 10 prospects of at least that caliber. With their improved system depth, the Giants could probably make a compelling offer without sacrificing their top tier prospects.
The Pirates player development group has targeted high-variance arms like Brennan Malone, and Sean Hjelle would be a pretty big deviation from that. However, as the team targets its next contention window, Hjelle would provide some certainty in their rotation as safety for some busts from their riskier arms. While Hjelle doesn’t project as more than a mid-rotation or four starter, he’s long been considered one of the surest bets to contribute of any prospect.
He reached Double-A in 2019 and is set to be in big-league camp next Spring. Hjelle works off a low-90s fastball, solid secondaries, good command, and difficult angles generated from his 6’11.5” frame. His height also creates some intriguing potential upside that scouts may be overlooking.
Patrick Bailey was the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft and was a consensus top-15 prospect. It’s worth considering that without a minor-league season, the Pirates might be inclined to target recent draft prospects who would have been heavily scouted by the team this spring and summer.
While Pittsburgh’s system has improved greatly in recent years, no catcher ranks among their top 30 prospects. Without a competent catcher on the big-league roster, the future of that position in Pittsburgh is a massive question. Bailey is a strong switch-hitter who performed well in college and is considered a great bet to develop into an above-average defender as well. His prospect timeline would align perfectly with the Pirates next competitive window.
Bailey and Hjelle are good prospects, ranking as the 8th and 10th-best in the Giants farm system. However, neither look like integral pieces to the Giants future. Hjelle’s ceiling is probably something close to how Musgrove has performed in recent years with fewer punchouts. Obviously, the Giants would only control him for the next two seasons, but their competitive window is opening.
Joe Musgrove would immediately become the best SF Giants starter on the roster and could give them a very good starter for at least the next two seasons. The Pittsburgh Pirates have already shopped him on the trade market and could recoup a pair of very good prospects at current positions of weakness more in-line with their next competitive window.