Bucs hope viable lefty relief option emerges

November 7th, 2018
Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager, talks with members of the media at the annual baseball general managers' meetings, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)John Raoux/AP

PITTSBURGH -- This is Neal Huntington's 12th offseason as the Pirates' general manager. By his count, it's the 12th consecutive offseason he is looking to add a left-handed reliever who will make life easier for Pittsburgh's manager.
The Pirates have only two left-handed pitchers on their 40-man roster: closer Felipe Vazquez and , a starter who moved to the bullpen last season. Their setup men are all right-handers. Their primary middle-relief and depth options are right-handers. Isn't there room for another lefty in Pittsburgh's 'pen?
"We will explore the Minor League free-agent market, the trade market as well as the Major League free-agent market to see if there's something out there that makes sense for us," Huntington told reporters, including MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, at the General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. "We're still constructed where that lefty has to get righties out, so that's what makes those guys tough to acquire."
The Pirates have more pressing needs to address this offseason -- namely a shortstop and perhaps another outfielder -- so relief help might be a back-burner issue. They're not in the market for lefty specialists, and right-hander emerged last season as a late-inning option who dominated lefty hitters. But the Bucs attempted to add low-risk lefty relievers throughout the year to no avail.
Pittsburgh traded in January for Josh Smoker, who struggled before being designated for assignment. The club signed veteran to a Minor League deal during Spring Training, but he didn't pitch all season after refusing his assignment to Triple-A. It claimed off waivers from the Nationals in April and from the Astros in August, but neither made an impact or survived the season on Pittsburgh's roster.

Brault seems like a logical fit for the Pirates' bullpen again as a lefty who can pitch multiple innings. There isn't room for him in the rotation and he pitched well at times out of the 'pen, but overall, he posted a 4.25 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in 40 relief appearances last season.
"Hopefully Steven Brault can take a step forward," Huntington said. "When he got more touches, he threw the ball better; that was early in the year, then he went through a stretch where he didn't get consistent work because we were trying to hold him for length and that kind of threw him off. We still like him a lot."
Free agents Zach Britton and -- potential closers when they're on top of their game -- figure to be the most sought-after lefty relievers this winter. But there are other experienced arms on the market who have enjoyed recent success, including former Pirates and , (who pitched better out of the bullpen last season) and Jake Diekman.
Around the horn
• On the first full day of the GM Meetings, Huntington acknowledged that shortstop is "an area that we'll explore," but he reiterated the Pirates' belief in rookie despite his struggles in September.
"At the same time, we want to be one of those 10 teams competing for the World Series in the playoffs," Huntington said. "We'll explore the market to see what's out there."
• Huntington also vouched for rookie infielder , who hit .311 with an .856 OPS in Triple-A then went 5-for-37 with 20 strikeouts while playing sporadically for the Pirates in September. Kramer could crack the Opening Day roster as a second baseman (with in right field) or utility infielder.
"Kevin Kramer can hit," Huntington said. "We need to let him get back out and let him be Kevin Kramer again."
is a "viable candidate" to play right field while recovers from September shoulder surgery, Huntington said. Polanco could return anytime from mid-April to mid-June, according to the Pirates' initial timetable. Luplow hit well in Double-A and Triple-A, but he batted just .194 with a .644 OPS in 190 Major League plate appearances over the last two years.
"We have some internal options," Huntington said. "As we compare that to [the] trade and free-agent market, that will be part of our evaluation process."