Pirates bring back Holmes on Minors deal

December 4th, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates re-signed right-hander to a Minor League deal and invited him to Spring Training, as expected, two days after removing him from their 40-man roster.

The Pirates non-tendered Holmes on Wednesday to clear a spot on their roster, an opening they expect to fill with the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. But the Pirates intended to retain Holmes all along, if possible, and they followed through by announcing his new deal on Friday.

When discussing the decision to non-tender Holmes on Thursday, general manager Ben Cherington made it clear that the move had nothing to do with the organization’s belief in the right-hander moving forward. It simply came down to needing a roster spot heading into next week’s virtual Winter Meetings.

“We wanted to give ourselves a little roster space in advance of the Rule 5. We were at 40, and as we worked through some of the pre-tender [signing] stuff, it became more and more clear we’d probably stay at 40 through that,” Cherington said. “We just started looking at other opportunities to open up some space. It’s less about Clay and more just about roster management.”

Holmes was a starting pitcher in the Minors and made four spot starts for the Pirates in 2018, but he’s been used exclusively out of the bullpen the last two years. Pittsburgh’s pitching plan for next year will rely heavily on optionable relievers capable of working multiple innings, one way the Pirates intend to address their starters’ diminished workloads during the shortened 2020 season without overworking anybody in the bullpen, and it’s unclear how Holmes will fit into that mix.

Holmes is not yet eligible for arbitration, so his new deal will likely pay him around the Major League minimum salary if he cracks the big league roster. But the fact that he will come to Spring Training camp on a non-roster deal will provide the Pirates with some flexibility regarding Holmes even though he is out of Minor League options.

Cherington said Holmes is healthy and has thrown off the mound “several times” this offseason, but there will be some uncertainty next year because he only made one appearance this past season before going on the injured list with a sprained right elbow. The 27-year-old struggled in his previous big league experience from 2018-19, posting a 6.01 ERA while averaging seven walks per nine innings despite averaging a strikeout per inning.