To say that Vic Black has big shoes to fill on the Pittsburgh Pirates would almost be understating things.
No, the 25-year-old late bloomer isn’t going to be called on to take over for an ailing Jason Grilli in the ninth inning (that job rightfully belongs to Mark Melancon), but as the defacto replacement in the bullpen for now, the minor-league strikeout artist might not get a whole lot of time to get comfortable before he’s thrown into the fire.
That’s because despite Pittsburgh owning a second-place bullpen ERA of 2.76, arms who can get whiffs on a regular basis aren’t exactly in abundance there. In fact, with a 14.03 K/9 at the time when he went down, Grilli was the only regular member of the bullpen to have a double-digit strikeout rate, making high-leverage situations that much dodgier for the Pirates should he have to miss significant time.
Should the worst-case scenario occur with the closer’s strained forearm, I think it’s be fair to say that the Bucs will be looking to look a little further than Black the next time they need a big strikeout with two on and two outs.
The problem? There’s just not really much of a market for them to shop in.
Outside of Jonathan Papelbon (who may not be available and is too expensive), this year’s MLB trade deadline pool aren’t really swimming with late-inning arms, especially strikeout artists. The Baltimore Orioles thinned out the market further by grabbing Francisco Rodriguez in a savvy move, which only exacerbates the situation for teams like the Pirates.
Could they try to acquire someone like San Diego Padres setup man Luke Gregerson? It could work, and he does have a wealth of high-leverage experience; yet, the 7.71 K/9 is a dramatic cut from what the Grilli brought to the table, and that is a skillset that the Pirates should look to replace for the price they’ll pay based on the name.
One interesting scenario for the Pirates could be to go back to the AL East for their shopping needs — remember when the Brad Lincoln–Travis Snider deal went down between the Bucs and the Toronto Blue Jays?
Well, as it turns out, the spiraling bluebirds have an abundance of relief arms available who may come cheap enough to suit the Pirates’ needs. These include All-Stars Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar, both of whom are still under arbitration deals, and both are adept at coaxing whiffs out of the pen.
Toronto isn’t officially in “sell” mode right now, but considering team being in a journey of constant lows, they aren’t exactly buyers either.
With the market of well-established names thinning out quickly (lest they want to get into a bidding war with the Detroit Tigers and others for Gregerson), the Pirates would be best off targeting off-the-board names now for a late-inning situational arm to prepare for potential life without Grilli down the stretch.