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Four affordable relievers who could shore up pen


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You don’t need to be a pitching coach to recognize the Pirates need bullpen help.

Everyone knows it, from Neal Huntington to Clint Hurdle to Ray Searage to the concession stand workers at PNC Park.

The big question is whether Huntington can fix this relief corps, which has a 5.20 ERA. It’s hard to know for certain because it is partially dependent on Bob Nutting being willing to expand the budget. The owner showed absolutely no willingness do so in the offseason when the Pirates significantly cut payroll.

What would normally be working against the Pirates is that most teams aren’t usually ready to give up on the season this early. However, various executives and scouts have told me that multiple teams are letting it be known they are willing to cash veterans in for prospects. A case in point came last Sunday when the Mariners dealt veteran outfielder Jay Bruce to the Phillies.

With that in mind, here are four relievers who could be available – and just as important – affordable even for the penny-pinching Pirates:

Tony Watson. The Giants are going nowhere this season and first-year president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi knows that a rebuild is necessary. Thus, Watson could be available and a return to the Pirates makes sense.

Though 34, Watson is still one of baseball’s more effective left-handed relievers. He has a 2.38 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 24 games.

Watson is making just $3.5 million and making him even more attractive is that he has a $2.5-million player option for next season that can be bought out for $500,000.

Watson spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Pirates before being traded to the Dodgers in 2017. He told me when the Giants visited Pittsburgh in April that he has nothing but fond memories of his time with the Pirates and would never shut the door on a potential return.

Will Smith. Another Giants left-hander, the 29-year-old has thrived since being moved into the closer’s role midway through last season. Not that the Pirates need a closer, of course, but he could work in a set-up role and serve as insurance should anything happen to Felipe Vazquez.

Smith has 13 saves this season along with a 2.38 ERA and outstanding 0.70 WHIP in 23 games. He had 14 saves in the second half of last season.

His $4.23-million salary would seem palatable to the Pirates.

Sergio Romo. While the veteran right-hander is the Marlins’ closer, they are headed for a second consecutive last-place finish in the National League East. Thus, it seems the 36-year-old would be obtainable.

Romo’s numbers aren’t great as his ERA is 4.29 and his WHIP is 1.33. However, with a salary of $2.5 million, he would not represent a big financial gamble.

If the Pirates would decide to go the opener route again, Romo would be a perfect fit. He pitched in that role five times for the Rays last season.

Brad Boxberger. He has been part of the problem for the woebegone Royals this season, so he seemingly wouldn’t be part of the solution for the Pirates.

However, it’s instructive to note that Boxberger did have 32 saves for the Diamondbacks last season before not being tendered a contract in November. He also had an American League-leading 41 saves for the Rays in 2015.

The 31-year-old has a 5.09 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 24 games this season but, with a $2.2-million salary, Boxberger might be worth the gamble to see if Searage could fix him.

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