The Pirates have announced their signing of left-hander Rich Hill, making that official. In order to open a spot for Hill on the 40-man roster, right-hander Zach Thompson has been designated for assignment.
Thompson, 29, was a fifth round selection of the White Sox in 2014. He spent parts of seven years in their system but wasn’t allowed to crack the club’s roster, reaching minor league free agency after 2020. The Marlins then grabbed him on a minor league deal, which turned out to be a shrewd move. Thompson made 26 appearances for the Fish in 2021, including 14 starts, posting a 3.24 ERA over 75 innings along with a 21% strikeout rate, 8.9% walk rate and 43.4% ground ball rate.
In November of 2021, the Pirates traded catcher Jacob Stallings to the Marlins in exchange for Thompson, as well as prospects Kyle Nicolas and Connor Scott. Just over a year later and that deal hasn’t worked out great for either side so far. Stallings took steps backwards both offensively and defensively while Thompson posted a 5.18 ERA over 121 2/3 innings for Pittsburgh. He still got ground balls at a solid 45.3% clip but his strikeout rate dipped to 16.6%.
It seems that Thompson has been pushed down Pittsburgh’s starting pitching depth chart by a couple of factors. They’ve added veterans like Hill and Vince Velasquez this winter and saw encouraging developments from younger pitchers like Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras and Luis Ortiz in 2022. Those pitchers have nudged Thompson out of the rotation and off Pittsburgh’s roster entirely.
The Bucs will now have a week to trade Thompson or pass him through waivers. It wouldn’t be a shock to see other clubs around the league have interest in him. Thompson has at least some major league success and a full slate of options. Even a club that feels good about its five best starters could have Thompson on their 40-man but optioned to the minors and awaiting a need to arise as the season progresses. He also has just over a year of service time, making him controllable for another five seasons, though optional assignments could potentially push that back further.