Results tagged ‘ Charlie Morton ’

The Last Twenty “Aces”

With the news of Gerrit Cole being sent down today I’ve got to thinking about how good (or to be more accurate bad) the Pirates “ace” has been over the course of the 20 year losing streak. The first step to do this was to go about picking the Pirates ace from each season. I did this in a subjective way factoring in a bunch of different stats but one thing I did set as a constant was a minimum of 150 IP in a give year (this was adjusted down some for the shortened 1994 season to 120 IP). You can see the results below. Also to give an idea of how baseball as a whole pitched that year I have listed the pitcher’s ranking in terms of FIP and WAR (min 150 IP, 120 in 1994).

1993: Steve Cooke

Stats: 210.2 IP, 3.89 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 3.3 WAR

Rankings: 38th (WAR), 41st (FIP)

1994: Denny Neagle

Stats: 137.0 IP, 5.12 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 2.0 WAR

Rankings: 47th (WAR), 35th (FIP)

1995: Denny Neagle

Stats: 209.2 IP, 3.43 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 4.6 WAR

Rankings: 11th (WAR), 12th (FIP)

1996: Denny Neagle

Stats: 182.2 IP, 3.05 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 3.6 WAR *based on only his time with the Pirates

Rankings: 32nd (WAR), 20th (FIP) *based on only his time with the Pirates

1997: Francisco Cordova

Stats: 178.2 IP, 3.63 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 3.5 WAR

Rankings: 30th (WAR), 23rd (FIP)

1998: Francisco Cordova

Stats: 220.1 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 3.6 WAR

Rankings: 32nd (WAR), 33rd (FIP)

1999: Kris Benson

Stats: 196.2 IP, 4.07 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 3.7 WAR

Rankings: 27th (WAR), 22nd (FIP)

2000: Kris Benson

Stats: 217.2 IP, 3.85 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 4.0 WAR

Rankings: 24th (WAR), 24th (FIP)

2001: Todd Ritchie

Stats: 207.1 IP, 4.47 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 3.2 WAR

Rankings: 35th (WAR), 36th (FIP)

2002: Kip Wells

Stats: 198.1 IP, 3.58 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 2.5 WAR

Rankings: 56th (WAR), 46th (FIP)

2003: Kip Wells

Stats: 197.1 IP, 3.28 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 2.4 WAR

Rankings: 61st (WAR), 60th (FIP)

2004: Oliver Perez

Stats: 196.0 IP, 2.98 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 4.5 WAR

Rankings: 17th (WAR), 11th (FIP)

2005: Mark Redman

Stats: 178.1 IP, 4.90 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 2.2 WAR

Rankings: 69th (WAR), 52nd (FIP)

2006: Zach Duke

Stats: 215.1 IP, 4.47 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 3.3 WAR

Rankings: 42nd (WAR), 31st (FIP)

2007: Ian Snell

Stats: 208.0 IP, 3.76 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 3.5 WAR

Rankings: 35th (WAR), 32nd (FIP)

2008: Paul Maholm

Stats: 206.1 IP, 3.71 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 2.8 WAR

Rankings: 48th (WAR), 49th (FIP)

2009: Paul Maholm

Stats: 194.2 IP, 4.44 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 3.2 WAR

Rankings: 43rd (WAR), 32nd (FIP)

2010: Paul Maholm

Stats: 185.1 IP, 5.10 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 1.9 WAR

Rankings: 80th (WAR), 70th (FIP)

2011: Charlie Morton

Stats: 171.2 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 2.1 WAR

Rankings: 70th (WAR), 48th (WAR)

2012: AJ Burnett

Stats: 202.1 IP, 3.51 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 3.4 WAR

Rankings: 29th (WAR), 27th (FIP)

The numbers above pain a pretty gruesome picture. Only twice in the last twenty years did the Pirates have a pitcher rank in the top 20 of the league in both FIP and WAR. A lot of years the Pirates struggled to even get a player to crack the top 50 in both categories. AJ Burnett helped dramatically improve the Pirates standing last year by posting the best season from a Pirates starter since 2004 but even so the Pirates have a lot of room to go to catch up to the rest of the league. The Pirates will not be able to close that gap through external means so there only hope of doing so in the next two or three years lies squarely on the arms of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Yes it has been a little disappointing to see them both sent down this spring but both of them still need a little fine tuning before they are set loose. If things go right the Pirates in 2014 or 2015 could have two ace caliber seasons from Cole and Taillon matching their total from the last twenty years combined. There is a light at the end of the tunnel Pirates fans.

Do The Pirates Need Another Starter?

With Jeff Karstens now back on the Pirates payroll there are 6 pitchers with a reasonable chance of starting the year in the major league rotation. They are A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson. In addition to those six there are quite a few other players who could factor in at some point this season. There are a handful of pitchers who look like they could be non-horrible spot starting options in Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro and Zach Stewart but none of them would ideally be counted on. There is also the two reinforcements, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole, who will hopefully both be ready to help contribute by mid season. Then there is even Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver who have the stuff to be good starters if they can figure out their control. Finally the Pirates also have a stable of AAA pitchers who look like they should be ready to step up and make a handful of starts later in the year in Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton and even Michael Colla. That is undoubtedly a lot of arms but I still believe the Pirates need to bring in another starter and I’ll explain why.

Let’s first take a look at the depth. A lot of the pitchers making up the Pirates depth, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton and Michael Colla are going to probably need a couple of months before they would be ideally counted on to help the rotation. Two more Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver will need time to prove that they have improved their control before being ready to move up. What this means is that a lot of this depth will not be ready to help out should a problem arise in say April or May. Now with six starters ready to start the year that ordinarily wouldn’t be a huge deal but the Pirates have risk factors with all six of their starters.

Burnett – AJ will be 36 years old this upcoming season and had two poor seasons prior to his good year last season. A pitcher nearing his late 30s is always at risk of breaking down especially one with as much use on it as Burnett.

Rodriguez - At 34 years old Rodriguez isn’t as old as Burnett but there is a cause for concern as his strike out rate has been steadily dropping the last few seasons. The bottom really fell out in 2012 as he dropped from 7.8 K/9 to 6.1 K/9. He is going to need to show he can transition into being successful as a finesse pitcher.

McDonald - The biggest question mark of them all. Which McDonald is the real McDonald? Is he the Cy Young candidate we saw the first half of last year, the AA arm we saw in the second half or somewhere in between. A complete collapse can not be ruled out.

Karstens - The reason the Pirates didn’t offer Karstens arbitration was his injury history. Karstens has been a very consistent starter for the Pirates but the question is how long can he stay healthy? The Pirates really shouldn’t be counting on Karstens for more than about 120 innings max.

Locke – I feel pretty good about Locke but the issue with him is that he has no track record of big league success and has struggled when given his few chances. Locke has been a very successful AAA pitcher and while that probably should transition over to him being at least a solid 4/5 in the majors you never know until he actually does it.

McPherson - McPherson has had shoulder soreness twice in the past year and last time it cause him to miss a decent chunk of the season. Add in the fact that he has only made 3 starts at the AAA level and you have a pitcher who the Pirates should probably proceed cautiously with.

With all those question marks and the real possibility that a starter outside of those 6 might be needed the way the Pirates are currently constructed they would need to give the chances to one of the spot starter options in Gomez, Stewart, Leroux or Mazzaro. If those 4 are forced to make a combined 2-3 starts this year, ok stuff happens the team should be fine but if one of them is needed to move into the rotation in April or May it could very well likely signal bad things for the Pirates. For the Pirates and all teams really one of the most important keys is depth in the rotation and while that is coming for the Pirates it isn’t there yet. Ideally come midseason the Pirates will have a surplus to trade for needs in other areas or will be able to convert some starters into bullpen arms but you can’t go on expecting the ideal the Pirates need to prepare for the very real possibility that they may need an extra arm to help the rotation get through April and May. As long as health holds out Burnett, Rodriguez and McDonald should all start the season in the majors. McPherson would ideally start the year in AAA to get a few more starts and a little more polish. This leaves two rotation spots for Karstens and Locke. I would really like to see those two battle it out for the 5th spot with Locke going to AAA if he loses and Karstens being the swing man if he loses. The las rotation spot needs to go to someone on the outside. Perhaps the Liriano deal can be reworked and he can fill the last spot (his upside would really fit nicely with what the Pirates need) or perhaps another free agent such as Marcum or Saunders can be had or maybe a trade for someone like Capuano or Porcello but the bottom line is another arm needs to be added so the Pirates can have some reasonable security that they will be able to make him through April and May with their in house rotation options.

The Starting Rotation

There has been a lot of news lately about the Pirates seeking a starting pitcher but also about how they are comfortable with the internal options they have. The Pirates do have a fair number of internal options but it doesn’t appear like it is quite enough to go in to the season with. So lets take a look at those internal options the Pirates are currently counting on.

Locks For The Rotation

The Pirates have 3 locks for the starting rotation heading into the season. A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald all should start the season in the rotation and each one of them could be candidates to make 30+ starts and pitch 200+ innings but then again there are age concerns surrounding Burnett and Rodriguez and consistency questions surrounding McDonald. The Pirates are likely hoping that this trio can contribute roughly half of the starts they need in the 162 game season. More realistically though anywhere from 70-75 starts would be a good total.

Competing For A Rotation Spot

The Pirates have 3 players who look as if they are competing for the final 1 or 2 rotation spots in the rotation. These players are Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson and Vin Mazzaro. All three of these players could definitely have a positive impact on the rotation but then again all 3 of them are untested and unproven. Locke and McPherson both showed flashes of talent near the end of last season and of the 2 Locke seems to be the most polished and ready to take on a big league job. Mazzaro is out of options so the Pirates are either going to have to start the year with him on the 25 man roster or waive him. I really don’t see him as a starter but I expect the Pirates will give him a chance to compete for a job. I’m sure the Pirates would love to get 50-60 starts from this trio but I just don’t see it. If they can get anywhere from 30-35 starts that would be a success.

Mid Season Help

The Pirates have two players who look they will be ready to provide rotation depth some time around the middle of the year. Charlie Morton should b coming back from injury and Gerrit Cole should be polished enough from the minor league to make his debut. I have my doubts about Morton getting ready in the short 30 day window he will have but the Pirates appear to be counting on that so we will see. As for Cole we all know he is the top prospect and should make a very anticipated debut this season but we shall see how he fares and how long it takes him to get here. Both pitchers certainly have the talent to fill rotation spots for this club but again there is nothing for certain here. Ideally these guys would be able to provide a half a season each which would give them 30 starts but 15-20 would be a pretty good amount.

Prospects

There are two prospects outside of Gerrit Cole who appear like they could possibly make a start for the Pirates some time this season. They are Jameson Taillon and Phillip Irwin. Chances are neither will be ready until August at the earliest so counting on the for more than a handful of starts can’t be done. Taillon is of course a top prospect and Irwin is a very stable arm who with just a few months of AAA time could be a Jeff Karstens like starter for the Pirates. Again these two are talented and may play a key role in 2014 but in 2013 anything more than a taste of the majors would be highly unlikely. Around 5 starts is all that can be expected from this duo and even that may be high.

Good Stuff, Poor Control

The Pirates have two left handers who have great stuff but little control. It is uncertain rather the Pirates see them as starters or relievers right now but one would think they will each get a chance at starting in AAA at least to begin the season. These two players are Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver. Both of them are power lefties who if they can even slightly improve their control could be great starters or dominating back end relievers but that is one very big if there. The Pirates shouldn’t be counting on this pair for any starts but it would be a huge bonus if they could make some. I wouldn’t count on them for any but it wouldn’t surprise me to see 10+ starts out of this duo if one or both can take significant strides this season. More likely though these two will serve as bullpen options.

Others

The rest of the Pirates options are players who look better suite for relief work but could step up and make a spot start if needed. They are Chris Leroux, Rick VandenHurk, Zach Stewart and Chad Beck. These guys are really just emergency starters so if the Pirates need these guys for more than 1-2 starts things have probably gone horribly wrong. I would imagine that some of these guys will not even be with the Pirates at the start if the year and if they are 1 or 2 of them are likely to be removed from the roster.

Recap

So how many starts do we have from the internal options:

Locks: 75

Competing: 35

Mid Season: 20

The Rest: 10

Total: 140

The Pirates would probably be able to get by with what they have but my fairly realistic numbers seem to suggest that unless they get good luck in regards to health or are planning to count on players who they probably shouldn’t they are going to come up about 20 starts short. I believe it is important to avoid giving starts to players who just don’t appear ready and to have some backup plans should injuries arise. It is rather apparent to me that right now the Pirates need to bring in one more dependable starter because otherwise making it through the year is going to be rather difficult and could even get ugly. So the talk about Capuano and Porcello has plenty of merit and I expect the Pirates pursuit for their them or another pitcher will start to pick up in the coming weeks.

Does Huntington Have a Plan?

So far this offseason I am unsure as to whether or not Neal Huntington has a plan. Let’s take away the minor trades involving the likes of Chris Resop and Clint Robinson as those are your typical minor moves. So far the Pirates have made three moves of any real substance and I am struggling to see how they fit together and due to that I am struggling to even get a basic understanding of what Huntington must see as this team’s strengths and weaknesses. The Pirates three  big moves so far have been signing Russell Martin, DFAing Jeff Karstens and resigning Charlie Morton for two million dollars. Let’s discuss these three in a little bit of detail.

Russell Martin

I’ve been over why I think this is a bad signing but lets put that aside for a moment and consider why Huntington would feel  compelled to do it and what signing him means for the rest of the team. By signing Martin to a fairly larger contract Huntington must fell this team is close to competing. Spending significant dollars on a marginal upgrade at the catcher position makes no sense unless you believe it is one of maybe two or three missing pieces from the team being a playoff caliber team. The other possibility is a lack of confidence in the catchers currently on the roster. The final point is of course not with out merit but then again if the Pirates feel there was no hope for the catching position in the short term future why would they add two catching prospects to the 40 man roster? The fact both Sanchez and Cabrera were added to the 40 man roster shows the Pirates are intrigued by what they have in the upper minors at catcher which brings us back to the point that Huntington has to think this team is close.

Jeff Karstens

By DFAing Karstens Huntington is saying one of two things. Either he is saying the Pirates have a lot of pitching depth so going with a middle of the rotation starter who is oft injured would be a waste of resources or he believes that this team is still a step away from contention and the starts Karstens would receive is better off going to young players so he can properly evaluate them. The Martin signing would indicate that Huntington doesn’t believe the second half of that possibility so by process of elimination he must believe the first.

Charlie Morton

Again there are two possibilities with signing Morton either Huntington is so concerned with the pitching depth that he is desperate enough to bring back a guy who won’t be ready for at least two months or he believes Morton is much more than a back of the rotation arm and that half a season of him is worth more than a full season of Karstens. Obviously if Huntington was concerned about pitching depth Karstens would have been tendered a contract so what we are left with is that Huntington must believe that the possibility of maybe having Morton for half a season (for which he’d probably be rushed back since he will only be able to spend 30 days in the minors) is somehow better than having Karstens for a full season. Could Huntington really believe that? At this point I don’t think we have any choice but to say he believes that because the other alternative is that he is completely incompetent and doesn’t have a plan.

If we are to extrapolate Huntington’s thinking out we shouldn’t see any starting pitcher depth brought in and what we should see is him act aggressively to fill the final one or two holes he sees in the Pirates roster, whatever those might be. If he fails to do this then I seriously have to question what in the world he is thinking because right now it doesn’t look like he has much of a plan.

Position Recap: Starting Pitcher

AJ Burnett: Acquired this offseason Burnett proved to be a big boost to the Pirates rotation. After an injury which sidelined him most of April Burnett became the ace of the Pirates team and pitched well enough to genuinely be considered a borderline #1 pitcher, not just a #1 pitcher for the Pirates. As all Pirates fans hoped Burnett proved to be more comfortable in the National League, lowering his walk rate and home run rate while still striking out a fair amount of batters. Like all Pirates players Burnett did start to perform worse as the season neared its close but he was still a very strong starter for the Pirates going down the stretch. The Burnett deal looks to be one of the Huntington’s best and fortunately the Pirates have a chance to benefit from it next season as well. Burnett was an unquestioned leader this season and will hopefully continue pitching well and taking a leadership role next season. As for his performance this season it is hard to be disappointed Overall Grade: A-

James McDonald: McDonald starting off pitching as well as if not better than Burnett but unlike Burnett he went in to complete free fall in August. McDonald’s season was sort of the perfect microcosm for the Pirates season. It started off a little shaky, went on an absolute tear and then quickly fell apart at the end. Even with the horrible ending McDonald still managed to put up fairly good numbers overall for the season so it is difficult to call his year a disappointment but it is fair to say that it could have been a lot better. One area McDonald will have to work on is limiting his number of free passes allowed as that really bit him at the end of last season. McDonald profiles as a very similar pitcher to Burnett and at the beginning of the year it appeared Burnett’s presence was helping him hopefully that same effect comes back next season, as McDonald figures to have a prominent role in the rotation once again. Overall Grade: C+

Kevin Correia: Correia just wouldn’t go away this season. The Pirates tried everything they could to get him out of the rotation but alas he was the only member of the opening day rotation still making starts going down the stretch in September. He wasn’t awful this season but he really wasn’t great either. He pitched well enough to be a decent 4/5 starter which is in reality what he truly is. The Pirates could have done far worse as a backup plan this season or they could have done far better by turning to one of the younger pitchers early on. The most troubling thing about Correia this season was his inability to miss bats as his K% took another hit this season and due to this and other factors, namely bad luck, Correia had a few outings where things just didn’t seem to be going his way. Correia is now a free agent and while it could make some sense for the Pirates to bring him back I don’t think there is any mutual interest here. He did a solid job filling in and holding a back of the rotation this season so I need to give him credit for that. Overall Grade: B-

Erik Bedard: Bedard stayed relatively healthy this season which if you would have told me that at the beginning of the season I would have said would have been a huge boost for the Pirates but unfortunately it wasn’t. Bedard had a great first two months but then suffered a mild injury which forced the Pirates to push back one of his starts by a couple of days. At the time it seemed like no big deal but Bedard wasn’t the same pitcher after that. The Pirates tried to give Bedard some extra rest by going with a 6 man rotation and using off days to rearrange the rotation and give him 5 days off between starts instead of 4 but it didn’t work. So after three abysmal months the Pirates finally cut Bedard in August. I can’t really say it was a disappointing season from Bedard as he managed to stay relatively healthy, pitched two great months and even when things went sour from him the numbers suggest some bad luck was at play. Still he was a pretty bad pitcher from June one and really didn’t help the Pirates much after that point. The Pirates made a gamble on Bedard and got some production but it really didn’t pay off, still I think it was one worth making. Overall Grade: C

Jeff Karstens: Karstens did what Karstens does. When Karstens was on the field he pitched well putting up good strong numbers despite his peripherals saying he probably wasn’t that good of a pitcher. However we are used to that from Karstens but his undoing this season was his durability issues. Due to injuries and an apparent decision at the end of the season to look at younger pitchers Karstens threw only 83.1 innings. That is a major disappointment. Like I said he was good in those innings, he walked very few batters and even raised his strikeout rate again but he just didn’t manage to stay on the field long enough for me to call his season a success. The Pirates face a tough decision with Karstens as he is in the final year of arbitration and will likely command a salary of around 5 million dollars. If Karstens is healthy the Pirates won’t be able to find a better starter for 5 million dollars but the injury issues make him a potential non tender. I anticipate the Pirates will tender him but I wouldn’t rule out a trade possibility.  As for this season I have to give Karstens good marks for when he pitched but I also have to knock him for how little he pitched. Overall Grade: C

Wandy Rodriguez: Rodriguez came over to the Pirates near the trade deadline in a deal that received mix reviews. A lot of fans didn’t think it was worth giving up Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens and Colton Cain for him and those voices only grew louder when Rodriguez struggled in his first handful of starts with the Pirates. As for myself I thought that was a pretty fair price for Rodriguez although I would have hoped for a bit more salary relief but that is neither here nor there. The Pirates definitely didn’t get a steal here but they weren’t robbed blind here either. Anyway after his first few shaky starts Rodriguez settled in and actually became arguably the Pirates best starter down the stretch. The Pirates probably will have Rodriguez for the next two seasons and at this point it feels kind of nice to have a good stable veteran left hander in the rotation. Rodriguez won’t wow you with his stuff and he has to improve a bit on his strike out rate he had with the Pirates but he appears to be a good option for the Pirates next season. Overall Grade: B-

The Rest: Rather than break down the final four pitchers who made the Pirates other 23 starts this season I’m just going to mention them all briefly here. Morton made nine starts before going on the DL (with what a lot of Pirates fans thought was a phantom injury) and then receiving Tommy John surgery. He wasn’t particularly impressive in those 9 starts but still has a good bit of potential. I doubt the Pirates tender Morton a contract as he won’t be ready to pitch until at least June and even then the 30 day rehab he is permitted would probably not be enough for him to get ready to pitch in the majors again. I’m expecting a non-tender and a minor league contract. Overall Grade: D Next up is Jeff Locke who made 6 starts for the Pirates and has what first looks like a terrible stat line but Locke did manage to miss some bats and his xFIP suggests his ERA was unlucky. Locke right now is slated to compete for the 5th starter job and is probably currently the favorite for that position. Overall Grade: C Third on the list making 5 starts in Brad Lincoln. Lincoln was excellent out of the bullpen for the Pirates this season but as a starter (which is all I’m grading him on here) he was quite awful. I recall one good start out of the 5. His advanced numbers suggest he was a bit unlucky as well but even so he was still pretty bad. Lincoln is no longer with the team so he obviously won’t be a factor next season. As a starter I give him an Overall Grade: D Last but not least on the list making 3 starts this season is Kyle McPherson. Due to injuries McPherson didn’t start this season in AAA but rather repeated AA. He spent most of the season there before eventually getting called up to AAA and then shortly there after getting called up to the majors. McPherson had essentially the opposite season to Locke; his stat line looks good but his advanced stats say he had a bit of luck this season. Right now McPherson is a strong candidate for the #5 job next season but I would call him a slight underdog right now. Overall Grade: C+

* I’m not going to list the pitching prospects here instead I’m going to do 3 recaps for the pitchers: starter, relievers, prospects.

Roster Decisions

In addition to trying to figure out the best way to supplement their roster externally the Pirates will have some internal decisions to make about their roster coming up. Basically the status of every internal player who may be on the 40 man roster can be broken down into 5 categories: 1) Rule V draft eligible 2) 0-3 Years Experience 3) Arbitration Eligible 4) Under Contract 5) Free Agents

Rule V Draft Eligible

As always there are a lot of players eligible for the Rule V draft but in reality I think only 5 have a chance at being added to the 40 man roster and of the rest few have any chance of being selected. The five players in this group are:

Tony Sanchez, C

Ramon Cabrera, C

Gift Ngoepe, SS

Phillip Irwin, SP

Victor Black, RP

Analysis: It is essentially a guarantee that both Sanchez and Black will be added to the roster and I feel almost as confident in saying that Phillip Irwin will be added as well. Cabrera and Ngoepe are the two interesting ones for me. Normally teams do not select a catcher in the Rule V draft and if they do I would think most would look for a strong defensive one so that he could at least provide that value as a backup, Cabrera is shaky defensively making it seem unlikely to me that he would be selected. Due to this I think the Pirates leave him off the roster. Ngoepe is very raw and may not be ready for a spot in AA let alone the majors but good fielding, light hitting middle infielders are fairly common selections in the Rule V draft meaning there is at least some chance Ngoepe would be selected. Due to this and the fact the Pirates seem to view Ngoepe as a legit prospect I wouldn’t be surprised to see him added, however since he is so raw right now I’m going to lean towards the side that the Pirates will not add him to the 40 man roster, though this one is a tough call.

0-3 Years Experience

This is the group that the Pirates can elect to retain for any salary that wish above the league minimum. Typically first year players earn the league minimum and players who have been on the roster a little longer earn a touch more. These players have no salary concern so the only real question is are they good enough to stay on the roster. The Pirates of course have a lot of players in this category:

Chris Leroux, Michael McKenry, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, Jared Hughes, Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Travis Snider, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, Kyle McPherson, Brock Holt, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Chase d’Arnaud, Yamaico Navarro, Daniel McCutchen, Matt Hague, Duke Welker

Some of the above will obviously be retained while others their future with the club is murky at best.

Will Be Retained: Michael McKenry, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, Jared Hughes, Travis Snider, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, Kyle McPherson, Brock Holt, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Duke Welker

Uncertain Future: Chris Leroux, Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Chase d’Arnaud, Yamaico Navarro, Daniel McCutchen, Matt Hague

Analysis: The first group that is consists of players I believe will definitely be retained is pretty self-explanatory. Some of the players are going to be expected to be key contributors (McKenry, Watson, Hughes, Snider, Marte, McPherson, Locke, Morris) while others will be brought back as depth (Harrison, Presley, Mercer, Holt, Wilson, Welker). The second group is the more interesting one when it comes to roster decisions. Not all of them will be let go but I believe a large number of them will be. Of the second group I believe Chris Leroux’s spot is the most secure as I seem him being in line to be the long relief man out of the bullpen next season. The removal of anyone else would not come as a surprise to me but I’m leaning toward d’Arnaud and McCutchen being retained and the rest being left go. Navarro and Hague were not brought up in September which says the Pirates aren’t too high on them. VandenHurk and Clement looked pretty bad during their short stints in September. I think it is nearly certain Clement will be gone but VandenHurk has a chance at staying. I can’t imagine the Pirates attempting to carry Nunez next year under his Rule V restrictions so I expect him to be gone. Finally Fryer seems rather exppendable with Sanchez and possibly Cabrera being added to the roster. As for McCutchen I think he stays since he has another option left and can be a fungible 9th or 10th bullpen option who can be stashed in AAA and d’Arnaud stays because he started to show some signs of getting back on track near the end of the season.

Arbitration Eligible

These are the players who go into next year not under contract but still under Pirates control but they can not just be assigned a salary. Typically this group makes up a rather large chunk of the Pirates payroll for a season and this season will be the same thing. This year’s arbitration class is:

Joel Hanrahan

Jeff Karstens

Charlie Morton

Garrett Jones

Chris Resop

James McDonald

Neil Walker

Gaby Sanchez

The Pirates will have to decide who of the above will be worth the salary they are likely to command through the arbitration process. I believe 5 of the above 8 players will definitely be tendered while the other 3 all have at least a chance to be. For the first time in a while I see no blatantly obvious non-tenders.

Will Be Tendered: Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, James McDonald, Neil Walker, Gaby Sanchez

Might Not Be Tendered: Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, Chris Resop

Analysis: Each player in the first group will be tendered a contract by the Pirates that is all but guaranteed but there are questions about all of them such as will they play with the Pirates in 2013 and if so what will their role be? Walker seems to be the most stable but his back issues throw even his status into question. Of the other I can’t see the Pirates not tendering Karstens but there has been a lot of talk that suggests that such a thing is possible. I could see them tendering and then trading him or trading him before he needs to be tendered (ala Jose Veras) but not just non-tendering him. Morton is the one who I believe has the strongest chance of being non-tendered. His injury is going to keep him out until at least the middle of the year and paying a pitcher of Morton’s quality probably just a little under 3 million for a few months of work is something the Pirates shouldn’t do. I suspect that the Pirates and Morton will try to work out a minor league contract though so he remains in the organization. Resop is the ultimate 50/50 propositions. He is likely going to cost somewhere between 1-1.5 million this season which isn’t bad but he is a middle reliever who struggled to miss bats this season so the Pirates could choose to move on and go with a younger/cheaper option. Of this group I expect Hanrahan and Karstens to be traded, Morton to be non-tendered but signed back on a minor league deal, Resop to be non-tendered and probably sign elsewhere and the other 4 to return and play a significant role with the 2013 Pirates.

Under Contract

The Pirates have what I believe is for them an abnormally high number of players under contract for next season. Granted that is only 5 players plus 2 options but still that seems a touch higher than past year’s but then again I could be wrong on that front. Anyway those players are:

Under Contract: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Clint Barmes

Has An Option: Pedro Alvarez, Rod Barajas

Analysis: First lets deal with the option year players because they are rather simple to evaluate. Alvarez’s option will of course be picked up and Barajas’s will of course be declined. Unfortunately I am not ready to rule out the possibility of the Pirates resigning Barajas at a lower rate. As for the players under contract Burnett and Rodriguez will be back and headlining the front of the rotation and McCutchen will continue to be the face of the franchise and the key player in the lineup. Tabata and Barmes are two players the Pirates may look to move but I’ll expect both will be back Barmes as the starting shortstop (hopefully sharing playing time with someone else) and Tabata as the 4th outfielder possibly splitting time in right field with Travis Snider.

Free Agents

The Pirates have 4 players on their roster who are going to be free agents and while it is not the Pirates way to resign players they deserve mention here as well. The 4 players are:

Free Agents: Kevin Correia, Jason Grilli, Hisanori Takahashi, Chad Qualls

Analysis: I don’t see any way Correia will return; I can see the Pirates possibly wanting him back but I don’t think that feeling will be mutual. Takahashi and Qualls are two fungible relievers whom the Pirates could possibly consider resigning when it comes time to cobble a bullpen together but I expect that they will go another direction. The last player, Jason Grilli, is one I expect the Pirates to make a serious effort to try and resign. It would not be wise for the Pirates to sign Grilli to a big contract but something in the neighborhood of 2 years and 8 million dollars could make a whole lot of sense. However I believe we have seen our last of Grill and that the back of the bullpen will have a very different look next season.

Recap

So there you have it. Below I’m going to post a summary of whom I predict will be affected by these internal roster decisions.

Rule V Players Added: Tony Sanchez, Phillip Irwin, Victor Black

League Min Players Let Go: Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Yamaico Navarro, Matt Hague

Arbitration Eligible Players Not Tendered: Charlie Morton, Chris Resop

Options Not Picked Up: Rod Barajas

Players Traded: Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens

Players Leaving Via Free Agency: Jason Grilli, Kevin Correia, Chad Qualls, Hisanori Takahashi

The Rag Tag Pitching Staff

The Pittsburgh Pirates have built a pitching staff a bit differently than the two traditional models. When thinking about how to build a pitching staff most people think about the Yankees who sign a lot of high profile free agents or the Rays who draft and develop a large stable of good arms. The Pirates however has done none of these. I’m going to explore how the current 12 man pitching staff plus the top reserves came to join the Pirates.

Drafted: Tony Watson, Brad Lincoln, Daniel Moskos, Jared Hughes

Traded: A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Joel Hanrahan

Free Agents: Erik Bedard, Kevin Correia

Minor League Free Agents: Jason Grilli, Juan Cruz

Waivers: Chris Resop, Chris Leroux

Rule V: Evan Meek

So lets take a closer look at each of the above 17 player’s situations:

Watson: Converted starter, who was given up on by the Littlefield regime

Lincoln: Former top draft pick, who has the look of a bust and is trying to recover some value

Moskos: Highly criticized 1st round pick, who failed as a starter and is trying to make it as a reliever

Hughes: Probably the most typical of the group but he too is a failed starter trying to make it in the bullpen

Burnett: High profile free agent signed by the NYY whom essentially paid the Pirates to take him away

Morton: Major league pitcher who was traded along with two prospects to acquire a decent outfielder in Nate McLouth

McDonald: Major league pitcher who was traded along with a prospect to acquire a relief pitcher, Octavio Dotel

Karstens and McCutchen: The two lesser players the Pirates received in the Nady/Marte deal who’s return was headlined by Tabata and Ohlendorf

Hanrahan: Swapped for Sean Burnett to balance out trade because Nationals thought Milledge for Morgan deal favored Pirates slightly

Bedard: Oft injured fragile pitcher who after a rocky showing in Boston drew little interest this past offseason

Correia: Low level free agent starter signing who the year before the Pirates signed him was sent to the bullpen because of poor perfroamnce

Grilli: Signed from the Phillies AAA team and the Pirates had to give no compensation

Cruz: Minor league free agent signing

Resop and Leroux: Expendable relievers picked up off the waiver wire

Meek: Selected by the Pirates in the Rule V draft and after failing to stay on the roster the Rays essentially gave him to the Pirates

So there you have a collection of cast aways, failed starters, busted first round picks and non-desirables make up your 2012 Pittsburgh Pirate pitching staff. This is a miss-mash rag tag group if I have ever seen one yet I’m rather weirdly comforted by this staff. It isn’t a great staff but this has the ability to be a very good starting staff and with any semblance of offense could help lead the Pirates to a record they haven’t seen in quite a while.

On the flip side the offense, which I have little confidence in, is made of highly touted first round picks, big time former prospects, mid-level free agent signings and depth players who had very successful minor league careers. Just looking at the two side’s resumes one would assume the hitters are the good half of the Pirates and the pitchers are struggling but we all know that is not the case.

2012 Expectations: Starting Pitchers

STARTERS

Erik Bedard: Signed this offseason to a 1 year 4.5 million dollar contract Bedard instantly becomes the Pirates most talented pitcher. Bedard’s “stuff” is that of a high end number #2 starter but he comes with the downside of a long injury history. From 2008 through 2012 Bedard only pitched 164 major league innings of baseball. He is coming off a 129.1 innings performance from last year though. It would be foolish to expect a full season of work from Bedard but if the Pirates can get similar numbers from last season (20-25 starts; 8+ K/9: 3.6 ERA) he would be well worth the price they paid for him and that is basically what I am expecting.

A.J. Burnett: Burnett, the newest addition to the Pirates staff. His acquisition has been much debated during the week long process it took to acquire him. Some say he has lost it others expect him to rebound. Me? I think the Pirates could have gotten him for less but I think he will prove to be worth the price they paid. I don’t see him becoming a top of the rotation starter but I can see him pitching 180-200 innings, striking out nearly a batter an inning and having an ERA in the low 4s. His ability to eat innings will greatly help out the Pirates bullpen and by all accounts I’ve heard he works well with young pitchers so the Pirates have that going for them. Above all he adds depth and that is much needed.

James McDonald: McDonald is coming off what appears to be a poor showing in 2011 but in fact he did end up pitching better than his numbers indicate. After missing mostly all of spring training due to injury McDonald struggled to begin the season in April but rebound nicely posting an ERA below 4 for the months from May-August. I see McDonald being the Pirates breakout pitcher this season. This does not mean I see McDonald becoming an ace but rather I see him pitching 180 innings while compiling an ERA of around 3.80 and a strike out rate near 8 K/9.

Charlie Morton: Last year’s surprising breakout star finished the season with worse numbers than one would have expected. His season wasn’t bad by any stretch but he did struggle going down the stretch and especially had trouble getting lefties out. Coming into this season the main concerns about Morton is sustaining his success and improving against left handers. I have little doubt that he will succeed in doing both this season but to what extent? I don’t see him regressing to his 2012 numbers and I do see him improving against left handed hitters but on the flip side I see right handed hitters faring better against him and I see him slipping mildly. There is an injury concern here to start the season but I see that becoming a non issue by May. I do not see great things from Morton but I see a solid season with an ERA around 4.00.

Jeff Karstens: Ah, Kartsens. What to say about him? He is everyone’s pick to seriously regress this season and while that probably will happen I think most people are going a little too far with it. Karstens can pitch, always could, he is the type of guy you want on your staff either as a back of the rotation starter or as a utility pitcher in the bullpen. I see no way he keeps his ERA below 3.5 again this year but I don’t see him bombing out of the rotation. I must admit Karstens is a favorite of mine and I have always been rooting for him with that being said my outlook is not just based in that but rather his performance. Karstens got lucky last season but his xFIP was still 4.00; that isn’t great but that isn’t horrible either. I see Karstens falling back to earth and settling in as the Pirates #5 meaning an ERA in the 4.20 range.

DEPTH

Kevin Correia: Correia started the season on a hot streak last year, leading the league in wins through the first few months. He was the face of the new found Pirate road warrior approach at the beginning of last season. Truth be told he is not as good as he started last season and we seen that in his late season collapse but he is also not as bad as his late season collapse. All offseason Pirate fans have been talking about getting him out of the rotation and with the acquisition of A.J. Burnett it appears the Pirates have done that. However Correia is still going to be counted on to start a lot of games. Injuries and underperformance are all going to come into play and force the Pirates to send someone else out to the mound. Correia has an option left  but due to his experience would have to give his consent to be sent to AAA, he may give it knowing staying with the Pirates is his best chance at starting but if he doesn’t he would make a good long man / spot starter out of the bullpen. I expect another replacement level year.

Brad Lincoln: Once a highly regarded pitching prospect Lincoln has fallen from grace but he still appears as if he could be a useful player. Coming in is as a depth starter once again, Lincoln will almost assuredly find himself called upon sometime this season, possibly even early on. He comes with a little upside but at this point Lincoln looks like little more than possible a very solid #4 starter. Lincoln should start the season in AAA and while he doesn’t need any more experience there he will be there for major league depth purposes. Lincoln will get a chance to prove himself this season and I think he will do a respectable job. He won’t post great numbers but I see an ERA in the 4.5 area. He will pitch well enough to give the Pirates some confidence in him possibly making one of Karstens/Morton/McDonald expendable.

Jeff Locke: Despite the fact Locke came up late last season for a cup of coffee in the majors Locke is still a work in progress and needs more time in the minors. Locke appears to have a very limited upside at this point but conversely his floor looks like a back of the rotation starter, meaning there is value in him. To me Locke appears to be something of a Paul Maholm-lite. Once again I see nothing spectacular coming from Locke but if called upon he should do a respectable job in the majors.

Rudy Owens: Owens entered last season as the prospect that appeared closest to major league ready but after a strong first two months Owens hit a rough patch and was passed up by Jeff Locke. Owens is still a talented pitcher and could very well help the Pirates at some point this season but it is apparent he still has some work to do. He has a higher upside than Locke but he also comes with slightly more risk. I have always been a fan of how Owens pitching and I see him coming through with a strong season in AAA and getting a chance in the majors. By the end of the season I could see him passing both Locke and Lincoln on the depth chart.

Others: If the Pirates need another starter outside of the ones I discussed hopefully it will be late enough in the season that a prospect like Kyle McPherson is ready. If not the Pirates will likely be forced to turn to a pitcher like Daniel McCutchen, Jo-Jo Reyes, Daniel Cabrera or Shairon Martis. McCutchen I will discuss amongst the relievers as he is likely to start the season there either in the majors in AAA. Reyes will also probably be given a chance to win a bullpen job because of the Pirates dearth of left handed relievers but he has been a barely passable spot starter so the Pirates could turn to him if needed. Cabrera is probably well past his time of usefulness but if he shows something down in AAA he too could be in a line for a spot start. The most intriguing of all the last ditch starting options available to the Pirates is Shairon Martis. Martis will begin the season having just turned 25 and actually has a little bit of upside. He pitched respectably in AAA in 2010 and was pretty good in AA last season. Martis will probably be nothing more than a spot starter but his slight upside makes him the best bet to be promoted should the need arise.

TOP PROSPECTS

Gerrit Cole: Cole is universally considered one of the Pirates top 2 prospects. He has yet to throw a major league pitch but due to his pedigree and the fact he is coming out of a high profile college Cole is expected to move through the system quickly and make an impact on the majors some time during the 2013 season. As for the 2012 season it appears Cole will start the season in A+ but it is my thinking that it may just be to have him skip the early season cold weather in Altoona. I would not be at all surprised and in fact I am expecting Cole to be promoted to AA around Memorial Day. Expectations are high for Cole this season I do not think he will disappoint.

Jameson Taillon: Taillon is the other prospect who is universally regarded as one of the Pirates top two prospects. He is a similar player to Cole but is a behind him in his development because he came out of high school. There were questions last year about how the Pirates handled Taillon in A ball last season but I think they did the right thing by just easing him to pro ball; this is the season where they need to loosen the reigns a little bit. Like Cole, Taillon will likely start the season in A+ but unlike Cole a quick promotion to AA is probably not in the cards. The Pirates are likely going to take it a little slow with Taillon and let him spend most if not all of the season in A+. I think Taillon is going to have a good season but I think his overall line is going to disappoint people, as I have said before the Pirates A+ team, the Bradenton Marauders play in a hitter friendly stadium so I expect his numbers to suffer slightly.

Luis Heredia: Heredia might have the highest upside of any Pirate pitching prospect but at 17 years old he is very raw and very far from the majors. His numbers last year may not look too impressive but if you stop and consider the fact he was essentially a high school sophomore pitching in a pro league they begin to look fairly good. The Pirates are going to proceed cautiously with Heredia so expect him to start the year in extended spring training and then be assigned to short season ball. Short season ball is usually where just drafted college players go so the level of competition he will see there should be a good test for him. At this stage in his development it is too early to say what will be a successful season just by statistics alone but nevertheless I am expecting a good showing from Heredia in short season ball this year.

Kyle McPherson: Of all the Pirates top pitching prospects McPherson is the closest to being major league ready. After putting up very strong numbers in A+ last year McPherson was promoted to AA and continued to pitch well. His upside is not as high as the other top pitching prospects but his close proximity to the majors makes him the safest bet to make an impact in the majors. McPherson will likely start the season in AAA and could be ready for the majors by mid season. I don’t expect him to put up dominating numbers from the start but I see him settling down as the year progresses and putting up a solid season. The Pirates have a few other options in Owens and Locke who will likely get a chance before McPherson so I don’t expect to see him in the majors until September.

Nicholas Kingham: Often overlooked Kingham was the Pirates 4th round pick in the 2010 draft. At the time he was overshadowed by fellow draft picks Taillon and Allie however that changed last season when Kingham put up dominating numbers in short season ball. After last season’s strong showing Kingham is now considered a borderline top 10 prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. He will likely start this upcoming season in A ball and it will be interesting to follow him and see how he performs. Kingham has a good bit of upside and could one day develop into a top of the rotation starter but he still has a good ways to go in his development. There is no reason to assume his numbers last year were not legit so I am expecting a strong showing from Kingham this year and I could see him as a candidate for the Pirates minor league pitcher of the year.

Colton Cain: Cain is one of the many high upside project-able high school arms the Pirates took in the 2009 draft. At the time he was drafted he was considered by most to be the second best of all the arms but his performance since joining the organization has vaulted him over Zack Von Rosenberg and he is now the most highly regarded prospect of the group. Cain will likely move up to A+ this season and along with the rest of the pitchers the Pirates took in his draft class this could be a very telling year in whether Cain is a legit prospect or nothing more than organizational filler. My expectations is for Cain to post a good season; it won’t be enough for him to appear as a top prospect but enough for him to look like he could be a solid major league contributor one day.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Summary: This year’s Pittsburgh Pirates rotation is probably the best the team has had in a few years. There is no true ace amongst the Pirates options for this season but there are no obvious black holes either. I think the best way to sum it up is the Pirates starting rotation will scare no one, opposing fans or Pirate fans alike. While it seems possible this year’s rotation will be the best in a long time for the Pirates, brighter days are ahead. The Pirates minor leagues are filled with quite a few high upside pitchers and if just a few of them reach their potential the Pirates will have a dominating rotation in the years come. In summary the Pirates rotation is improving and there is little reason to think that it will not continue to improve; this is one of the Pirates biggest strengths.

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