Last year, the Pirates broke camp - heck, entered camp - with their starting rotation set in stone. This coming year promises to be different, thank the baseball gods.
Paul Maholm and probably Ian Snell are the only locks. Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, and maybe Jimmy Barthmaier, will battle for the other three spots and the long man/spot starter roles in Bradenton.
The Pirates are also thought to be in the market for a middle-to-bottom end of the rotation veteran to add some stability and smarts to a young staff either through free agency or as part of a deal.
But don't forget about the star-crossed Phil Dumatrait.
Phillip Anthony Dumatrait was born on July 12, 1981 in Bakersfield, California. He played for Bakersfield High and then Bakersfield College (we guess he liked his mom's cooking) before he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2000 as the 22nd pick of the first round.
On July 30, 2003, the Reds traded Scott Williamson to the BoSox in exchange for Dumatrait, left-hander Tyler Pelland and cash. Then in 2004, Dumatrait suffered a season-ending elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery.
He missed that year, and came back in 2005. Dumatrait floated around the Reds organization in AA Chatanooga and AAA Louisville for the next couple of seasons.
He was a highly regarded arm - according to Baseball America, in his years at Boston, he was considered a mid-top ten prospect, and after struggling a bit after his surgery, he recovered enough to be the Reds sixteenth rated minor leaguer in 2007.
On September 9, 2007, Phil Dumatrait made his major league debut for the Reds against the Brew Crew.
In the first inning, he gave up four runs on five hits, including consecutive home runs to Rickie Weeks, J. J. Hardy, and Ryan Braun, the first three batters he faced. Dumatrait didn't record an out. He ended his year with an 0-4 record and 15.00 ERA.
The Red management lost all faith in him after that nightmare audition and cut him. The Pirates claimed him off waivers on October 26, 2007 after John Russell, who had faced him as a AAA manager, put in a good word for him to Neal Huntington.
Dumatrait was solid in the minors, but had control issues, both before and after the surgery. But Russell liked his stuff, a low-90s heater and OK off-speed pitches.
He never worked out of the pen, but the Pirates went into spring training with a set rotation and nobody in the minors to back it up. They eyed Dumatrait as a long reliever who'd add starting depth.
He pitched well enough to make the team out of camp, and in April, when the starters were getting bombed regularly, he put together a 3.92 ERA as a long man.
He joined the rotation when Matt Morris was released, and won his first MLB game on May 7, 2008 against the Giants, pitching 5-2/3 shutout innings.
After his first eight starts of May and early June, his ERA was 3.22, but he was raked for 14 runs in ten innings in his next two outings and went on the DL on June 22 with shoulder bursitis.
They brought him back on July 7th for one more try against the Astro's, but he was ripped again. Dumatrait went back on the DL on July 11th for good.
He eventually had a scope done to correct an impingement in the shoulder (the shoulder blade rubs on the rotator cuff) on October 3rd. A season that started with so much promise ended up 3-4, with a 5.26 ERA. That's the bad news. The good news is that he's expected to be good to go by spring training.
The question is which Phil Dumatrait will the Pirates see? He added a change-up to his repertoire, and it was effective. He also walked 42 guys in 78-2/3 innings, and his control was either very good or very bad, not only regarding free passes, but in keeping the ball down.
Two surgeries in 4 years kinda raises a red flag, too, although modern MLB pitchers do seem knife-happy.
Dumatrait has just 17 MLB starts under his belt. He's 27 years old, and has a pedigree as a number one pick and top prospect. His upside is pretty obvious, even if his clock is running.
We think that he's very like to be part of the rotation come April. If he can regain his May form, the Pirates have cleared one huge hurdle awaiting them in 2009, and Joe Kerrigan will look a heckuva lot smarter without making a move.
In fact, we look forward to a much improved staff in 2009. Now if the Bucs can find any bats to support them...