Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Bullpen Rebuild

Hey, should we be worried about the 2010 Pirate bullpen? After all, the suits, in many public statements, have made it fairly clear that they believe that it's an area that's a) can be addressed year-to-year by market means, and b) not a place to tie up money.

Unlike some of the other suit philosophies, Green Weenie thinks they're right on in this case.

They've lost Solly Torres, Damaso Marte, John Grabow, Sean Burnett, Jesse Chavez, and Matt Capps since Neal Huntington's arrival. Ramon Aguero and Ronald Uviedo are the only relievers on the 40-man roster who predate the current front office.

All the gonzo guys were from the back end of the pen, and three of them signed up with other teams for $3M/year or better contracts.

Now we'll admit some of the replacements have been less than stellar - Denny Bautista, Chris Bootcheck, Romulo Sanchez, Frankie Osario, Marino Salas...but the key is none of those guys were supposed to see the ball with the game on the line. They were cannon fodder, meant to eat innings when the starters faltered early.

A bullpen is as good as the arms it can trot out to close a game in the last two or three innings; that usually requires an investment in three, maybe four pitchers. Heck, you don't even need a lights-out closer. Having Mariana Rivera is nice, but there have been plenty of closer-by-committee pens, or closer switches during the year. Just look at Pittsburgh.

We went back to Teke's last season of 1984 to see who closed: they were John Candelaria, Don Robinson, Jim Gott, Bill Landrum, Stan Belinda, Alejando Pena, Rick White, Cecilio Guante, Dan Miceli, Francisco Cordova, Rick Loiselle, Mike Williams, Jose Mesa, Mike Gonzalez, Solly Torres, and the Mad Capper.

There were a couple of clunkers in there, but all in all, they finished games pretty well and affordably over the past twenty-five years. Mike Williams closed for four years to lead the pack; Capps was actually one of our longer-tenured ninth inning men.

Let's start with the basic building block, the closer. It appears that Joel Hanrahan is the default guy, with Evan Meek on tap if he reverts to Nat days. That's one place we'd like to see a veteran guy as an insurance policy.

Octavio Dotel would do just fine if the Bucs can ink him; we're not at all convinced that Kevin Gregg is an upgrade, and there's no need for a pricey closer for a team that's still building. Ramon Aguero will be at Altoona if the fat hits the fire.

Meek and Javier Lopez will be the set-up men; its possible that one of the Cub pitchers the Bucs got for John Grabow and Gorzo, Jose Ascanio or Kevin Hart, could become late-inning guys if they fizzle as starters.

Both Tyler Yates and Neal Cotts fit in here, but neither will be back from TJ surgery until the late summer at best. Ascanio and Chris Hansen aren't throwing yet, either; their recovery timeline is still up in the air.

For a bridge arm, Steve Jackson should have a leg up on the competition. Chris Jakubauskas, Wil Ledezma, and Justin Thomas are all looking to land a spot here, too. If the Pirates are hot on DJ Carrasco, this is his place in the puzzle; he's a mid-inning pitcher, not a back ender.

For the long man/sixth starter spot, Hart, maybe Daniel McCutchen if he doesn't land a starting role, Jeff Karstens and Brian Burres are all possibilities.

It's not unusual for a bullpen to be unsettled at this time of the year; both the Brewers and Cardinals were in the same boat last year, and showed you can build a viable relief corp from scratch.

Do we like this bullpen? Not yet. It's too young and thin at the back end. But add a veteran set-up guy and have someone rise to take Matt Capp's role, and it's OK. There are still dozens of arms on the market, and we think that a couple at least will sign on for a stint at Pirate City in March.

But we do agree with the basic premise that now's not the time to load up on $3M set-up guys. In a couple of years, when a win is worth something in the standings, that may change. But for now, it looks like the suits are on the right track for filling the pen.

No comments: