Monday, July 26, 2010

The Hill To Climb

Hey, the suits thought they had the starting pitching figured out in 2010. Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart, Paul Maholm and Zach Duke would make up a young but promising rotation, with Donnie Veal and Brad Lincoln tucked away at Indy, and Tim Alderson at Altoona. Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen were MLB ready guys if a quick call-up or spot start was needed during the long grind.

Everything seemed to be in order. But as that crafty vet, Scotsman Robert Burns noted "The best laid plans of mice and men go oft' astray." And boy, astray they went.

First, Hart couldn't beat McCutchen out of camp. Ohlie got hurt in early April; he wouldn't return until May 11th. McCutchen got bombed as a starter; so did Morton. Hart had labrum surgery. Veal had Tommy John surgery. Jose Ascanio, a potential starter, still hasn't pitched this year after shoulder surgery at the end of last season.

The dominoes started falling. Karstens become more than a long relief/spot starter; he rejoined the rotation. Lincoln was called up and sent back down. Brian Burres, Chris Jakubauskas and Dana Eveland all got starts. Duke went on the DL.

Alderson was demoted a level, and is still getting creamed as the Pirates try to defunk his motion. And as of today, the Pirate brass are consulting their ouija board for a fifth starter. Aye carumba!

The starters have an ERA of 5.42 and an 18-52 record. And next year doesn't promise to get much better.

Veal and Hart will be of no help; it will be the summer before they get to throw in a game again. Lincoln may be ready in 2011, if he's absorbed his lessons - keep the ball down, avoid the middle of the plate, and manage a game to keep out of the big inning. That's a lot of schooling.

Alderson, Bryan Morris, and Jeff Locke won't impact the MLB staff next year, if ever. Rudy Owens should be going to Indy soon; he has a puncher's chance of making the 2011 rotation at best. And all the young turks are toiling at the lower levels of the system. It'll be 2013 before any of them even are a thought to take the hill at PNC.

Ohlie, Duke and Maholm will form the backbone of the 2011 staff. Ohlendorf will be entering his first arbitration year, Duke his third (he's making $4.3M in 2010), and Maholm will be in the final year of his contract, with a 2012 team option.

Morton returning to MLB caliber is key for Pittsburgh. He doesn't hit arbitration until 2012, but this season was his last option year, so it's play him or lose him in 2011. The last starter? It's a Chinese menu; pick among Karstens, Sean Gallagher, McCutchen, and Lincoln.

So we think the 2011 rotation will be Maholm-Ohlendorf-Duke-Morton-Lincoln. Kinda like this year's staff, hey?

The system isn't devoid of arms, but between visits to the chop shop and drafts that have emphasized high school players, the timeline for in-house help is down the road.

Most MLB clubs leave room for a pitching pick-up when the free agents hit the market, and the Pirates should be looking that way. One veteran guy that's above-average - not elite; those contracts are beyond Pittsburgh's means - is something this team needs badly, a Jon Garland type of guy.

But a quick peek at the FA list for 2011 isn't promising; it features a lot of arms of the quality Pittsburgh already possesses.

So it looks like more of the same in 2011; let's hope the staff is a year wiser from this year's experiences - and the lower levels don't blow out as many arms.


Ryan said...

Well, I think it's really going to come down to whether or not the team thinks that its bats are ready to make a run in 2011. If so, I'm torn. While a Jon Garland-type would be a safe bet, I would love to see the Pirates take a big gamble and go after a couple of guys who can instantly change the complexion of the rotation. I'm talking about Brandon Webb and Brad Penny. Both will be coming off of major injuries. However, that might drive their prices down low enough that the Pirates can take a stab at them (perhaps $7 or $8 million a piece). If one or both regain their form, a mediocre rotation turns into a very strong one. However, if both flop, the Pirates will never it the end of it from their grumpiest fans and they'll be out quite a bit of cash.

Ron Ieraci said...

Not a bad idea, Ryan. I know this much; they better upgrade the rotation if they want to reverse the culture of defeat that's almost inbred in the franchise now.