Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pirate Bullpen

Unlike the starting rotation, there's lots of mix-and-match possibilities in the 2011 bullpen, especially among the long guys.

Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, Chris Resop and Joe Beimel are locks (Beimel can opt out of his contract if he's not on the 25-man roster and is the only veteran lefty), so that leaves three spots.

Jeff Karstens and Jose Veras are both strong candidates to win a job...except that Jose Ascanio and Kevin Hart are both out of options, and the loser of the great #5 starter shootout between Charlie Morton (also out of options)and Scott Olsen could end up stashed in the pen, too.

Olsen, who has options, can be sent down to Indy if he loses out to Morton. But as a lefty, there may be some sentiment to keep him available. Other lefties available are Brian Burres, a southpaw Karstens clone, and Justin Thomas. Both are more likely to start out the year in AAA, as may Daniel Moskos and Tony Watson, the future of the bullpen from the port side.

Donnie Veal is out of the equation this year, though he should resume pitching for keeps later in the season.

The possible options from the right side are more numerous and proven: Chris Leroux, Daniel McCutchen, Sean Gallagher, Tyler Yates, Cesar Valdez, and Fernando Nieve, along with youngsters Michael Crotta and Ramon Aguero.

Of the second group, none are in eminent danger of being lost; the 40-man roster guys have options; the others are signed to minor-league deals.

That alone puts them in second-class citizen status, at least so far as breaking camp with the team, although a lot can happen in six weeks to muddy the picture. But if everyone stays healthy and the Pirates resist picking up any late cuts, the main questions will be:

-- Is Hanrahan or Meek gonna close? Meal Huntington has all but said they've made their decision; GW agrees with most of the blogosphere in expecting Hanny to get the nod; prior experience, better K rate, and two years of team control, making him an easily movable piece if he pitches well.

-- What do they think of Morton, Hart, and Ascanio? All either stick or go through waivers (although Hart may get a brief reprieve on the DL). Are the Pirates in love enough with their potential to have them hang around another year or just them them move along and hope the young guns are ready to move up?

-- If Olsen loses out, do they keep him as a second lefty or ship him down to get his innings at Indy?

-- Will everyone perform as expected in camp? Remember, Morton and Hart were virtually guaranteed spots last year until they both blew up in Bradenton. The possibility remains that although spring training results are the most useless evaluation aids imaginable, a slotted arm or two could underperform its way off of the 25-man roster.

-- Injuries and waiver wire players have been the calling cards of the current FO's rosters, so they may have an effect in March.

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