Give Neal Huntington some credit. He identified players he wanted, and went after them this off season. His starting pitching faltered in the dog days of 2011, and seems to be populated by a posse of guys whose upside topped out as three-four pitchers in a big league rotation.
Huntington has ace potential guys like Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole, Luis Heredia et al in diapers at the lower levels of Pittsburgh's organization. But with last year's early success, the team had both raised fan expectations and built some good mojo to carry forward. So finding a top end arm to help keep the Bucs in business in 2012 was, despite management claims to be happy with the starters already in place, a priority.
But it's not easy being the Pirates. Roy Oswalt wouldn't return the GM's calls, and Edwin Jackson spurned one and three year overtures. But he did land one big fish in early December, lefty Eric Bedard.
We're talking about a guy that spent eight years in the AL, and posted a 3.70 career ERA with 8.8 Ks per nine innings. Unfortunately, we're also talking about a guy that's made just 165 starts covering 951 innings over that same span. He's only made 30 starts once, and never reached 200 IP. So the question regarding Bedard has nothing to do with his stuff; it's how many times will he be able to take the hill for Pittsburgh?
Since being traded from Baltimore to Seattle in 2008, Bedard has made just 54 starts due to injuries of his hip, his oblique, his shoulder (twice) and his knee. He missed all of 2010. Last season was the first time he's cracked the 100 inning barrier during that span, working 129-1/3 frames for the Mariners and Red Sox.
The silver lining is that high risk projects like Bedard fall into the willing arms of low-revenue clubs like the Pirates. He signed a $4.5M contract with another $500K in potential bonuses, half of what inning eater Paul Maholm's option was worth. And it was probably a bit of an overpay - he made $1M in 2011 and $1.5 in 2010.
It's a bet that both sides were happy to place. Bedard gets a decent one-year and out contract with a chance to rebuild his brand, and the Bucs are crossing their fingers that they get the 2006-07 version of the lefty. In those two seasons, he started 61 games, pitched 378 innings, and posted a 28-16 record with a 3.48 ERA for an Oriole team that was 45 games under .500.
After sitting out 2010 while rehabbing a shoulder injury, he showed signs of returning to his old form last year. He was only 5-9, but put up a 3.62 ERA with 125 Ks in 129-1/3 innings. Of course, he made his annual trip to the DL - he's been on it nine times during his career, seven times since 2007 - and showed a little rust when he joined the Boston rotation after a month's layoff. That wasn't surprising; he's 8-15 with a 4.51 ERA in August and September, not too surprising for a guy who's usually coming back from an injury.
OK, we guess you've figured out that Bedard isn't likely to be a horse. But he is likely to be the Pirate's best pitcher when he takes the mound. He throws a low nineties heater, a change, and uses the hook as his out pitch. Bedard has virtually no platoon split, and his ERA and xFIP are nearly twins (3.70/3.83). His fly ball - home run ratio is 9%, and his WHIP 1.317. His only negative is a bit of wildness, averaging 3.5 walks per nine innings, offset somewhat by allowing just 8 hits per game.
As far as the injuries, he's coming into 2012 with a clean slate. It's been the first off season in a spell that he's been able to condition instead of rehabbing and Bedard should enter 2012 as physically sound as he's been since his halycon days with the O's.
Realistically, the Pirates have a top gun that they hope to nurse through 25 starts and 150 innings, maybe topping out at 30 starts and 180 IP if his body cooperates. And they should have a guy that gives the team a chance to win every time he steps out of the dugout. If they get that, it'll be considered a win-win situation for both sides.