Congrats to A.J. Burnett. Bucco fans everywhere have to be thrilled with his first outing. I’ll take 30 more just like that one. The Pirates have dipped into the well of acquiring a starter from an outside source several times over the last decade. These are guns for hire – established players the Pirates brought in specifically to fill a hole in the starting rotation. So, guys like Oliver Perez and Ryan Vogelsong who had limited history in the Show are not included. Here’s a look at who they were and what they did:
By 2003 Jeff D’Amico had had enough arm trouble (five trips to the DL over six years) that few teams wanted him. When healthy, he had shown the promise (third in the NL in ERA in 2000 and NL pitcher of the month for July of that year) that had made him Milwaukee’s first pick in 1993. Pittsburgh signed him off the scrap heap and he was the fifth starter. He went on to a 9-16 mark, topping the circuit in losses. He made 29 starts and was second on the club in innings pitched. His ERA was 4.77 for an ERA+ of 92. Pittsburgh released him shortly after the season concluded.
Joining D’Amico in the rotation that season was Jeff Suppan, who was picked by Boston in the second round in 1993. He was signed as a free agent for a meager half million bucks. He had spent the previous four seasons in the Royals rotations, winning 39 games and posting ERAs that varied from about 4.50 to 5.50. Suppan was shipped to the Red Sox at the trading deadline in 2003 for what turned out to be Mike Gonzalez and Freddy Sanchez (it was a mess of a deal as Brandon Lyon was original part of the package coming from Beantown, but he failed a physical). But in his 21 starts for the Buccos, it is no exaggeration to say he pitched better than he had done or would do again. Although he would win 16 games in two different seasons with the Cardinals offense supporting him, Suppan established a career best in ERA (3.57 – later equaled in 2005 with the Redbirds), WHIP, K/BB, BB/9 and HR/9. For the Pirates in 2003, he won his first four starts and didn’t allow more than one run in any of those games. He was 10-7 when the deal was made.
In late 2004, Pittsburgh shipped Jason Kendall to Oakland for Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes. Matt Lawton was acquired from Cleveland when the Pirates almost immediately flipped Rhodes to the Tribe. Redman had won 25 games the previous two seasons, having won 14 for the Marlins in 2002 and another eleven for the Swingin’ A’s in 2004. His ERA of 3.59 for Florida in 2003 was his career best. Redman got out of the gate very well. Through his first 14 starts he delivered an ERA of 2.80 but poor run support left him with a lowly 4-4 mark. And then it fell apart. In his last 16 starts, his ERA swelled to over 7.00 and he won just one of twelve decisions. He finished 5-15 with an ERA of 4.90. After the season he was sent back to KC for a minor leaguer and Jonah Bayliss.
I don’t believe anyone expected much of Victor Santos when he joined the team in December 2005 as a Rule 5 pick from the Royals. KC had picked him up just a couple of weeks prior from Milwaukee, but didn’t put him on the 40 man roster apparently. In spite of an ERA near 5.00 and below league average in 2004, Santos managed to win eleven times for the Beer Meisters. His ERA dropped in 2005 to a more respectable 4.57, but his record regressed to 4-13. Santos started 19 times for the Pirates and was ineffective. He also made a handful of relief appearances. He finished 5-9 with an ERA of 5.70. He was signed as a free agent by the Reds following his lone season in Pittsburgh.
Fans of Craig Wilson and his regal mullet remember July 31, 2006 all too well. Wilson was shipped to the Bombers for Shawn Chacon. Pittsburgh picked up an enigmatic and talented pitcher. Chacon made the All-Star team for the Rockies in 2003 and won eleven times that year. But he was moved to the bullpen the following season. He managed to save 35 games in spite of an ERA over 7.00. He went 7-3 with a sub 3.00 ERA for the Yankees in 2005 after they got him from the Stones. But he was struggling out of the gate in 2006 (5-3 with an ERA of 7.00 on the nose) when the swap was made for Wilson. He started nine times in 2006 for the Buccos. He went 2-3 with a 5.48 ERA. He pitched primarily in relief in 2007 (four starts in 64 total appearances) as the Pirates elected to give the final rotation slot to Tony Armas. Houston signed Chacon as a free agent for 2008 and the Astros released him after he got into an altercation with General Manager Ed Wade, effectively ending his Big League career.
The 2007 version of the Pirates featured the aforementioned Armas. The son of the former slugger by the same name, Armas had won twelve games for the Expos back in 2002 and was 9-12 with the (relatively) newly minted Senators in 2006. By the time he got to Pittsburgh, he’d undergone surgery multiple times on his shoulder (labrum repair and posterior capsule release, whatever that is). He started 2007 in the rotation but was pushed to the bullpen after compiling an 0-3 mark with an 8.46 ERA after seven starts. He wasn’t all that much better in relief. He made 13 straight relief appearances with an ERA that was just a shade below 5.00. But was then inserted back into the rotation as the year wound down. He managed to go 4-5 in 31 appearances (15 starts) with an ERA of 6.03. He was not retained for 2008.
The Pirates were buyers at the trading deadline in 2007, picking up Matt Morris from the Giants for Rajai Davis. Matty Mo had won 118 games in his career to that point. He finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2001 and had played in the All-Star game twice. Injuries were taking their toll. He missed all of 1999 with Tommy John surgery. He had something called labral debridement done to his right shoulder after 2004. He was 7-7 with a 4.35 ERA with San Fran in 2007 when Pittsburgh picked him up. He made eleven starts and went 3-4 with a 6.10 ERA in 2007. He started 2008 in the rotation but was released in late April after dropping four of his first five starts and compiling an ERA of 9.67. Yes, somehow, Rajai Davis is still active. He is with the Blue Jays in 2012.
Pittsburgh took a couple of years off from bringing in established players from the outside until the 2011 season. Kevin Correia was inked by the Pirates as a free agent after winning 22 times for the Padres over the previous two years. He has looked sharp at times, primarily on the road. He finished 2011 with a 12-11 mark and he made the All-Star team. His final ERA of 4.79 was good for only and ERA+ of 80.
That’s an ugly past with many more swings and misses than solid pick ups. Hopefully A.J. Burnett will have a bright future with the Buccos. He is off to a great start.