Tonight I wrote about how the Altoona Four is providing depth for the majors, as well as trade chips if the Pirates need to go that route. The tendency when talking about any position is to look at the position, find the bare minimum amount of players needed, and start discussing any excess in trade talks. There is never any consideration given to keeping the extra players around for depth.
Take the outfield situation, as an example. Starling Marte will eventually arrive in the majors, which will force one of Alex Presley or Jose Tabata to the bench. The quick reaction is a suggestion that the Pirates could trade one of the two outfielders. But is there any crime in keeping both of them, and using one as a fourth outfielder, or a strong backup should one of the starting three go down with an injury?
When it comes to pitchers, there’s even more of a need for depth. Pitchers get hurt. That’s just their thing. The Pirates had ten starters make at least one start in 2011, and seven of those starters made eight starts or more. In 2010 the Pirates had 11 pitchers make at least one start, and nine starters made nine starts or more. Same story in 2009. Nine starters with one or more starts. All nine made six or more starts, and seven of them made ten or more starts.
This year the Pirates have used six pitchers in the rotation, mostly because of pre-season injuries to A.J. Burnett and Charlie Morton, and an in-season injury to Jeff Karstens. Going forward, the Pirates aren’t going to get by on just those six pitchers. Some players will be injured. Some players will struggle. Before the Pirates could consider trading off any starters, here is a look at how many pitchers they would actually need this season.
Erik Bedard - Let’s start with Bedard, as there’s little chance he’s making it through the season healthy. The question for Bedard the last few years hasn’t been “will he get hurt?”, but “when will he get hurt?” He made 24 starts last year. That could be seen as a best case scenario for the Pirates, which means they’d be looking for at least eight more starts.
Kevin Correia - He’s in the rotation now, but he’s not a long term solution, and he’s not a guy who is hard to replace. If I were making the call, I’d move him to the bullpen as depth and bring up Rudy Owens. As I wrote the other day, the Pirates should make that type of move the first excuse they get. Correia’s last start was bad, and the start before that was rough, with five walks in 4.1 innings. With the way Owens and Jeff Locke are pitching in Triple-A, you’ve got to figure that Correia only has one bad start left before the Pirates would have to turn elsewhere.
Charlie Morton - He had a rough start today, and his sinker has been inconsistent this year. But there’s no way he should be removed from the rotation, and the only thing that would make that happen would be an injury.
James McDonald - He’s really stepped forward this year. He and Morton have the most upside, and both are under team control for multiple years. Like Morton, an injury is the only thing that will remove McDonald from the rotation.
A.J. Burnett - He’s been very reliable the last few years, making at least 32 starts in each of the last four seasons. He only missed time this year due to his fluke injury in Spring Training, which wasn’t pitching related. So far this year he’s had two strong starts, and one horrendous outing. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll be in the rotation.
Jeff Karstens - As Kristy Robinson wrote yesterday, he’s moving in the right direction in the rehabbing process. When you talk about replacements for Kevin Correia or Erik Bedard, you’ve got to figure that Karstens will be available to take one of those spots. He’s not a dominant pitcher, but he knows how to pitch, with a good ability to mix up his pitches, and pound the strike zone. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to have him in the rotation throughout the year.
As it stands right now, the Pirates have a five man rotation of Bedard, Correia, Morton, McDonald, and Burnett. Eventually they will need someone to replace Bedard due to his inevitable injury. They’ll also need someone to upgrade over Correia. I would also throw in the need for one more starting pitcher, in the event of an unforeseen injury to someone like Burnett, McDonald, or Morton. That’s a need for three starters, meaning the Pirates need to be eight deep in the rotation.
The Pirates have Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke as immediate options. Brad Lincoln could also serve as a starting option. Justin Wilson needs more time to refine his command, and that’s not a guarantee to happen. I wouldn’t be comfortable calling him up now, but in an emergency he wouldn’t be a horrible option. Jeff Karstens will eventually return, giving the Pirates another starting option. That puts the Pirates at ten starting pitching options, meaning they’d have room to deal two guys as trade chips.
Of course the reality is that the most valuable trade chips — Owens and Locke — are also the guys you’d want as the first options should the Pirates need rotation depth. So unless the Pirates somehow got value from someone like Kevin Correia or Jeff Karstens, or made a bold move and traded Erik Bedard at high value before he could get injured, they wouldn’t have the luxury of valuable trade chips AND strong rotation depth.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost 5-0 to the Reds. Game story here, including notes on Morton looking to tweak his sinker.
**Prospect Watch: Gerrit Cole strikes out five in five innings, although he gave up a season high three walks.
**Starling Marte was hit by a pitch and left the Indianapolis game with a hand injury. Nancy Zinni has more here.
**Prospect Notebook: Cole and Taillon are on the right track for Double-A.
**2009 Seventh Round Pick Trent Stevenson has retired. Stevenson was one of the nicest guys in the system. These days I find myself pulling more for individual players rather than specific teams. Stevenson is the type of guy you pull for to have success, so I wish him the best of luck and hope he finds that success in his next venture.
**The Weekly Prospect chat will return to its normal Monday time tomorrow at 2:00 PM EST. You will be able to submit questions starting at 8:00 AM.