Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #19

Question #1:
Before the games get going, what is the ideal makeup of the Pirates’ bullpen in your eyes?

Wilbur Miller from Pirate Player Profiles:
Carrying seven relievers is written in stone as long as Littlefield is GM, so I don’t even think about it any more. The loser of Armas/Chacon shouldn’t make the team, because if it’s Armas it’ll be because he’s hurt, and if it’s Chacon, because he sucks. They need to get out from under as much as possible of his wildly excessive salary by cutting him in Spring Training. Kolb is a mistake waiting to happen. He sucked the last two years, his K rate has disappeared, he wouldn’t listen to Leo Mazzone of all people, and if he isn’t given a late-inning role he’s going to start complaining. Allan Simpson is much more interesting, as he throws hard, has had a good K rate, and did OK (considering it was in Colorado) in his one real major league trial.
Torres, Capps, Marte and Grabow are locks, after that it should be an open competition between Sharpless, Bayliss, Simpson, Chavez, Perez and Rogers, and maybe McLeary and Youman. A lot of these guys are going to be up and down during the year, anyway. I don’t see the point in Littlefield putting most of his efforts the last few years into acquiring upper-level bullpen prospects if he’s not going to use them. Capps and Marte are the primary setup guys unless somebody else does better. That sort of thing should always be open to change based on performance. Herrera needs to be ready to step in as a starter. No way he pitches in relief for now.

Randy from Pittsburgh Lumber Co.:

The obvious four starters are Duke, Snell, Gorzelanny and Maholm with the fifth TBD. In the pen you have four no brainers–Torres, Marte, Capps and Grabow. I prefer a 12-man staff, so that leaves four spots left to the following guys:
Armas, Bayliss, Brower, Burnett, Chacon, Chavez, Gyrboski, Herrera, Kolb, Kuwata, McLeary, Perez (Juan), Rogers, Sharpless, Simpson, Van Benschoten, Wasdin, Youman.
Given that the Pirates went out of there way to retain Chacon and sign Armas, both those guys make the club (even if they shouldn’t make it) barring an “Operation Shutdown” type of performance. I’d say that they are the favorites for the #5 spot, but I’d love to see either Burnett or Van Benschoten earn the final spot in the rotation. If it isn’t a young guy, I hope it is Armas. That’ll push Chacon to the pen. I’m assuming Van Benschoten will start in AAA if he doesn’t make the big club. I’d round out the pen with two of the three from Burnett, Sharpless and Youman. This is based partially on lefty/righty balance, last year’s performance, nobody pitching terribly in Spring Training games and the assumption that everybody is healthy. It’d be great if the Bucs had the guts to let Chacon go (and Armas, as well, if he pitches poorly in Florida). Doubtful.

D.J. from The Derek Bell Yacht Co.:

If I’m the Pirates, I’m taking seven relievers because not only is this the strongest component of our roster right now, but the bullpen can be very valuable in determining the overall success of the team. Look at the Indians last year…in 2005, they led the AL in bullpen ERA, but dropped to the bottom of the league in that category in 2006. Thus, they went from 93 wins in ’05 to 78 in ’06. The Pirates need a strong bullpen to hold leads for our young starting pitchers. I am assuming that Armas will out-duel Chacon for the fifth spot in the rotation; if so, I would cut Chacon and only pay one-sixth of his salary. However, if he does show some of the promise he displayed at the end of last season (after Colborn tinkered with his mechanics), I would be enticed to hold onto him in case of injury. Dan Kolb should slide into Roberto Hernandez’s role as a late-inning setup guy who gets occasional chances to close, with Matt Capps playing Torres’ 2006 role.
I would be hesitant to use Yoslan Herrera at all in the bullpen if we view him as a long-term option for our rotation. If he has a strong spring, why not include him in the conversation for the fifth starter’s spot, especially if Armas and Chacon falter? It’s pretty likely, though, that he will end up in Indy’s rotation–which might be the best possible scenario for Yoslan and for the Bucs. I see Juan Perez having a strong ST and making the team as the final guy chosen. Torres closes…no doubt about it. He had been suggested as a possible closer candidate three or four years ago because of his live arm. Some observed how he was able to mow down the opposing lineup with ease the first time through the lineup, but ran out of gas as the game wore on. It’s the perfect role for him, and it also allows him to extend his career by not pitching every day.
Cory, the moderator:
With an added emphasis on ideal, but not necessarily practical:
Ian Snell would close. Any time a scout mentions his name, it’s to say how much better he’d look in the bullpen. Snell says Snell has the makeup to be a nasty closer. He has the personality (and live arm) for the job. That would leave Salomon Torres and Matt Capps to be 90-inning workhorses again in 2007; it’s essential that the Pirates have them available every day as I don’t count on our young pitchers working deep into ballgames.
John Grabow and a healthy Sean Burnett would take the ball from the left side as setup guys. Grabow started slow last year but salvaged his season with a stronger second half. Before his injury (and before AAA), Burnett was a left-handed Matt Capps–a control freak. Why not protect his arm and turn him loose in the pen, a la Kerry Wood?
Two spots left: One goes to Josh Sharpless, as he earned it with his meteoric rise through the minors last year. I’d at least give him a chance to prove himself in April and May before turning to someone like Bayliss, Chavez or Rogers. Damaso Marte is my LOOGY. He’s devastating against lefties; let’s use him on Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey, Prince Fielder, et al. There’s no need for him to face more than a batter or two per game.
Bones from Honest Wagner:
With all the young arms, the Bucs will need seven relievers. Torres closes plus gets regular work in stretches where no saves can be had. Capps, Grabow and Marte all set up Sully. That leaves three spots. Yoslan should definitely be in a rotation, Altoona at first, then moved up when ready. Chacon has two serious knee injuries (meniscus damage and arthritis), neither of which will heal and both of which should be exacerbated by pitching. Ideally, Armas wins the fifth starter battle easily. Cutting Chacon would save the Bucs $3.2 million, but DL has stated he has no intention of doing this. It seems that Chacon (and Kolb) will make the roster, no matter how they pitch. Of the “prospects”, Sharpless, Bayliss and Juan Perez could all be ready. Ideally, the roster should be determined by who looks best this spring.
Alan from Bucco Wire:
The Pirates always seem to carry as many relievers as they can, believing in pitching to help the team the most. I see them keeping seven relievers for most, if not all, of the season. The loser of Armas/Chacon will get the long relief job, if only for a little bit. I see Dan Kolb making the roster and pitching the first half of the season. He may be up for a trade at the deadline, although not for much, but I don’t see him staying with the team all season. I’d like to see Yoslan Herrera as a starter. The Pirates need a right-handed starter right now more than a reliever. I let him start in AAA and build himself up. It’ll be up to him and his performance to see where he goes from there. The same thing goes for the prospects. I’d have them starting down in the minors and working toward coming up. Capps/Marte combination is the logical choice to set up for Torres.
Question #2:
What should the Pirates’ bench look like?

Wilbur Miller from Pirate Player Profiles:
The biggest problem with the bench is that Littlefield didn’t find a utility infielder better than Hernandez. It wouldn’t have been hard to find one, but Tracy’s love affair with Jose won out, apparently. I see no point at all in a third catcher. You’re blowing a roster spot on a useless bat like Cota just to protect against the chance that the emergency catcher, whoever that is, might have to catch an inning or two once all year. I also don’t think Matos should be a lock. McLouth and Bautista can back up Duffy. It’s the same basic mistake–you don’t need a guy who can be an everyday center fielder when he’s only going to be the fifth outfielder.
The bench should be McLouth, Castillo/Bautista, Doumit, Hernandez I guess, and whoever looks best out of Matos and Gerut, assuming Jody ever plays again. I’d try to get Doumit as close as possible to 300 at bats, mainly in right field and at catcher against right-handed pitchers. Bautista should be spelling Castillo, Jack, Sanchez and Duffy regularly enough to also get close to 300 ABs. Or, if he wins a starting job, same for Castillo. Hernandez should bat only against left-handed pitchers. He should rank below Zach Duke as a choice to bat against RHPs.
Randy from Pittsburgh Lumber Co.:
Obvious players making the trip north are Bautista, Bay, Castillo, Doumit, Duffy, Laroche, Nady, Paulino, Sanchez and Wilson. The only player on the bubble from that list is Doumit. But according to the Post-Gazette, management has taken note of his attitude and work ethic. So, he’s going to make it. The only reason to keep a third catcher is if there are questions about Doumit’s ability to squat with any regularity. I’m going to be bold and assume he could catch 40 times per year or more. So, Cota and Einar Diaz are toast. I’d like to see McLouth, Eldred and Matos/Gerut get the final three spots. Eldred is a tough one because he can only play first. So, I think the team will continue to beer goggle Jose Hernandez and keep him around because of his positional flexibility. That gives you five outfielders, five infielders and two catchers plus Bautista who plays the infield and outfield.

D.J. from The Derek Bell Yacht Co.:

To me, the Pirates have five guys on the bench. They should not carry a third catcher whatsoever: please cut Humberto Cota! He serves no other purpose than as a bullpen catcher for Spring Training. I’m taking both Jose Hernandez and Nick Green…Hernandez because of his ability to play every infield position and right field; Nick Green because he had an .868 OPS in July/August when he got a chance to start regularly for the Yankees due to injuries. If Jose Castillo shows that he has not improved one iota since the end of last season, I might be inclined to start Bautista at third base and use Castillo off the bench. However, I expect we’ll see Castillo in the lineup on Opening Day and that Bautista will see time at center field, right field, third base, and second base throughout the season.
Nate McLouth is the only “real outfielder” that makes the squad right out of camp because of the ability of Bautista, Doumit and Hernandez to also play in the outfield if needed. Bautista and McLouth could see time in both center and right, with Doumit and McLouth occasionally platooning with Xavier Nady in right. If I were Jim Tracy, I would try to run my regulars out there as much as possible. Throughout the course of the season, though, there are always injuries and tough stretches in which you may need a different combination of players to keep winning games. That shouldn’t be any different this year. I believe that the bench this season for the Pirates may be the best it’s been in a long time if Doumit can stay healthy and if Bautista obtains more at-bats.
Cory, the moderator:
Again, there’s a gap between what should and what will happen. Humberto Cota should not be a big-league catcher; unfortunately, he will be. Jose Hernadez should be a 25th man on a contender, but he will be the 21st or 22nd man on the Pirates. To be concise: I’d give Ryan Doumit another chance to earn a spot (although he’s never proven himself capable of hitting at a professional level for more than a couple hundred at bats) and I’d see if Nate McLouth can find a bit more power in his small frame. He teed off on a few pitchers last year, and it’d be swell if he could contribute as a fourth outfielder. Bautista is more valuable as a bench guy than Castillo is, so I’d let Jose be our utility man and Jose be our second baseman. I’m thinking that’s the five-man bench we’ll see heading to Houston; I suppose Luis Matos could bump Cota or Hernandez, but the odds aren’t in his favor.
Bones from Honest Wagner:
The Pirates’ bench should look like: Jose Hernandez, Steve Finley, Hee Seop Choi, Dave Ross and Robin Ventura. Now that was a bench. This year we’ll have to settle for just Jose H., leaving four spots. One goes to Castillo/Bautista who will help the older Jose back up the infield. Although Jose H. can also catch, we still need a third catcher (for days when Doumit and Paulino start, and Jose H. is starting and batting sixth). So Cota makes the cut. Two spots left. Green, Edwards? No, no. At first I thought it obvious that only one of McLouth or Matos should make the team, unless Duffy doesn’t look ready to go. But I don’t see who else is even ready. Gerut still isn’t running and Eldred needs to play everyday. So be prepared for having the game on the line and looking down the bench for a PH to see Jose H., Cota, Matos and McLouth. One way the front office could distract fans from such unpleasantry is to add some kind of gimmick, like make the bench guys all wear eyepatches, and parrots on one shoulder.
Alan from Bucco Wire:
Castillo starts for me. And it’s his last season to start for me. This would be his last chance and it might just be to show him off for trade bait. I still give Bautista any at-bats I can find, though, whether it be in the infield or the outfield. I’ve always been behind Nate McLouth to do something. I keep him up because of the slight pop in his bat and his patience at the plate. Give him something consistent and he’ll turn into a fine little player. Personally, I ride out my starters with the occasional rest to anyone that might need it because of a little, nagging injury. That’s not Tracy’s style, though, so I’m sure each Sunday we’ll see a new lineup with the reserves playing key roles all throughout the field.

Author: Randy Linville

Randy is currently living and thriving in suburban Dayton, OH with his wife and two kids. He was raised in Cincinnati, OH and attended Anderson High School. He went to Miami University (Ohio) and received a degree in Paper Science Engineering from MU. He is a devout Christian and a pop culture buff. He coaches his son’s baseball and basketball teams and his daughters softball and basketball teams. Randy has been a Pirates fan since the late 1970s and has fond memories of the 1979 World Series team. He began blogging for Most Valuable Network in 5/2004 after stumbling across a help-wanted sign for a Pirates blogger. He wrote for Pittsburgh Lumber Co. until the site merged with Pirates Prospects in 2/2011.

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  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    The big-money question: Would you rather have Chacon at $3.2 million or the Honus Wagner card at $2.3m?

  • Vaughn

    Bones, that was hilarious. Eye patches all around, I say. Maybe it’ll improve our hitters’ ability to draw a walk.

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