A Tale of Two Bullpens

A few weeks ago we saw the debut of the BUCCO Fans.com time machine when we went back to the 2008 July 31st trade deadline to keep the 2008 team together.  Today we’re going to power up the time machine once again, only this time we’re just going to go back about two or three months in time.  The exact date is November 3rd, 2009.

I’d say let’s hop in and hit the road, but where we’re going, we don’t need roads.  Actually, I take that back.  It’s freaking November 3rd, 2009.  Of course we need roads.

It’s Tuesday afternoon, around lunch time.  The off-season is just in the beginning stages, not even to the point of setting the 40-man rosters or the Winter Meetings.  The Pirates are looking ahead to the 2010 season with the following bullpen:

A rumor starts to float that the Tampa Bay Rays are close to trading their second baseman, Akinori Iwamura, to a mystery team.  A few hours later, Dejan Kovacevic tells us that he is hearing the Pirates are the team getting Iwamura.  The Pirates end up trading Jesse Chavez straight up for Iwamura, filling one of their biggest holes of the off-season by adding a productive second baseman.  However, in the process they open up a hole in the bullpen.

That’s not a major problem though.  Bullpen arms emerging from nowhere is fairly common.  Just look at how Jesse Chavez emerged in 2009.  No one was talking about him this time in the 2008/2009 off-season, and he ended up as one of the top relievers for the 2009 team.

A month later the Pirates made a shocking move by non-tendering their closer Matt Capps.  Capps was coming off a very poor 2009 season, and was set to see a raise in arbitration.  He eventually signed with the Washington Nationals for a one year, $3.5 M deal, but not before more than half the league expressed interest in him.  Jeff Karstens had also been removed from the roster, although his loss didn’t provide as big of a potential impact.

Looking at the Off-Season tracker, the Pirates had added Justin Thomas, Chris Jakubauskas, Wilfredo Ledezma, and Vinnie Chulk to the organization over the off-season at the time.  Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek were the only bullpen arms who could be relied on, and even those two were unreliable.  No one knows whether Hanrahan will show up as the 2009 Washington version, the 2009 Pittsburgh version, or something in between.  Meek has struggled with his control, but managed to have a good 2009 despite the high walk rate.  Steven Jackson had a good season numbers wise, but his ratios weren’t what you want from your third best reliever.

Fast forward to the present time.  The Pirates just finished building their bullpen with the Octavio Dotel signing today, which joins the recent Brendan Donnelly and D.J. Carrasco signings, as well as the addition of Javier Lopez in mid-December.  The present day bullpen projects to be:

This brings up an interesting comparison.  The Pirates non-tendered Matt Capps, who was reported to be seeking a $3.5 M deal.  He signed that same deal with the Washington Nationals.  I don’t fully trust that Capps would have filed for $3.5 M in arbitration, as the arbitration process would have easily awarded him $4 M or more, but we’ll just assume that the $3.5 M claim is legit.

The Pirates claimed that Capps didn’t fit their internal value, and that they would use his money on other relievers.  Octavio Dotel ended up signing for $3.25 M in 2010, with an option for the 2011 season that has a $250 K buyout.  So in the end, the Pirates agreed to give Dotel the $3.5 M guaranteed, but didn’t do the same with Capps.

Therefore, you could have the first bullpen with Donnelly, Carrasco, and Lopez, and still tender a contract to Capps.  It’s unlikely that Dotel is brought in for that scenario, and Chavez would still be gone in the Iwamura trade.  Basically the Matt Capps move comes down to the following “trade”:  Matt Capps for Octavio Dotel.  Both have two years of control, and both would be guaranteed $3.5 M with no commitment to a contract in the 2011 season.  If they do receive a deal in 2011, Dotel is locked in for $4.5 M.  I would guess that a strong season by Capps would give him more through the arbitration process.

One thing is certain here.  The “internal value” line the Pirates throw out there has just been given a lot of credit.  The Pirates cited their internal value as the reason they didn’t offer the extra $500 K for Capps.  They didn’t mind paying the amount that Capps was asking for to Dotel.  You can debate whether their internal value is correct in certain cases, but it’s obvious they have some sort of plan.  One could easily infer that the Pirates value Dotel higher than Capps, and thus more deserving of the $3.5 M price tag.  The question is, are the Pirates correct?  I guess that’s a question that only can be answered by the results of the 2010 season.

Unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to get this time machine to go forward in to the future, so we can’t find out the results today.  Of course, once I do figure this out, I’m not rushing to find out who wins the Capps/Dotel battle.  Instead, I’m going to find a copy of Biff’s Sports Almanac, followed by purchasing a plane ticket to Vegas.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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