One Year Ago: January Bullpen Additions

A year ago this week the Pirates signed Dotel.

In December 2009 the Pittsburgh Pirates non-tendered Matt Capps, following a season where the closer put up a 5.80 ERA in 54.1 innings.  At the time of the move, the Pirates didn’t have much to work with in their bullpen.  Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek were the only bullpen options that were locks to make the team, and they weren’t viewed as strong late inning relievers at this time last year.  The Pirates said they would re-allocate the Capps money elsewhere to upgrade the bullpen, which is exactly what happened in January 2010.

Capps ended up signing with the Washington Nationals for $3.5 M on January 6th, 2010.  Two weeks later the Pirates made their upgrades.  One year ago today, on January 16th, the Pirates made the first of their signings, adding Brendan Donnelly for $1.35 M.  A few days later, on January 20th, the Pirates signed D.J. Carrasco to a minor league deal, paying $950 K in the majors, and replaced Capps by signing Octavio Dotel to a $3.25 M deal.

Dotel had other offers, but signed with the Pirates due to the opportunity to close.  Donnelly was signed to be the set up man, pushing Hanrahan and Meek in to low pressure situations in the 6th and 7th innings.  Carrasco was brought in under a minor league deal, but was a near lock to make the team out of Spring Training.

In the short term, the decision to non-tender Capps was questioned and criticized.  My opinion was that the Pirates made a mistake letting Capps go, and that there was no reason to non-tender him.  The Pirates did make a mistake letting Capps go, as he did end up having a rebound season, rebuilding his value, and netting a top prospect for the Washington Nationals from the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline.  As I suggested last year, Capps rebounded once he returned to focusing on the fastball, throwing his heater 78.4% of the time in 2010.

While letting Capps go was a mistake, the Pirates corrected that mistake by signing Dotel.  As we know, the Pirates were able to flip Dotel at the deadline for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo.  McDonald showed a lot of potential in his time with the Pirates in 2010, and could possibly be realizing his potential from when he was the #56 prospect in baseball prior to the 2009 season.  Lambo showed an increase in his power after joining Altoona, and while he’s far from a guarantee to rebound his career, he’s still young enough to make the majors as a starting option.  Overall, the signing of Dotel has turned out to be a huge success.

The signing of Donnelly was the exact opposite.  Donnelly was coming off a great year with the Florida Marlins in 2009, with a 1.78 ERA in 25.1 innings, along with an 8.9 K/9 and a 3.2 BB/9 ratio.  His control escaped him in 2010, with a 5.58 ERA in 30.2 innings, and a 26:25 K/BB ratio.  Early in the season, Donnelly had an interesting problem where he would look good in important situations, but bomb when he was brought in while the team was behind.  By the time July rolled around, Donnelly was just bad in any situation, and was released ten days before the trade deadline.

Carrasco turned out to be a big help for the bullpen, pitching 55.2 innings prior to the trade deadline, with a 3.88 ERA, a 7.3 K/9 and a 3.6 BB/9 ratio.  He served a utility role, picking up multiple innings when needed, serving as the long reliever/mop up pitcher on occasion, and even making some late inning appearances in non-save situations.  He provided a lot of value in a year where the starting rotation was absolutely horrible.  At the deadline he was the key piece in a trade that also sent Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Chris Snyder and Pedro Ciriaco.  Church and Crosby had no value, and were essentially thrown in to off-set some of the salary from Snyder.

Snyder is a defensive-first catcher who will be the starter in 2011, and could start in 2012 until Tony Sanchez arrives.  He’s shown some power in the past, and had an OPS around .775 in 2006, 2007, 2008, and in 2010 with Arizona.  He slumped offensively with the Pirates, but if he bounces back to the .775 OPS range he could be a good stopgap option until Sanchez is ready.  Ciriaco is a defensive-minded shortstop, and rates as the best defensive middle infielder in the farm system.  He could compete for a backup role in the majors in 2011.  Ciriaco doesn’t really project as more than a bench player, since his hitting isn’t strong enough to be an everyday option, despite his strong defense.  He could get some starts in 2011, but that speaks more to the Pirates’ shortstop situation, rather than Ciriaco’s talent level.

In the span of a week, just one year ago, the Pirates made the moves to build one of their only strengths of the 2010 team.  Those additions led to the additions of James McDonald, Andrew Lambo, Chris Snyder, and Pedro Ciriaco.  The Pirates are again looking for bullpen help this January.  They’ve been targeting some expensive relievers, presumably to serve as closer options, although the list of available players is drying up.  The same can be said for left handed relievers, another area that is drying up.  I don’t think we can expect the same scenario to play out this year, not because it’s so rare to get a McDonald/Lambo/Snyder/Ciriaco return from Dotel and Carrasco, but because the market doesn’t have guys like Dotel and Carrasco available this time around, at least in the areas where the Pirates have a need.

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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, 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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