Taking a Look at the Pirates’ Crowded Bullpen

Yesterday the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that they had signed right handed reliever Juan Cruz to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Cruz was considered one of the better set-up men in the game just a few years ago, and is coming off a pretty good year pitching out of Tampa Bay’s bullpen, one year removed from a shoulder injury.

Following the move, I raised a question on Twitter. If you assume that the Pirates will carry two left handed relievers — something that has been on Clint Hurdle’s wish list ever since he arrived in Pittsburgh — then which four right handers would you pick to fill out the bullpen?

The bullpen has become a bit crowded, which is a good problem to have. But there’s still a situation where the Pirates have more options than roster spots, which will lead to some tough decisions in Spring Training. Here are the available right handers that are either on the 40-man roster, or have an invite to Spring Training.

The closer role is excluded from this analysis, since Joel Hanrahan has his roster spot locked in.

Jason Grilli - He had a 2.48 ERA last year, and tied for the team high strikeout ratio with a 10.2 K/9 in 32.2 innings. He’s also the highest paid reliever on the roster not named Joel Hanrahan, making $1.1 M this year.

Evan Meek - This time last year we were debating between Meek and Hanrahan on who should be the closer for the 2011 season. While Hanrahan thrived in the closer’s role, Meek had a down year. He’s getting $875 K this year, and it would be hard to pass him up considering his upside.

Chris Resop - He pitched a lot in the 7th and 8th innings last year, and had up and down results. He struggled at times, but for the most part was reliable, and tied Grilli with a 10.2 K/9 ratio in 69.2 innings. Resop is making $850 K.

Daniel McCutchen - He led the bullpen in innings last year with 84.2 innings in 73 appearances. McCutchen doesn’t have the stuff that guys like Meek, Grilli, and Resop have. To me he seems like a Jesse Chavez type: a middle reliever who is best used in a trade.

Chris Leroux had a breakout season in 2011, and is out of options in 2012.

Chris Leroux - He had a breakout season last year, changing his arm slot in the minors, and ending up with a 2.88 ERA in the majors in 25 innings, along with an 8.6 K/9 and a 2.5 BB/9. He’s been working on his secondary stuff over the off-season.

Bryan Morris - Morris probably won’t be a factor for the bullpen on Opening Day since there are plenty of options and he hasn’t pitched in AAA yet.

Jared Hughes - He was called up in September after flashing a sinker in Indianapolis that got up to 96 MPH. In 11 innings he had a 4.09 ERA and a 10:4 K/BB ratio.

Duke Welker - Like Morris, he probably won’t be a factor due to a lack of AAA experience.

Juan Cruz - He arguably has the best track record of all of these pitchers, and he’s coming off a good year with Tampa Bay. In his last two seasons in the National League he struck out over 12 batters per nine innings.

Daniel Cabrera - He’s always dealt with control issues, and his major league results haven’t been impressive, which makes him a huge underdog in this discussion.

Michael Crotta - He made the Opening Day roster last year, but went down early in the season with an injury. He doesn’t stand out over the other middle relievers, which makes him an underdog as a non-roster invitee.

Ryota Igarashi - He hasn’t carried his Japanese league numbers over to the majors, struggling with his control the past two years. He’s also unlikely to be a factor.

Logan Kensing - He’s had poor results so far in the majors, which puts him in the same category as Cabrera and Igarashi.

Shairon Martis - Martis was in the majors at a young age, working as a starter but putting up poor results. A move to the bullpen could revive his career, but he’d probably have more value as starting depth out of AAA.

Tim Wood - Wood had a lot of success with Indianapolis last year, but didn’t fare well in his limited time in Pittsburgh, which has been a trend in his career. Odds are he stays in AAA to start the year.

Picking the Best Four

With four spots available, these are the guys I consider contenders: Jason Grilli, Evan Meek, Chris Resop, Daniel McCutchen, Chris Leroux, Jared Hughes, Juan Cruz.

You would need to cut three guys from this group. Grilli, Resop, and Leroux are all out of options, which clouds the picture even more. If you cut them, you risk losing them for good. You can option McCutchen and Hughes, and Cruz is on a minor league deal, although there’s no word yet on whether he has an out clause.

My choice would be Grilli, Meek, Resop, and Leroux. That allows you to keep the guys who are out of options, and I think you have to give a shot to Meek.

I don’t agree with the idea that you have to have two left handers. I’d rather have the best possible relievers, and ideally those relievers could get anyone out. If it were up to me, I’d go with Tony Watson as the lone left hander, then give Juan Cruz the other spot.

The Pirates won’t need a fifth starter until April 24th, so it’s possible they could open the season with an eight man bullpen, giving them one extra spot to work with. That would allow them to carry two left handers, plus Grilli, Meek, Resop, and Leroux, and still have room for Cruz.

As for McCutchen and Hughes, they both have options, and would be great depth in AAA. I think McCutchen looks better as trade depth. He just seems like the type of reliever you flip in exchange for a productive player with an overpriced salary from another team.

That would be my approach with the bullpen. What would you do?

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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