First Pitch: You Can Never Have Too Much Depth

If you want to point to one reason why the Pittsburgh Pirates have been so successful this year, the most obvious reason would be their pitching. I talked about the pitching last night, pointing out how the Pirates are only projected to spend $36.5 M for the number one ranked pitching staff in baseball. But digging deeper into the success of the pitching staff, we can see the real fuel for this year’s team has been the depth.

This isn’t a new concept. The Pirates went through 11 starting pitchers in the first two and a half months of the season. They recently saw their All-Star closer go down with an injury, only to replace him with the guy who has the best numbers of all National League relievers. They have two prospects who have upper 90s fastballs and dominating sliders — Vic Black and Duke Welker — who they have barely had to use this year.

Even after burning through so much depth in the first four months of the season, the Pirates still have plenty to turn to in the final two months. They have Brandon Cumpton, Stolmy Pimentel, and Kris Johnson in Triple-A, all putting up strong numbers. Jeanmar Gomez is expected to make a spot start next week, so apparently the Pirates trust him as an occasional starter, even if he’s not stretched out. In the bullpen they can turn to Black, Welker, Ryan Reid, Jared Hughes, or even Johnson as an extra left-hander. Andy Oliver also recently moved to the bullpen, and could emerge as an option if his control improves in that role. They even have a pitcher who has consistently been hitting 100 and 101 MPH in Erik Cordier who never gets mentioned as an option. Cordier does have some control problems, but has been throwing with a ton of velocity all season.

Earlier this week I wrote that the Pirates don’t need to replace Jason Grilli. We still don’t have a great idea of how long Grilli will be out, but what we do know is that the Pirates have a strong bullpen without him. Mark Melancon has been statistically better than Grilli this season. Justin Wilson has been good enough to be counted on in the eighth inning. Guys like Tony Watson, Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, and even Jeanmar Gomez can be counted on in the seventh inning. If Vic Black has an easy time adjusting to the majors, then you’re talking about another late inning option.

Grilli is a great reliever, but he’s also a luxury in a strong bullpen. That doesn’t mean you don’t want him back as soon as possible. It just means the bullpen won’t collapse without him, and outside help isn’t necessary.

That brings me to the subject of Brian Wilson. The Pirates were one of the teams looking at Wilson’s recent throwing session. He’s not really old, at 31 this year, but he is coming off his second Tommy John surgery. Still, he was throwing 90-93 MPH, and could help a major league bullpen.

Brian Wilson would provide bullpen depth and an 80 grade playoff beard.

Brian Wilson would provide bullpen depth and an 80 grade playoff beard.

Wilson is no different than Grilli. He would be a luxury for the current bullpen. The Pirates don’t need to sign him to continue to have a dominant bullpen. That group is already successful, so the biggest thing Wilson would change is providing a strong playoff beard to make up for the lack of playoff beard production (PBP) you’re probably going to see from guys like Jeff Locke and Tony Watson.

The current trade market is shaping up to be a seller’s market. Two months of Francisco Rodriguez landed a Grade B hitting prospect. That’s a pretty steep price just to get two months of a relief pitcher, or about 25 innings. That’s a big reason I don’t think the Pirates should be trading for a reliever. It’s not that I don’t trust Neal Huntington’s abilities to find a reliever. It’s just that anyone good enough to make the current bullpen is going to cost a lot, and any of the “Chris Resop/Jason Grilli” specials like we’ve seen at the deadline in previous years probably won’t have a shot at cracking the 25-man roster.

That’s where Wilson becomes an interesting option. He doesn’t cost prospects. He’s rehabbing, so he wouldn’t have to go directly to the majors. And he’s not too far removed from being a dominant reliever. If the Pirates took a chance on him, they wouldn’t have to bring him up right away. They wouldn’t have to lose any prospects, saving those trade chips for other deadline deals and bigger team needs. They might have to pay more than they usually pay for a guy pitching in middle relief, but that shouldn’t be an issue with their current payroll and their current place in the standings.

The upside of the deal would be big. Having a bullpen with Melancon and Grilli already shortens games. If Wilson bounced back, then you’re talking about playoff games essentially being over if the Pirates are leading after six innings. But the more important thing would be depth. The Pirates have plenty of depth, but you can never have too much. They’re two injuries away from moving from “comfortable” to “starting to worry”. And as we saw with the rotation at the start of the year, two injuries in two months is definitely possible.

There were plenty of teams watching Wilson, so it’s not like the Pirates have some sort of inside track or anything. In fact, if Wilson is looking to showcase himself for next year, the Pirates situation might not be a good one with Grilli and Melancon in the late innings, unless Grilli is expected to be out for longer than expected. But if the Pirates can sign Wilson, it’s the type of move that makes sense for the team. It adds to the current team without taking away from the future. It strengthens the biggest strength of the team, and the reason the team has been so successful. And it improves the depth, which has been the key to the continues success of the pitching staff. Those are the types of moves the Pirates should be after at the deadline, not just in the bullpen, but at all positions.

Links and Notes

**Please Welcome New Beat Writer Nate Barnes to the Pirates Prospects Staff.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Altoona Throws No-Hitter, Indianapolis Gets No-Hit.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Shutout Rangers, Lose In Extras To Nationals.

**Minor League Schedule: Blake Taylor Gets The Start Today.

**Barrett Barnes Placed on the West Virginia DL.

**Pirates Dominican Pitcher Suspended 50 Games.

Pirates

**Harper’s Walkoff Homer Lifts Nationals 9-7 over Pirates.

**Brian Wilson a possibility for Pirates?

**Nate Schierholtz and Alex Rios Top the Pirates’ Wish List.

Tim Williams

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/chrishale525 Chris Hale

    Tim don’t you think it’s going to take Wilson to get his legs back under him? Coming off surgery it usually takes these pitchers half a season to get back to their normal selves. Look at Wainwright he struggled for much of his first season back after T.J surgery 90-93 from a pitcher who has a closers mentality. . I don’t think he is going to be his same old self. I’d actually pick about 10 relievers we have already to pitch before him.
    Also Tim , Have you heard who is pitching what days in the Cardinals series coming up Monday? We have a double header on Tuesday and with no days off I figured they would start Gomez in one of those games.because they can’t throw one of our starters out there on 3 days rest.but I was told Hurdle said Gomez would start Thursday right now it would be Liriano Monday in the series opener ,Burnett in game 1 on Tuesday, We can’t throw Locke in game 2 Tuesday because he’s starting today. If Gomez doesn’t start one of those games of the Double header ,we are going to need two spot starters. That doesn’t seem smart, especially against the Cardinals. Why wouldn’t they just pitch Liriano Mon, Burnett and Gomez Tues. Locke Wed. Morton Thursday ? instead he’s going to throw Lriano,Burnett,? spot starter?, Locke and Gomez instead of Liriano ,Burnett,Gomez Locke and Morton? We need to put our best possible pitchers that is a big series

  • TNBucs

    Because we never win lopsided games and Hurdle (wisely) won’t pitch a guy three days in a row, we need two guys that can close. I’m not saying that we don’t already have guys that can close, but Brian Wilson would be a nice addition to that group if he’s back.

    And Chris’s comment about recovery times for TJ patients reminds me again of how impressed we should be with what Morton has been doing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chrishale525 Chris Hale

      I don’t call Brian Wilson closer material anymore. especially because he’s throwing 91 MPH fastballs. closers who throw 91 mph don’t (USUALLY) last very long

  • elgaupo

    Wilson is only 31, we’d have to give up no prospects, just payroll, he’s supposedly a awesome dude AND we wouldn’t have to rush him and play the whole 25 man/40-man roster game.

    I’d shoot for the moon. Offer him 2yr/$5M ($1.5/$3.5) with a $1M buyout for next year with a ’15 club option at some reasonable price ($4M?) with a $1M buyout. Could get three years of an awesome reliever for $9M or be out $2.5M

    • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

      I think someone will be foolish/desperate and offer him a better deal than that. If the Bucs could sign him for something in that neighborhood, that wouldn’t be a bad risk, but I don’t think that deal gets it done.

  • https://profiles.google.com/105952832756621819257 Eddie DeRose

    Pirates have depth and its a sellers market. Any chance they sell high on some of that depth?

  • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

    Pretty surprised that all the Cubs could get for Soriano and all but $7 million of his salary was a low level relief prospect. Not sure why we didn’t get involved there?! Hopefully that indicates that Hoyer will mover Schierholtz on the cheap too.

    • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

      On second thought, I bet his no trade clause handcuffed them.

    • BostonsCommon

      I was thinking the same thing. The Yanks are getting this guy for this year, and next for $7M, with the Cubs picking up everything else? At that price I would think a number of teams would have been all over Soriano, including the Pirates.

      You’re probably right about the no trade clause as well. It’s a shame too, because even at his current playing level, he’s absolutely worth that price, and could have kept RF warm for Polanco… But, it wasn’t to be.

      • buster09

        I would rather see them bring in David DeJesus ( pain in the a$$ that he is ! ) than a guy like Soriano,who only makes sese in the AL.

        • BostonsCommon

          The Yanks are only on the hook for $5M next year. Even with below average defense, Soriano should exceed that value playing 4-5 days a week.

          It’s a moot point though, so I’m not going to argue it. I was just surprised more than anything, that the Yanks got a 20-30 HR threat in a supposedly “extreme sellers market”, for $6.8M and low level bullpen arm. I doubt he would have ever been happy in Pittsburgh though, so its probably all for the best anyway.

          • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

            Soriano’s LF defense has been rated (UZR) well above average over each of the last 4 years. He is not an AL only player.

  • belfry

    Now THIS is fun!
    I doubt that Wilson will become a Pirate, but if he does, Cutch immediately ceases to be the face of the Pirates. Blackbeard could light fuses in his facial hair!

    • belfry

      …and strike the fear of God
      into the sailors on the hapless galleons!

  • http://www.facebook.com/benjaminmcferren Benjamin McFerren

    Nah

    This guys best days are behind him. He seriously will not live up to the hype he is receiving right now. Especially if a team plans to throw him right into the fire of a pennant chase. He’s worth a NRI next March and that’s about it

    Besides, why waste high pressure situations on him when we have an opportunity to grow our young players with experience there and then?

  • buster09

    That was supposed to say ” SENSE “,not sese ! Sorry.

  • joe g.

    If the scouts liked what they saw, sign him. Let him rehab in Indy/Altoona. If he progresses well, he gets called up to the PBC at some point and contributes.