In 2012, the Pirates needed A.J. Burnett to bounce back in order to have a shot at a top of the rotation starter.
They had Burnett in 2013, but needed Francisco Liriano to bounce back in order to join Burnett at the top of the rotation and make the pitching staff stronger.
Last year they parted with Burnett, and brought in Edinson Volquez to replace him. They also brought in Vance Worley in a smaller deal, and he played a big role.
Three years in a row the Pirates have heavily relied on reclamation projects to make up their rotation. From the looks of things, it won’t continue for a fourth year. Sure, Burnett is back, and looks like a bit of a reclamation project again. However, I think getting healthy will help him bounce back, as you could argue that a lot of his issues last year were due to his sports hernia. There’s also the fact that no one really expects him to be a top of the rotation guy again. Instead, he’s expected to provide middle of the rotation production this time around. Top of the rotation stuff would be a huge bonus.
The Pirates are still getting deals in the rotation. You could argue that Francisco Liriano’s deal is more favorable than Brandon McCarthy’s and Ervin Santana’s deals, despite the fact that Liriano has been the same value or better the last two years. And then today the Pirates watched Volquez agree to a two-year, $20 M deal with the Royals, while they’re paying Burnett for one season. It’s almost the exact opposite of last year’s situation. The Pirates have the less-expensive pitcher, and due to their focus on defense, pitch framing, and the work of their pitching coaches, they will probably get the better results once again.
So where are the reclamation projects? Why abandon an approach that has gone so well? The past week we’ve seen Justin Masterson and Brett Anderson sign deals for around $10 M. Brandon Morrow signed a deal for $2.5 M guaranteed, paying him up to $5 M in bonuses as a starter, or $1 M in relief. I don’t think the Pirates needed to pay $10 M for a guy like Masterson or Anderson, but it’s hard to look past Morrow for such a low guarantee, and such a low maximum price.
The Pirates do have reclamation projects, although they’re only counting on them as depth this year. Clayton Richard is one of those projects, and fills the “Vance Worley” type role of emergency depth out of Triple-A, with the chance to be more. At his best, he has put up numbers close to a number four starter or the back-end of league average results. And the Pirates have shown a tendency to get the best out of the majority of their reclamation projects.
There’s also less of a need for reclamation projects this year. The Pirates will start the season with six guys — Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Burnett, Charlie Morton, Worley, and Jeff Locke — fighting for five spots, and they won’t really need a fifth starter until the third week in April. They’ve got Richard, Brandon Cumpton, and Casey Sadler as early season options. And some of their best pitching prospects could be arriving by mid-season, with Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and Adrian Sampson expected to begin the year in Triple-A. Not only do they have six guys fighting for five rotation spots in Pittsburgh, but they have six guys fighting for five rotation spots with Indianapolis.
With all of the reclamation projects that were on the open market, I would have liked to see the Pirates sign someone like Morrow, or maybe even Kris Medlen. However, I tend to trust their judgement on pitchers, and I feel they’ve earned that trust over the last few years.
So what does this mean for Ray Searage and Jim Benedict? It means their jobs get a little easier. Rather than reviving guys like Volquez, Liriano, and Burnett, they can focus on getting Gerrit Cole to his upside as a top of the rotation guy, seeing if Jeff Locke can have success in the second half, and working on the adjustment to the MLB level for any rookie that makes the jump from Indianapolis this year.
Links and Notes
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