The Roster Situations That Could Impact the Makeup of the Pirates Bullpen

There are less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and the one area where the Pittsburgh Pirates had actual position battles is heating up. There were one or two bullpen spots available when camp began, and the last few weeks have seen certain players step up to become favorites for those roles, while other players look to be playing their way off the team. Here is a look at where everything stands, along with some roster situations that could complicate matters further.

The Locks

We know that Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Antonio Bastardo are going to make the team. I’d also say that Radhames Liz could be considered a lock. The Pirates like him enough that they’re stretching him out as starting depth. They have also given him a guaranteed deal, paying him $1 M for the 2015 season. I don’t see how they go from giving him this much of a commitment to putting him on waivers in less than two weeks.

With these four looking to make the team, the Pirates would have three bullpen spots left.

The 5th Starter Battle

My guess is that Vance Worley wins the fifth starter battle over Jeff Locke, sending Locke to the bullpen. If Charlie Morton isn’t ready by Opening Day, then both starters could make the rotation. However, that would be a short-term solution, since Morton expects to be back not long after Opening Day. From a health perspective, Morton looks like he would be ready for the start of the season. From a performance and delivery perspective, he might benefit from a little more work to get some things ironed out.

The fallout from the rotation will probably leave two spots remaining in the bullpen.

The Option Situations

This is where things get tricky. The Pirates have two relievers who had good performances in 2014, but who both have options remaining. Those relievers are Jared Hughes and John Holdzkom. There is a bit of a difference here between the two players when we talk about their 2014 performances. Hughes performed well for the majority of the 2014 season at the MLB level. Holdzkom performed well in September. I’d say that Holdzkom has a lot more upside than Hughes, but I don’t want to put them on the same level as far as their MLB performance has gone.

The guys who are out of options are Arquimedes Caminero and Stolmy Pimentel. Both are hard throwers who have shown a lot of potential in the past. The key difference is that Caminero is stepping up this year in Spring Training, while Pimentel continues to struggle. Travis Sawchik wrote about Caminero’s outing yesterday, noting that he’s not only throwing for velocity, but he’s throwing for strikes. That’s a key difference than what we’ve seen in the past.

I don’t put much weight on Spring Training stats, but I do put weight on the tools and the abilities shown during Spring Training. Right now, Caminero is looking like a guy who could finally be settling in at the Major League level. Pimentel still looks like a project, and a guy that you’d hold on to because of his upside, while working through the struggles. The problem is that this approach is easier for a rebuilding team, and the Pirates definitely aren’t that anymore. It also doesn’t make sense to hold on to Pimentel at this point, when they’ve got hard throwers like Caminero, Liz, and Holdzkom in the organization who are all showing signs that they could do a better job in the majors.

It would make sense to take Hughes and Caminero from this group. That would involve optioning Holdzkom to Indianapolis, which would be unfortunate for him. He was a great story last year, and probably deserves a shot in the majors. But the reasons to like Holdzkom are similar to the reasons to like Caminero — great stuff and limited success. The only way to keep them both in the organization is to go with Caminero. If he doesn’t work out, then you could make the switch to Holdzkom.

The Wild Card

It looks like the bullpen will have Melancon, Watson, Bastardo, Liz, Locke, Hughes, and Caminero. But there’s another situation worth watching. Clayton Richard has an opt out clause in his contract at the end of Spring Training, according to Sawchik. The Pirates brought him in as starting depth and as a reclamation project, with a similar fix in mind to what they did with Vance Worley last year. The thought all along was that he could go to Triple-A and be used as starting depth early in the season. However, this new information means he’s not guaranteed for that role.

Richard seems to have bought in to the Pirates and their ability to fix pitchers. A big reason for that is due to conversations he had with his former teammate in San Diego, Edinson Volquez. As we know, Volquez turned his time with the Pirates into a two-year, $20 M deal. Richard could opt out, and possibly sign elsewhere to be a starter right away. That would give him more money and a better role in the short-term. But he might have a better chance at much more money and a secured role in the long-term by sticking with the Pirates and finishing the work that started this Spring.

It’s possible the Pirates could add him to the active roster. That would create a lot of starting pitching depth in the bullpen with Locke and Liz on the team. It would also give the Pirates four left-handers in the bullpen. Those might not be ideal situations, and could facilitate a trade. If Morton isn’t ready by Opening Day, then this issue becomes easier, although that’s only going to be a short-term solution.

It’s also possible that the Pirates could convince Richard to stick around in the minors, possibly by paying him to alter his contract and push back the opt out date, so that he could be used as depth out of Triple-A. If they add him to the 40-man roster, he’d have options remaining, but he has enough service time to decline an optional assignment. So either way, they’d need him to accept a move to Indianapolis. His situation right now could impact the projected bullpen spots, especially if Morton is ready for the season. That might lead to some interesting decisions during the final two weeks of camp.

  • William Maloni
    March 26, 2015 1:10 am

    How about just trading Locke, if there is a taker (Ideally to the AL), because he’s the biggest question mark as to being an effective reliever/starter?

  • Raise the Jolly Roger
    March 25, 2015 12:00 am

    The only way the bucs will win the WS is if they hire NMR, Lucas Sutton and Leo Walter to really put the”best” in the BMTIB.

  • hughes may be the guy that goes down to indy, not holdzkom. this possibility is based on ST performance/form… Holdzkom has been sharp, while hughes has been inconsistent & hittable. i think bullpen spots are more fungible than field position roles… i.e. past seasons performance will count for alot less if you’re stuff is weak and getting knocked around in ST.

  • I wonder if any team would really carry Pimentel on their active roster for the entire year. I’m not sure that he wouldn’t slip through waivers if the Pirates release him during the flood of cuts that happen at the end of spring training. Being out of options definitely makes him a bit less desirable that some of the other guys that will get dropped at the end of spring.

    Or if he’d be one of those guys that gets picked up and dropped multiple times during the year (almost like being a Rule 5 guy). In essence, he’d be treated like a Rule 5 guy, but without the chance to send him to the minors after the season.

    • A bad team in rebuild/revamp mode could easily do it. If a GM sees this season as more build than contend, rostering him doesnt really “hurt” the team and you get a potentially good arm longterm. Possible he slides through waivers, but his age and upside make it really unlikely, imo. At his age, there is plenty of reason to want him and bet on the upside if the cost is just waivers. If im, say the Astros or maybe Twins, worth a thought.

      • Or the Brewers – see Wei-Chung Wang.

        • That was just stupid of MIL. Kid was nowhere near close and i contend that it, while possibly not in a large way, contributed to their late season freefall. That bullpen had to deal with 1 basically useless arm and it got tired as the season went on. Still dont understand that move for a kid that wasnt at least with AA experience. Im all for MIL being stupid though.

          • Luke: The Brewers never expected to contend in 2014 and thought it was a good time to take a flyer on a future LHSP and also hurt your competition at the same time. The Pirates and Cardinals were thrilled with their stupidity and inability to realize the pressure that put on the remainder of the BP which was already shaky. They were a “smoke and mirrors” team that found reality in the 2nd half of the season – sticking with Wang contributed, but it is all on the GM, Doug Melvin. NH, on the other hand, works 24/7 trying to find guys to help the team down the stretch – it has cost some prospects, but the Pirates have 2 consecutive years in the playoffs.

            • I dont believe for a second that team thought 2014 was not a possible contending year. Thats BS, that offense was (and is) good enough that even an average rotation could keep them “in the hunt” for awhile. They collapsed, but i aint buying that they didnt see chance of success at the start of the year.

            • emjayinTN,

              It wasn’t the bullpen that collapsed last year for the Brewers, it’s the bats that went silent. As a team:


              April – .253 AVE, .717 OPS, 112 Runs Scored
              May – .259 AVE, .734 OPS, 117 Runs Scored
              June – .269 AVE, .768 OPS, 152 Runs Scored
              July – .228 AVE, .650 OPS, 88 Runs Scored
              August – .255 AVE, .730 OPS, 109 Runs Scored
              September – .230 AVE, .634 OPS, 70 Runs Scored

              Why did Milwaukee’s offense disappear in July and September?
              Lucroy hit .207 in the month of July (finished the season batting .301)
              Gomez hit .242 in the month of July (finished the season batting .284)
              Ramirez hit .233 in the month of July and .217 in September (finished the season batting .285)
              Braun hit .210 in the month of September (finished the season batting .266)

              Not sure I can put my finger on the exact cause. I will say that they may have gotten spoiled by some subpar pitching staffs early in the season (Rockies – 7 games, D-Backs – 6 games, Twins – 4 games all in June). The pitching talent they faced got a lot better from June to July.

        • But, Wei-Chung Wang was a Rule 5 guy, which makes it a different story because you can still send him away for more development time.

      • I could understand that more with a Rule 5 guy, because there is some benefit after the season to continue his development, but when he’s out of options, it makes it much, much, much harder and more unlikely.

        Any team looking at him realizes that Pimentel HAS to get the rest of his development in the majors, so you can’t just hide him away in the bullpen and just magically expect him to be better next year.

        The only way it makes sense is if a team picks him up and just leaves him in the rotation, but it has to be for the whole year. The number of teams willing to do that from day one has got to be pretty small.

        I think Pimentel’s value to the Pirates is pretty diminished unless you can get him to Indy, where he would be a good option to be in the rotation as a call-up option.

  • PLEASE NO PIMENTEL!!! All the others mentioned, whether they make the opening 25 or not, will be key contributes to a strong bullpen led by Melancon and Watson.

  • Going from the results of today’s game, Jared Hughes is telling Neal to give his spot to Holdzkom.

    • Looked like the Orioles went up to hit the first pitch.

      1st Batter – Pierce Home Run on a 2-2 count (Line Drive)

      2nd Batter – Paredes double on a 0-0 count (Fly Ball)
      3rd Batter – Young singles on a 0-0 count (Pop Up)
      4th Batter – Chris Davis singles on a 0-0 count (Ground Ball)
      5th Batter – Lavarnway grounds out on a 0-0 count (Ground Ball)
      6th Batter – Cabrera singles on a 0-0 count (Ground Ball)
      7th Batter – Flaherty singles on a 1-0 count (Ground Ball)

      Wonder if Pittsburgh was able to shift against lefties like Davis, Flaherty, Cabrera (switch hitter) with Kang playing 2B? Kang couldn’t get to Young’s popup during the inning and committed an error on a throw back into the infield during that inning as well.

    • Shouldn’t you change your login to bucsws2015 or are you holding out for a revisionist historian to disqualify San Francisco’s 2014 World Series title?

  • Tim: “I don’t put much weight on Spring Training stats, but I do put weight on the tools and abilities shown during Spring Training” If P2 does not work out, you have a career as a Lawyer/Mediator with pearls like that. Priceless.

    On the subject, if we wanted to save a pitcher until a possible deal could be worked out, would you or the team not entertain the option of 13 pitchers and 12 position players? Excellent recap.

  • John Janesko
    March 24, 2015 5:40 pm

    Some people on here sure are buying high on Richard. Saying to leave proven players off the team just so he can stay, when it isn’t even known if hes going to be effective, and he didn’t light the world on fire even when he was at his best. I feel like the best he can hope for is a job on a AAA team.

  • John Janesko
    March 24, 2015 4:51 pm

    Does Liz have any options? Can’t remember. If the Pirates think the loser of the Worley/Locke battle should go to the bullpen, and they think Liz would be better starting depth than Sadler, maybe he goes to AAA to stay stretched out and is the first call up for an injury.

    • I agree JJ, I’ve been thinking the same. Have Liz go to AAA as a starter, with the purpose being to strengthen the bullpen of the major club. By either keeping Richard if his lefty stuff is worth having because throwing LaFraboline on the fire is not an option.
      Or you go with Richard accepting the AAA job, and you keep Big John H in the pen working on that ++ K rate.

      On a side note, did I see both Melancon and AJ’s velocity way down around 86-91 or is that just the Bradenton gun??

      • Yeah, I noticed that about Melancon (not sure where AJ’s velocity should be since he went to Philadelphia). Maybe Melancon watched Chapman get hit in the head by a line drive last year while throwing 98-100 MPH during spring training and miss the first month (or Kershaw have a near miss this year).

        The harder you throw, typically the harder the ball comes back at you.

        I think I read somewhere that Melancon was working through some fastball location issues during spring training. Taking something off the fastball helps with with control.

        Only speculation here. Don’t know if Bradenton’s gun reads low.

    • No, Liz is out of options.

  • Lee Foo Young
    March 24, 2015 4:00 pm

    Why is Locke always the odd man out? Morton, while he has pitched better (tho not much better) is always injured and therefore undependable.

    Locke, on the other hand, has never failed to take the ball.

    Personally, I would go with Locke and put Morton and his DP ball in the ‘pen.

    • “Locke, on the other hand, has never failed to take the ball.”

      Real high bar for success we have here…

      • Dependability is a crucial ability. Not that I am high on Locke’s long term future. He needs to trust in his stuff enough to consistently put the ball on a corner instead of 2 inches off it, hoping for a call.

      • Raise the Jolly Roger
        March 25, 2015 12:31 am

        Do you enjoy being argumentative? If so, why?

        • -says the guy who doesn’t understand what “stirring the pot” means.

          Throw some more cliches out there and we can discuss figures of speech.

          • Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown
            March 25, 2015 11:29 am

            Win one for the Gipper?
            Take it one game at a time?

            You didn’t answer the question. Do you enjoy stirring the pot? If so, why?

    • “Always injured” is a pretty broad and potentially false characterization of him. I can read that and think you mean he always is hurt and never is dependable to be a solid pitcher….which is false. He certainly tends to spend some time on the DL each year, but he is coming off 157 innings last year. Even if he is injured, 160 innings from Morton is better than 180 from Locke. From 2011 on, he is averaging over 20 starts a year. If he gives you between 20-25 starts a year at his normal production level, its a 1.5-2.0 WAR player.

      Locke is healthy, but he’ll make ya wish he wasnt half the time.

    • Locke isn’t “always the odd man out”. He won’t start arbitration until after this year and is only 27 years old. Jordy Mercer is a year older than Locke and played his first full year in the big leagues last year.

      I think maybe the Pirates are easing him into a starting role rather than throwing him into the pool – sink or swim style. He doesn’t have gun for an arm of Cole or the nasty stuff of Liriano and so learning to be a finesse pitcher takes time.

      No worries here though. The Pirates starting pitching staff has enough injury history to tell me that Locke is going to get plenty of opportunities to start.

  • Mountaineer10
    March 24, 2015 2:45 pm

    I’d be curious to know what Tim has seen from Radhames Liz this spring. It seems strange to send guys with major league success down in favor of a 31 year old project with absolutely none. Has his performance this spring justified this?

  • Does Locke have options? If so send him down and keep Richard as the long relief guy.

  • I could be wrong but in theory, the Pirates don’t need a 5th starter until April 21st right? Assuming the Pirates would choose to stick to a strict every 5th day for the first 4 starters in the rotation. Although rain delay moved games could throw a wrench into that I suppose.

  • Lucas Vanderwarker
    March 24, 2015 1:34 pm

    Does Locke have any options left? wouldn’t it be just as easy to send him down in any of these scenarios?

  • Douglas Byrd
    March 24, 2015 1:29 pm

    I wonder if Liz doesn’t end up getting the 5th starter position short term until Morton is back. Locke doesn’t look great and Liz has been starting.

  • Monsoon Harvard
    March 24, 2015 1:19 pm

    Might there be any interest around the league for Radhames Liz and/or Stolmy Pimentel?

  • Ghost of Derek Bell
    March 24, 2015 1:01 pm

    Pimentel is the albatross. Too much potential to give up, too little results. He currently can’t be trusted in any high leverage situation. Pirates, with all the depth options they have, are just going to have to cut him and hope he makes it through waivers. With Taillon, Kingham, Sampson, Glasnow, Richard, Sadler etc as the near and longer term solutions, Pimentel won’t be that great of a loss even if someone does claim him. Can’t hold on to ALL the preciouses.

    • This year’s Wei-Chung Wang?

      17 1/3 innings pitched, 30 hits, 23 earned runs allowed, 2.19 WHIP, 10.90 ERA

      The Pirates were big contributors to that line last year. Against Pittsburgh last year:
      3 innings pitched, 10 hits, 1 walk, 8 earned runs allowed, 3.66 WHIP, 24.00 ERA

      Granted Wang is only 22 years old and is a lefty. Losing him cost the Pirates lefty pitching depth in the minors.

      Still it remains to be seen how “precious” Wang (or Pimentel) will end up.

      P. S. – Love the moniker.

  • What a great problem to have! “We have too many major league caliber pitchers, where can we put them all?”

  • Looks like opening day jitters are heating up around here based on some of the comments so let’s just pull up our big boy undies and PLAY BALL! : )

  • Put Morton on the 60 day DL then the rotation is
    One of Hughes or Holdzkom goes to AAA for the time being because they have options. A spot will open up. The assign Pimentel to AAA. He might clear waivers. This is the best choice to not lose anyone and still give us a great bullpen. All you have to do you forget about Morton on the 25 man for the time being

    • JoseGuillensArm
      March 24, 2015 1:34 pm

      You do realize that teams can’t just arbitrarily assign a player to the 60 day DL when they do not merit placement on that. If this were the case teams could just place any player they wanted to keep as depth on the DL when they ran out of available roster spots.

  • The Pirates should not waste a roster spot on Morton. I believe Pimentel will be exposed to waivers but we cannot risk losing Richard,or Caminero. Locke or Liz should get Morton’s rotation spot. I think we’ve seen about enough of Charlie Morton for the time being. I’m not saying cut him and eat the contract I’m say Find a way to keep him off the 25 man w/o losing him. Put him on the 60 day D.L and extend his spring in Bradenton. This is a better team with someone other than Morton in the rotation. Put both Locke and Worley in and it opens up and extra spot in the Pen for Richard ,Pimentel or whever

    • Can you please share your thoughts on Charlie Morton?

      I can’t seem to remember what you’ve written in every single post about pitching this winter.

      My goodness…

  • Real good article Tim. It really makes all of the options clear.

    If we do have some players with talent to trade, I am still looking for that upper level, strong 3rd base prospect.

    Has the roster of players in the field changed?
    Some players there have had some nice springs as well.

  • A trade of Locke with or without Pimentel would make sense, especially if it yielded a decent prospect and/or International Free Agent money.

    • Scott Kliesen
      March 24, 2015 11:42 am

      Maybe when one only considers the long-term, trading Locke for a prospect makes some sense. However, considering the Pirates SP is made up of a 38 year-old playing in his final season (AJ), 3 others who suffered significant injuries last season (Liriano, Cole, & Morton), and a reclamation project (Worley), there’s no way NH is going to be so short-sighted with Locke. This is especially true given Pirates aspirations this season and Locke’s past performance in the early part of the season.

      • All good points, but if some GM decides he just HAS to have Jeff Locke, I’d think the Pirates should be willing to be overwhelmed.

      • The farm is loaded with pitching prospects. Depth is not an issue except early in the season.

        • Early in the season being just as key as late in the season. You have a 2-3 month span where they may be hesitant to bring up 2 depth options (Sampson and Kingham), one may leave (Richard and his opt out clause). So say AJ goes down early with some small injury for 2 weeks, you basically only have Sadler as depth. Having Locke is a big insurance policy that, with our SP injury history, isnt a crazy assumption to make.

          • Not sure how Sampson gets lumped in the Kingham group with only four AAA starts and one mediocre AA season to his name.

            Which obviously only reinforces the need to keep starting depth.

            • Didnt mean a comparison of talent, but a comparison of 2 guys that are unlikely to be used early in the season. Different reasons, same outcome.

              • Sampson’s numbers in AA were actually better than Kingham’s AA numbers last year. Sampson did run out of gas at the end of the season in AAA though. I agree he is only an emergency option for MLB in 2015, and may not be ready until late 2016.

            • Sampson’s AA record in 2014: ERA – 2.55, WHIP – 1.05, in 148 innings. If that’s “mediocre” you have some high standards! He was mediocre in A+ the previous year though.

              • Adrian Sampson most certainly will not benefit from a .256 BABiP against and 80% strand rate in the Major Leagues, which makes the ERA he put up in AA fairly worthless.

                • Thought about your reply for a bit and concluded that I am not as troubled by his BABiP results as you are because of his reputation as a ground ball pitcher. One should expect a ground ball pitcher to have a lower than league average BABiP. That’s why the Pirates prefer them. Whether Sampson will be able to translate his results in AA to higher levels depends more on whether he has reached his personal ceiling or not rather than any particular results from his style of pitching. I think that in general Sampson gets a little less respect than he deserves. It will be interesting to see what type of numbers he puts up in AAA this year.

                  • The respect comment is interesting to me because I think you’ve hit on a difference between PP and outside PP. Tim and the guys here seem to be a good bit higher than any other outlet on Sampson, and I believe that’s in part because he’s not a flashy type and they see more of him than anyone else.

                    I fall in between the two groups.

                    I don’t see much upside above a back end of the rotation depth arm, but that’s a guy you absolutely need at the same time. Just don’t necessarily believe he’s an arm the Pirates, at this stage of the win curve, want to be counting on to provide more than that.

            • Raise the Jolly Roger
              March 25, 2015 12:41 am

              I guess the same way Holdzkom gets lumped in as the Bucs 3rd best reliever after 2 months in MLB despite 73.5% of his innings comes from A+ Ball or lower.

              • Real expert we have here, folks.

                • Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown
                  March 25, 2015 11:26 am

                  Any shoulder soreness from patting yourself on the back, o’ great one?

                  • You are one insecure individual.

                    If you’d like to talk baseball, you know where to find me.

                    • Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown
                      March 25, 2015 12:39 pm

                      Insecure? Lol. I’m not the one who is condescending and arrogant to others to make myself feel good , like you.

  • I hope that Morton doesn’t go north with the team, but stays in extended Spring training to straighten out his delivery. Actually, if they could get a decent return I wouldn’y mind trading Morton.

  • Tim makes the argument to take Jared Hughes over John Holdzkom based on *past* performance.

    I don’t think this is how smart teams should be built. John Holdzkom showed last summer he may very well be the third best reliever in this organization, and there seem to be no indications that his command has backed up this spring.

    I’d hope the Pirates are basing this, and all, decisions based on what they project each guy to do going forward.

    • The best result would be obtained if either Morton or Locke were traded and the available spot on the 25 man given to Holdzkom.

      • My opinion…that’s a thought that focuses too much on Opening Day and too little on the next 161 games.

        • My thoughts…Holdzkom in the pen gives them a better chance to win close games than either Morton or Locke from the pen in the first half. I don’t see either Morton or Locke, whichever one is not the #5, coming into a high leverage situation in relief. Holdzkom gives the Bucs a better chance of a K. For the second half hopefully Kingham will be ready for a callup as a SP and the equation changes, but certainly one of Morton or Locke will have to be moved to make space for Kingham. So why not move one of the two now? In the second half I’d rather see Kingham on the mound then either Locke or Morton as the #5.

          • Really tough to try to make that comparison though because those guys would be used in vassstly different ways in the pen. Yeah, Holdz gets more of a “flashy” role that gets credit for helping the team win while Locke being in the pen is used for long relief in a likely sparingly time frame. But having a solid long man can be just as crucial overall as a solid 7th inning man (over the replacement). I think Holdz should be in the pen, but i can absolutely see the reality of wanting to keep a ton of talent in the system and thus Holdz is simply the loser of “you have an option left” battle.

            • I understand where you are coming from in the second half of your comments, and agree that the roles would be different, but don’t agree with the potential impact on the W/L record of the 7th inning guy and the long man. Unless there has been a recent injury the long man doesn’t usually enter the game unless the starter has been knocked out early and the team is down by a significant margin thereby reducing the probabilities of a win. The 7th inning guy,if he is the one matched with Watson and Melancon, comes in with the probability of winning being higher so he has more of a chance to influence what can become a win than a long man. Not the Holdzkom is automatically that guy this year. Caminero, Liz or maybe Bastardo could win that role. It will all play out in a few months. If Holdzkom is the “last man” in the pen and is used to pitch out games that are obviously lost then Locke or Morton in the long role would be more important than that.

              • 7th inning guy has less margin for error, but a long man can be similarly crucial in that you need to have a guy that can throw 2-3 innings in a game where you gotta stop the bleeding and give your team a chance to play catchup. 7th inning arm may be more valuable, but it isnt night and day like people assume. Its Jeanmar Gomez being able to throw 2 innings on a consistent basis and, in a freak situation, step in for 4 innings.

          • I think that’s partially a false choice, though.

            Holdzkom absolutely does give them a greater chance to win close games out of the pen. But neither Locke, nor Morton, would ever be expected to fill a leverage situation. And they unquestionably do give the club better starting depth until, and quite possibly after, Kingham et al arrive in the second half.

            The club can keep both a high leverage reliever *and* starting pitching depth by simply optioning another middle reliever, Jared Hughes.

            • I appreciate your points. Of the three Locke, Morton, Hughes how should they be ranked? Are Locke or Morton better than Hughes as starters? Obviously so. Are they better as relievers? Not really known. Starting versus warming up in the pen and pitching one inning are different skill sets in my opinion. Hughes is a relative known, Locke and Morton unknown. Therefore if good return could be obtained by trading one of Locke or Morton and keeping Hughes in the pen. But I have a higher tolerance for risk of injury and need for proven starter depth than most folks here.

              • Good conversation, buddy.

                I’ll certainly agree that the return for Locke or Morton could change my mind.

            • They could, but Jared gives them a pitcher who pitches extremely well coming in mid-inning to bail out pitchers who are struggling, which happens quite often with Liriano and Morton because they can suddenly “lose it” after being dominant. Whom else has proven they can be succesful in that role? Jared 100% should be on this team, hes earned it at every stop. I’d option Locke and keep him pitching at aaa rather than optioning Hughes or Holdskom

              • That would certainly solve the problem, but they can’t option Locke.

                Jared’s “proven success” in that role is solely predicated on batters hitting ground balls to fielders, and there’s no real evidence that is a sustainable skill. He doesn’t miss bats, and has better command than control. Absolutely a valuable bullpen arm, but I simply believe Holdzkom is better. And if both were on the trading block, I’d be shocked if teams took Jared before John.

                • True NMR- you and i have always had some differences in terms of stats vs. historical facts. I’m more of a results oriented guy, you are more of a “can this continue forever based on peripherals kind of guy” the truth generally lies somewhere in between. To me, the evidence is that he hasn’t shown that he can’t sustain it, and has sustained it so far. Nothing, not even life, is sustainable, so i never look at things that way. I don’t think it’s luck, it’s positioning and groundball pitching. I haven’t done the research, but I’d bet that sinker ball pitchers in relief who don’t have a high walk rate probably fair better with inherited runners than fly ball pitchers do with marginal control.

    • Holdzkom performance was a total of 40 batters faced, I’m not sure how you project with any certainty what he can do taking into account that multiple teams gave up on him despite is size and arm. I keeping thinking back to the lamenting at the end of last year over lose of Hunter Strickland.

      It should be interesting to see how it plays out, Hughes vs Holdzkom, not that this decision actually exist, represents a bit of shift in how the Pirates have constructed bullpens. Hughes is about the last of these not soft tossing RHPs will solid ground balls rates and terrible K%-BB% numbers, and Holdzkom is the first of these elite velocity guys with checkered histories.

      • Can’t really say this without sounding snarky even though it isn’t intended, but these are the decisions that separate professionals from you and I.

        Fairly positive Clint Hurdle didn’t pull up FanGraphs when he decided to use Holdzkom in leverage situations during a pennant race last Fall. You look at the talent, and project how it’ll play against competition. That’s the job.

        Jared Hughes is absolutely a useful reliever, but I’m still waiting for a description of what makes him the better pitcher *today*.

        • Based on current reporting the same decision makers who were comfortable with putting Holdzkom in those spots last year are considering starting him a AAA. Hughes was used in incredibly similar leverage spots down the stretch last year.

          Not really disagreeing with anything you are saying just I think the picture is more muddled. I’m leaning toward the idea that both start in AAA because of options.

          • Is that true, though? Are these truly reports based on current information from the club, or just speculation? Honest question.

            I haven’t read anything actually derived *from* the Pirates themselves leaning one way or another.

        • He comes in, throws strikes, uses a sinker which can get quick double plays, doesn’t allow many homers, pitches well in high stress situations, and has been extremely succesful not allowing inherited runners to score, which contrary to popular belief, is a skill and one that few pitchers have. i know a lot of these things are saying the same thing in different ways, but that was the point i’m trying to stress

          • Gotcha, and we’ll have to disagree on the whole inherited runners part, at least in the manner Jared gets it done. He’s solely reliant on his fielders and luck.

    • It’s more that Hughes has a longer track record of good performance. I’m not saying I agree with this, as I don’t expect Hughes to perform like he did last year. I’m just trying to think about how the Pirates might be approaching the situation.

      • Totally understand, Tim, and I should’ve done a better job phrasing my comment not as *your* argument but the one you’d expect to be used.

    • Raise the Jolly Roger
      March 25, 2015 12:07 am

      Yup, that two months or so in the bigs is usually enough to rank you as the 3rd best reliever on a contending team. Especially when you’ ve come out out of Independent Ball. Happens all of the time.

      • Did you happen to watch those two months? When was Holdzkom pitching, and what does that tell YOU about what the professionals think of his place in the pecking order?

        • Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown
          March 25, 2015 11:24 am

          Yup. I’ve seen flashes in the pan before too. Two months of MLB experience, given his recent playing history, does not a great reliever make.

          • An argument which could’ve been used for Hanrahan, Grilli, Melancon, and Tony Watson.

            Apparently you see no pattern here.

            Your unwillingness to entertain the idea that the guy throwing 98 and striking out more than a third of the batters he faces *may* be better than the likes of Jared Hughes, Antonio Bastardo, and Radhames Liz is laughably dense.

            • Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown
              March 25, 2015 12:37 pm

              So Hanrahan, Grilli, Melancon and Watson all played Independent League ball? I wasn’t aware they took the same route as Holdzkom.

              I don’t doubt what the guy has done in his two months of MLB experience. When he strings together a full season of similar results, then he will have earned his rightful place.

              Bastardo is a lefty so that’s a non starter. They spent $$$ to bring in Liz and he may be stretched out as a starter. Could be irrelevant as comparison. Hughes certainly doesn’t have the upside that Holdzkom, but does have a MLB track record and you know exactly what you’re getting. Caminero is in the mix.

              • Handedness and money have absolutely nothing to do with what I said, meaning you clearly don’t even understand the statement you’re arguing.

                Waste of my time.

                • Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown
                  March 25, 2015 2:09 pm

                  Waste of your time, but you keep responding. How do you reconcile that?
                  Couldn’t have anything to do with your arrogance, could it?

                  I’m astounded that someone believes, with such conviction, that Holdzkom is a lock to repeat what he’s done for two whole months when his recent past history proves otherwise.

                  That being said, I hope he throws lights out.

    • I think a good reason to keep Hughes is variety. Although Holdzkom might be the better pitcher overall in the future, Hughes is definitely different than everyone else in the bullpen. Caminero, Bastardo, Watson, and Melancon can all come in for an inning and strike out the side. Hughes gives Hurdle a different approach to take, with his heavy sinker. Is that approach a requirement to building a bullpen? Probably not. But since the Pirates have the option, it’s a nice one to have.

  • I keep having this thought that Locke could get dealt if they could now that Richard would not opt out.

  • I would look at a team like the Mets who are looking for a Lefty. Maybe move Locke and that opens up a spot for Holdzcom. We seem to have depth ain pitching in general. Some higher upside starters are getting close anyways. Pimental too. Try to get a prospect but if not you got to let him go.

    • There are definitely some bottom dwelling teams with worse options than Pimentel out there.

      • It would be great if Pimental could be traded before the end of ST, but who would give anything worthwhile in return when you have to think that he will be released?

    • Met’s don’t need starter help and the return wouldn’t be big enough for us if they planned on putting him in the pen

      • Mike Adamson
        March 24, 2015 3:48 pm

        OK Starter/RP. Yes they were looking at Brian Matusz and I think Locke would have more value. The return would be a prospect in the low A’s. Better than giving assets for nothing.

    • Dont see the Mets needing SP. Gee will step back into a starting role, so they would be trading for a guy they werent planning on using in the top 5 right away, meaning they’d be in the same spot as us. Their depth took a hit, but they cant hide Locke as depth in the minors.

      • Mike Adamson
        March 24, 2015 4:32 pm

        Gee was rumored to be going to get another lefty in the BP in the first place. Locke would give them both depth at SP and/or Lefty RP. Anyways I was just using Mets as an example.

        • But it makes no sense for them to get Locke as depth if it means they have to throw him in the bullpen. I got the overall idea, just saying the mets arent a perfect fit. Idk if anyone is early in the year, since so many teams “think” they have the stuff to contend and will give guys time to struggle before moving on and any team that knows it sucks wont give up quality for Locke. I’d love to see him used the first 1-2 months as depth, do well and up his stock a tick and move him near the middle of year.

  • According to Sawchik, richard can only opt out if he’s not on the forty-man roster. The Pirates could add him and then option him to Indy, though. I’m pretty sure he has options left. Is there some rule I’m unfamiliar with that would prevent this?

    • I see that richard has more than five years of service, so he could refuse an assignment to the minors. That changes things quite a bit.

    • I updated the article to clarify this. He’s got enough service time that he could decline a minor league assignment if he’s optioned to Triple-A.

      • Thanks, Tim. That is quite a big deal. I’m tempted to say it was a very big mistake for the Pirates to go into the spring with so few depth starters who could be optioned. For all the talk of improved depth, that is a big weakness.

        • In spite of Cumpton’s injury you think Liz, Locke, Kingham, Sadler, Sampson and Taillon aren’t enough for some spot starts in case of injury to Liriano/Cole/Worley/AJ/Morton ? If 6 decent options aren’t enough how many are necessary?

          • Liz and Locke will go to the Pen so they won’t be stretched out. They will not call up Kingham and Tailon early for a spot start until they are ready (or past super 2).

            • They are stretching Liz out now. With Morton and Locke pitching relatively poorly I have to think Liz is a legitimate option for the #5 starter. They could continue to work Locke with long sides and only use him for long relief if they wanted to. That would keep him available for a 5 inning start.

              • That’s wishful thinking, in my opinion. No matter how many long sides they do, he’s not going to be able to give 100 pitches on a spot start. Same for Liz or anyone else in the ‘pen. Even if Locke can go 60 pitches in a spot start, he’s so inefficient that that will probably only be 3+ innings.

                I don’t think Sampson is ready for the majors, and Taillon obviously isn’t either. Kingham is, but I suspect they won’t call him up for a couple months. So the true depth is basically just Sadler. That’s not a good situation. It probably won’t hurt them too much (knock on wood), but they could have set themselves up better (by, for instance, pushing richard’s opt-out date back to june 1 or so. Don’t know if he would have agreed to it, of course).

                • Well Richard hasn’t been “lights out” so far. If the Pirates are as thin as you say maybe he is closest to the Majors in Indy. Depends on whether his agent has feelers from MLB clubs or not I suppose.

                  • Yeah, I’m hoping they can work something out to keep him in Indy. He needs to be in the majors by june 10 or so to pass six years of service time this year, so maybe he’ll agree to be optioned if the Pirates promise him he’s the first option in case of injury and add an opt-out for june 1.

                • Scott Kliesen
                  March 24, 2015 11:57 am

                  Jeanmar Gomez spent the majority of 2013 bouncing back and forth from bullpen to rotation with success. Did he have some special skill set no one else has?

                  Don’t underestimate these professional athletes physical capabilities.

                  • Gomez didn’t bounce back and forth in 2013. He made eight consecutive appearances as a starter and was otherwise in the bullpen. He pitched more than five innings in one of his starts and less than five in four of them. So basically what I said: Locke would probably only be available for a few innings in a spot-starter situation.

                    • Except that Hurdle intentionally held Gomez to a 75-pitch limit, because he wasn’t very good.

                      Assuming he stays stretched out to around the 50-pitch mark as the long man out of the pen, it wouldn’t take Locke more than a couple starts to build back to full workload.

                    • Yeah, I don’t get this whole “Locke won’t be considered starting depth if he is in the bullpen” mentality. I suppose there should be legitimate concerns as to whether Locke could be successful as a spot starter, but there is little reason to think it isn’t possible as plenty of other players have done it before. The thing is, usually spot starters are not very good, Locke should be better than the typical spot starter. And while Locke may only be able to give 4 or 5 innings in the first few spot starts, it would only take a few starts before he would be back to 6 or 7 innings.

                    • Agree.

                      It comes from a misunderstanding of what it takes to get “stretched out”, so I certainly don’t blame fans for not getting it.

          • Will Sanchez
            March 24, 2015 9:04 pm

            didn’t we had Cole, Liriano and morton out at the same time..that makes 8.

  • The Pirates got ninety-nine problems, but bullpen depth ain’t one.

    • The Pirates may have alot of imperfections, what team doesn’t? But do you really see alot of problems blaine? Could you name a few for the sake of discussion?

      • Uhh… I think he was making a joke based on what I’m told was a popular song on the radiola.

        • Was that 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall…?

        • I was going to say ‘but a pitch ain’t one’, but no need to be too obvious…

          …or so I thought 🙂

          • Wouldn’t have mattered, I’d still have missed the reference as I don’t listen to the radio much.

            • Jay Z, “99 Problems” released in 1993

              This is the NSFW(Not Safe For Work) version of the song


              • Thanks for that Dave, it fills in the gaps for me!

                • Did you like it?

                  • I don’t know if “like” is a word I’d use, but I can see that Jay-Z has talent. But to mix an art metaphor, I’m a guy who doesn’t like Picasso but loves Dali, which is to say that “art is in the eye of the beholder”. I am just not a rap aficionado. Seeing it reminded me about the conversation and controversy around it when it was first released. Clearly portrays the attitudes and language of the ‘hood which makes it provocative as well as a cry of pain, defiance and hopelessness.

  • Nice article Tim you bring up valid points as usual and map it out in a way that simplifies if for the reader