With the release of Zach Duke, at this point, how do you see the Pirates' starting rotation setting up for 2011?
-- Kevin M, Uniontown, Pa.
It's hard to project a 2011 rotation before we know if the Pirates are successful in their pursuits to add at least one starting pitcher this winter. The outcome of those offseason attempts will determine the rotation's makeup.
That said, three internal candidates appear set: James McDonald, Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf. Other internal candidates include Brad Lincoln, Daniel McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Brian Burres and Jeff Karstens. Kevin Hart may be ready to pitch by the start of the season, but he may fall into a relief role after missing last season.
There are reports that the Pirates are targeting Jorge De La Rosa, who is also being looked at by teams with bigger budgets and who is likely to get upwards of $11 million. What is so attractive about a pitcher who has only shown two seasons of marginally above-average baseball at the age of 29?
-- Kirk V. Melbourne, Australia
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This hits precisely on the debates that the Pirates will be having all offseason. It's no secret that the Pirates need starting pitching help and would prefer to bring in at least one new pitcher instead of relying solely on improvements from their internal options. This isn't the year to be looking for pitching, however. Outside of Cliff Lee, the options aren't all that appealing.
It's because of the lack of depth in the market that you are hearing about the Pirates' interest in someone like De La Rosa. It's also because of this depth that you are hearing De La Rosa's demands are higher than he might really be worth. De La Rosa's value increases simply by a lack of better options. And my guess is that if he wants to command more than a three-year deal with a salary of at least $11 million a year, some desperate club will give it to him.
Now, is De La Rosa really worth that money? His best season came in '09, which is also the only year in which he has thrown more than 130 innings. He's prone to giving up too many walks and homers, but he could easily be the Pirates' strikeout leader if inserted into the rotation. Remember, too, that De La Rosa has been pitching in hitter-friendly Coors Field in recent years.
He put up strong numbers in the second half of the year -- opponents scored more than three earned runs off him only once in his final 14 starts -- but consistency hasn't been De La Rosa's trademark through the years. I don't think there's any question that the lefty would improve the Pirates' rotation. However, the Pirates have to ultimately decide if his price tag is really worth the long-term investment.
Is the team trying to develop an "ace" in its rotation, or do you think that there may be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher that would want to come here and be a dominant pitcher/role model?
-- Mat M., Pittsburgh
Money, more often than not, speaks louder than anything at this time of the year. If the Pirates are going to entice a pitcher who has the potential to step into the top of the rotation, it's going to be with their checkbooks. It means they'll have to include an extra year in the deal or throw in a few extra million to make Pittsburgh the most appealing landing point. A pitcher isn't going to want to come to Pittsburgh simply because he can automatically be the No. 1 starter. He'll want to come here because he feels justly compensated for his abilities.
Ideally, the Pirates would love to develop their own aces. And maybe in a few years, we'll see that they have. That was certainly the intention behind investing so many resources into recent Drafts. Aces are hard to develop, but they are even harder to acquire.
I've been watching and reading a lot of rumors, and one rumor mentioned in passing is how Zack Greinke fits better in a smaller market, and Pittsburgh seems the kind of club he could make a difference with. Any chance we could trade for Greinke?
-- Lindsay H., La Habra, Calif.
It's highly doubtful. There's no question that the Pirates would love to add Greinke to their rotation. But the cost is probably too high. The Royals are not in a position where they have to deal their ace, so they have the luxury of asking a lot for him. For a pitcher of Greinke's caliber, that means looking for high-ceiling prospects or young players.
It just doesn't seem to make sense for the Pirates to give up one of their best prospects for Greinke, who is set to become a free agent after the 2012 season. The Pirates wouldn't have an issue paying Greinke the $27 million he's due the next two years, but do you pay that and mortgage some of your best Minor League talents for a potential two-year rental? It doesn't make long-term sense.
And then there's this: Greinke has a partial no-trade clause. While it's believed that Greinke put a lot of big-market clubs on that list, Pittsburgh could always be on it as well.
Will Clint Hurdle have a free hand running the dugout and pitching decisions, or will his hands be tied up like John Russell's were this past season?
-- Tom L., Oil City, Pa.
First off, I don't find it an accurate assessment to claim that Russell's hands were tied during his time in Pittsburgh. Were there suggestions made by the front office? Yes, absolutely. Were some of those suggestions more along the lines of demands? Probably a few, though Russell never once made a comment about that being the case.
Now, the fact that Hurdle has already managed and coached for years in the Majors means that he enters the job knowing how he likes things to be run and how he likes to use personnel. Management will continue to provide data, statistics and even suggestions, but Hurdle will have his say when it comes to in-game decisions.
With the recent announcements of Gold Glove winners, where did Andrew McCutchen place in the voting? And do you think his time is coming to win one?
-- Dave S. Danville, Pa.
Unlike the voting for Rookie of the Year, MVP, CY Young and Manager of the Year Awards (these are all voted on by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America), the tallies in Gold Glove voting are not released.
That said, I don't see how McCutchen could have been in the discussion. Yes, his speed allows him to track down some balls that other outfielders can't, but McCutchen had a number of defensive lapses, too. And from a statistical standpoint, McCutchen actually ranked well below other center fielders.
The Ultimate Zone Rating for McCutchen was -14.4, meaning that he allowed about 14 more runs than the average center fielder. The highest UZR belonged to Houston's Michael Bourn (17.6), who ended up winning the Gold Glove. Bourn's UZR estimates that he saved the Astros nearly 18 runs over the course of the season. Of the 10 NL center fielders who played at least 940 innings, only one (Matt Kemp) had a worse UZR than McCutchen.