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One Step Closer to a Starting Pitching Upgrade?


Will the Pirates use Duke's money to upgrade the rotation, just like Capps/Dotel in 2010?

Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates non-tendered Matt Capps, after trying to trade their former closer and getting no interest.  Following the non-tender, Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington said that the money that would have gone to Capps would go to finding a replacement.  The Pirates went on to sign Octavio Dotel for $3.5 M, and also spent almost $4 M extra on bullpen options like Brendan Donnelly, D.J. Carrasco, Javier Lopez, and Jack Taschner.

The Pirates may have a similar situation this off-season.  Pittsburgh designated starting pitcher Zach Duke for assignment yesterday, in order to make room for new additions to the 40-man roster.  The move all but guarantees that Duke’s career with the Pirates is over, as teams have ten days to trade for him or claim him on waivers before the Pirates likely release him.  Just like Capps last year, the same things are being said about Duke this year (via Jennifer Langosch):

Industry sources confirmed that in the Pirates’ attempts to trade Duke this offseason, none of the other 29 teams showed any interest. The sources said there was also no interest in Duke at the Trade Deadline and that no one asked about the cost of acquiring the left-hander last offseason either. Interest in Duke at the 2009 Trade Deadline, which came on the heels of Duke’s strong first half and an All-Star invitation, was minimal at best, the sources added.

Huntington said that while the Pirates considered how challenging it might be to upgrade their starting pitching via free agency this winter, the money saved by not re-signing Duke could be used to help land another player.

We’ve pretty much known all off-season that Duke wouldn’t be brought back in 2011, but this confirms it.  By making the decision on Duke now, as opposed to non-tendering him two weeks from now, the Pirates essentially rob themselves of an extra week to try and trade their former starter.  However, it’s unlikely that the extra week will matter, based on the lack of interest in Duke.  It now remains to be seen whether the Pirates will repeat the Capps situation, using the money that Duke would have received through arbitration on another pitcher.

The Pirates have been reported to be interested in a lot of pitchers this off-season, although their top target has been Jorge De La Rosa.  Duke’s money, which would have probably been over $5 M, would easily cover half of De La Rosa’s 2011 salary.  The Pirates can also afford to add payroll this year, with an estimated 2011 payroll of just under $30 M after the removals of Duke, Andy LaRoche, and Delwyn Young.  The Pirates could add a pitcher like De La Rosa and end up around $40 M with no other additions, although it would be preferable if they made some upgrades to the defense in order to make any pitching signing worthwhile.

We’ve known all off-season that the Pirates were likely going to get rid of Duke.  There also seems to be an increased urgency in finding a starting pitching upgrade this year, as opposed to previous off-seasons.  It seems to me that the situation mirrors the Capps situation last year.  Despite their focus on adding bullpen pieces to replace Capps, most remained skeptical as to whether the Pirates would actually sign someone, especially when considering the fact that the team hadn’t made any sort of big signings the previous two off-seasons.

The same skeptical observations exist this year.  The Pirates are going after Jorge De La Rosa, and are said to be interested in buy low options like Justin Duchscherer, Jeff Francis, and Brandon Webb, but it’s hard to look at any of those rumors without being skeptical.  The Pirates haven’t made a move like this in the past, which means that it’s going to be hard to consider them as legit favorites to land any of the pitchers they are linked to, at least until they actually sign one of those pitchers.  It’s the same feeling most people had prior to signing Octavio Dotel, top international pitcher Luis Heredia, top prep pitchers Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, and every other big signing the Pirates have made.

On the other side of that, this is also the same feeling that existed last year when the Pirates were interested in buy low options like Justin Duchscherer, and those pursuits didn’t end in a deal.  Getting rid of Duke became a reality yesterday, and at the same time it increased the chances that the Pirates actually will land a guy like De La Rosa, or even one of the buy low options.  That still doesn’t make it a guarantee that the Pirates will land anyone, which is why anyone who is skeptical about this being a Capps/Dotel Part Two scenario is totally justified.  The Pirates have money available now that Duke is gone, and they have been aggressive in their pursuit of De La Rosa, but it remains to be seen whether they can actually use Duke’s money to land a starter who can upgrade the rotation.

Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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