Winter Meetings Notebook: It’s All About Pitching

The Washington Nationals made a huge splash on the free agent market on Sunday, announcing a seven year, $126 M deal with outfielder Jayson Werth.  The deal has gotten a lot of attention, both due to the impact of the signing on the free agent market, and the statement the Nationals made.  Despite the signing, I really don’t see the Nationals as a team that has greatly improved.  Werth has looked good over the last two years, but in the long run the Nationals are replacing recently departed Adam Dunn with Werth, who is a year older, and doesn’t provide a significant upgrade over Dunn.

The Nationals weren’t winning with Dunn.  In fact, they’ve got one of the best young players in the game in Ryan Zimmerman, along with Dunn, and that led to a 128-196 record over the last two seasons.  The big issue for the Nationals is the lack of pitching that has been available.  Unless they can add some pitching this off-season, I don’t see their 2011 season going significantly better than their 2010 season, despite the addition of Werth.

The Pirates are no stranger to pitching woes.  The starting rotation in 2010 was horrible.  The Pirates enter the 2011 season with three starters locked in to the rotation.  Those starters are Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, and James McDonald.  Maholm is only a lock due to his $5.75 M salary, and his 2008 success.  Ohlendorf has put up good numbers the past two seasons, although he hasn’t been perfect, with a lot of second half success, some injuries, and some luck, with his ERAs being much lower than his xFIP numbers each year.  McDonald was excellent after joining the Pirates in 2011, although that success was limited to just 64 innings, and doesn’t provide any guarantees for the 2011 season.

Outside of those three, the Pirates have Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, and Brad Lincoln as options to start the 2011 season in the rotation.  Karstens is a fifth starter at best, and probably best used as a 6th starter/long man out of the bullpen.  Lincoln and Morton both experienced their struggles in 2010, and neither is a guarantee.  In the bullpen, the Pirates have things locked down on the back side, with Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek, and Chris Resop looked promising last year, but there are still a lot of empty spaces.

It’s no surprise that day one of the winter meetings was filled with so many rumors about the Pirates pursuing pitching.  The team has a lot of spots open in the pitching staff heading in to the 2011 season.  Last year we saw a lot of good things from the offense in the second half, mostly from the rookies Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, and Jose Tabata.  Just like the Nationals, the Pirates can have good offensive weapons, but without pitching they’re not going to see improvements next year.

The Pirates agreed to a two year, $8 M deal with Correia.

The Pirates made their first move toward upgrading the rotation tonight, adding starting pitcher Kevin Correia on a two year, $8 M deal.  The Pirates also have agreed to a deal with Scott Olsen, which should be finalized later this week.  They also are strongly pursuing right handed reliever Jeremy Accardo, and according to Dejan Kovacevic, could be close to signing him.  The Pirates were involved in a lot of rumors surrounding pitching today.  Here is a rundown of the day’s rumors:

-We heard earlier today that the Pirates were looking at Kevin Correia.  They agreed to a two year deal with him tonight.  I’m a big fan of Correia.  He had a great season in 2009, but struggled in 2010, partly due to luck, although some personal issues could have played a big role.  I’ll go in to more detail about Correia tomorrow morning.

-As mentioned above, the Pirates are close to signing Olsen, and have agreed to a deal.  I’m not a fan of Olsen, mostly due to his attitude problems.  We’ve seen Jose Tabata and Lastings Milledge come to the Pirates with a history of attitude problems that turned out to be unfounded.  However, those issues seem minor compared to what has surrounded Olsen (multiple fights with teammates, and a DUI).  Olsen wouldn’t be a bad flier as a relief option at a reported $1 M base salary, but his attitude issues make him a cancer that this young team doesn’t need in any role.

The Pirates are also strongly pursuing Accardo.  We hear about “interest” and “mutual interest” a lot, but rarely do we hear “strongly pursuing” or “deeply interested”.  Usually when we hear that (such as the case with Olsen) it leads to a signing.

-As for “mututal interest”, the Pirates and Brandon Webb had a reported mutual interest, although talks on that front have cooled, as the Pirates haven’t contacted Webb since November 22nd.  It was reported today that the Pirates and Justin Duchscherer have a mutual interest.  Of all the bounce back starting options, Duchscherer is my favorite.  When healthy, his numbers are good enough to be a top of the rotation starter.

The Pirates have some interest in Kenshin Kawakami, who the Braves are looking to trade.  Kawakami has one year and $6.667 M remaining on the three year deal he signed with Atlanta in 2009.  The Braves are reportedly ready to pick up all but $1-2 M of his salary, and aren’t looking for a big return.  Kawakami had a good year in 2009, although he was a bit lucky.  He had a bad year in 2010, although that included some bad luck.  He’d be a good flier for the back of the rotation, or a bullpen spot, with the chance that he could try and get close to his 2009 numbers again.

There were also some trade rumors.  The Pirates would love to trade Ryan Doumit, and according to Dejan Kovacevic, they have been trying to trade Doumit for weeks and are confident that they can make a straight up deal with no cash involved.  Neal Huntington announced today that Doumit is currently the 2011 starting right fielder.  That’s likely to drive up trade value, showing that the Pirates are willing to use Doumit if they can’t get an ideal trade.  There was also an update about Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek.  The Pirates aren’t shopping either reliever, but would consider them in the right deal, likely for a young starter.

On the shortstop front, the Pirates have a mild interest in St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Brendan Ryan, who was made expendable with the Cardinals’ addition of Ryan Theriot.  Tampa Bay asked for a package including Nolan Reimold in exchange for Jason Bartlett, which seems like a high price for a shortstop with declining defensive skills and one good season at the plate.

-The Pirates don’t like the available talent in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, and could trade their first overall selection.  Speaking of the Rule 5 draft, I previewed Wynn Pelzer, another top prospect available in the draft.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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