Taking a Look at the Pirates’ Crowded Bullpen

Yesterday the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that they had signed right handed reliever Juan Cruz to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Cruz was considered one of the better set-up men in the game just a few years ago, and is coming off a pretty good year pitching out of Tampa Bay’s bullpen, one year removed from a shoulder injury.

Following the move, I raised a question on Twitter. If you assume that the Pirates will carry two left handed relievers — something that has been on Clint Hurdle’s wish list ever since he arrived in Pittsburgh — then which four right handers would you pick to fill out the bullpen?

The bullpen has become a bit crowded, which is a good problem to have. But there’s still a situation where the Pirates have more options than roster spots, which will lead to some tough decisions in Spring Training. Here are the available right handers that are either on the 40-man roster, or have an invite to Spring Training.

The closer role is excluded from this analysis, since Joel Hanrahan has his roster spot locked in.

Jason Grilli – He had a 2.48 ERA last year, and tied for the team high strikeout ratio with a 10.2 K/9 in 32.2 innings. He’s also the highest paid reliever on the roster not named Joel Hanrahan, making $1.1 M this year.

Evan Meek – This time last year we were debating between Meek and Hanrahan on who should be the closer for the 2011 season. While Hanrahan thrived in the closer’s role, Meek had a down year. He’s getting $875 K this year, and it would be hard to pass him up considering his upside.

Chris Resop – He pitched a lot in the 7th and 8th innings last year, and had up and down results. He struggled at times, but for the most part was reliable, and tied Grilli with a 10.2 K/9 ratio in 69.2 innings. Resop is making $850 K.

Daniel McCutchen – He led the bullpen in innings last year with 84.2 innings in 73 appearances. McCutchen doesn’t have the stuff that guys like Meek, Grilli, and Resop have. To me he seems like a Jesse Chavez type: a middle reliever who is best used in a trade.

Chris Leroux had a breakout season in 2011, and is out of options in 2012.

Chris Leroux – He had a breakout season last year, changing his arm slot in the minors, and ending up with a 2.88 ERA in the majors in 25 innings, along with an 8.6 K/9 and a 2.5 BB/9. He’s been working on his secondary stuff over the off-season.

Bryan Morris – Morris probably won’t be a factor for the bullpen on Opening Day since there are plenty of options and he hasn’t pitched in AAA yet.

Jared Hughes – He was called up in September after flashing a sinker in Indianapolis that got up to 96 MPH. In 11 innings he had a 4.09 ERA and a 10:4 K/BB ratio.

Duke Welker – Like Morris, he probably won’t be a factor due to a lack of AAA experience.

Juan Cruz – He arguably has the best track record of all of these pitchers, and he’s coming off a good year with Tampa Bay. In his last two seasons in the National League he struck out over 12 batters per nine innings.

Daniel Cabrera – He’s always dealt with control issues, and his major league results haven’t been impressive, which makes him a huge underdog in this discussion.

Michael Crotta – He made the Opening Day roster last year, but went down early in the season with an injury. He doesn’t stand out over the other middle relievers, which makes him an underdog as a non-roster invitee.

Ryota Igarashi – He hasn’t carried his Japanese league numbers over to the majors, struggling with his control the past two years. He’s also unlikely to be a factor.

Logan Kensing – He’s had poor results so far in the majors, which puts him in the same category as Cabrera and Igarashi.

Shairon Martis – Martis was in the majors at a young age, working as a starter but putting up poor results. A move to the bullpen could revive his career, but he’d probably have more value as starting depth out of AAA.

Tim Wood – Wood had a lot of success with Indianapolis last year, but didn’t fare well in his limited time in Pittsburgh, which has been a trend in his career. Odds are he stays in AAA to start the year.

Picking the Best Four

With four spots available, these are the guys I consider contenders: Jason Grilli, Evan Meek, Chris Resop, Daniel McCutchen, Chris Leroux, Jared Hughes, Juan Cruz.

You would need to cut three guys from this group. Grilli, Resop, and Leroux are all out of options, which clouds the picture even more. If you cut them, you risk losing them for good. You can option McCutchen and Hughes, and Cruz is on a minor league deal, although there’s no word yet on whether he has an out clause.

My choice would be Grilli, Meek, Resop, and Leroux. That allows you to keep the guys who are out of options, and I think you have to give a shot to Meek.

I don’t agree with the idea that you have to have two left handers. I’d rather have the best possible relievers, and ideally those relievers could get anyone out. If it were up to me, I’d go with Tony Watson as the lone left hander, then give Juan Cruz the other spot.

The Pirates won’t need a fifth starter until April 24th, so it’s possible they could open the season with an eight man bullpen, giving them one extra spot to work with. That would allow them to carry two left handers, plus Grilli, Meek, Resop, and Leroux, and still have room for Cruz.

As for McCutchen and Hughes, they both have options, and would be great depth in AAA. I think McCutchen looks better as trade depth. He just seems like the type of reliever you flip in exchange for a productive player with an overpriced salary from another team.

That would be my approach with the bullpen. What would you do?


  • It really seems like NH likes high K high walk rate guys for his bullpen.  It sorta makes sense because batter have an aggressive early count approach late in games and a little wildness actually helps since the batter can’t guess a location 100%.  I saw that a lot in Good/Bad Veras   Which means, White Cutch, Watson and Crotta are the odd men out.  Still the arms in the bullpen is remarkable better than the old days of the 86 mph junkballer, even if most of them have some issues.  I wonder if Hurdle won’t get his wish and get 2 lefties no matter how much he wishes it.

  • Word here in Cincinnati is that the Reds need to move Aroldis Chapman’s salary in order to sign Roy Oswalt. Chapman reminds me of Oliver Perez but with a much higher upside, maybe Ray Searage could solve his mental issues.

    Assuming the Reds would be willing to deal within the division and take McCutchen and/or G. Hernandez in exchange for us eating his entire salary, would you do this deal?

  • I believe the starting rotation could get hit hard this year.  As such, I believe it will be important to have one or more pitchers in the pen who can give you more than 1 inning.

    Thus, a few thoughts about the pen:

    The time to trade Hanrahan for good value likely has passed for at least several months.  Most teams that really need a closer now appear set at closer based on free agent signings and trades.  This year I hope that Hanrahan can pitch at the level he did during the first half last year and that NH can trade him for some value mid-season.

    The two RH relievers who I believe are on the shortest leashes are Resop and Meek.  Meek showed next to nothing last year and we all need to hope that he can begin to pitch like he did during parts of 2010.  With Resop, he looked okay last year until he had to throw all too often.  Similar to Hanrahan, I hope he has a decent first 2 months and that NH can trade him for some prospect talent.  One good feature about both is that there are signed to low  cost contracts; which could enhance their trade value or make it less painful to cut them loose if they don’t perform.

    I am hoping that Grilli’s and LeRoux’s perfromances at the end of the season were not mirages.  If one or both can pitch like they did last year, the Pirates have the makings of some relievers who would be a plus.  I like LeRoux as both a long-man (2-3 innings) and someone who could get a single out or two when you may need one in the 7th or 8th.  If Grilli can continue to strike out more than a batter an inning, why not use him in the 8th. 

    I like McCutchen as a long man; someone who sits in the pen until you need someone to deliver some innings for a failed starter, and not someone who you call on for only an inning, unless he really needs some work.

    So, unless Meek or Resop look like toast in spring training, my initial pen would shape up as follows:
    Hanrahan – closer
    Grilli – 8th
    Meek – 6th & 7th
    Resop – 6th & 7th
    LeRoux – 2 inning pitcher with occassional use in short term role
    McCutchen – Reserve for longer term stints
    Watson – Only lefty in the pen.  I prefer to go with quality rather than righty-lefty.  Moskos just didn’t look ready last year.

    Come June – July, I hope that Morris, Hughes and others are pushing NH to trade a reliever or two.  PIttsburgh desperately needs more talent and perhaps a contending team could use some bullpen help for someone who has a potential long-term upside.

  • If the Pirates sign Jackson, they won’t have to rely on the bullpen as much.

  • My 7 man bullpen would be:
    Hanrahan CL
    Cruz 7th/8th Inning
    Meek 7th/8th Inning
    Watson 7th/8th Inning (when he burns out, go to Moskos)
    Grilli 6th/7th Inning
    Leroux 6th/7th (long man maybe, stretching him out a little into a possible starter)
    McCutchen (long man)

    To me, Resop would be the odd man out. I think Cruz is better, and if his stuff comes back, Meek is better. Hughes/Wood back to AAA as depth.
    The rest of the NRI would be gone.

  • Trade Hanrahan.  I think that the Pirates can find a serviciable closer in this group.  Closers value is overrated and the Pirates should be able to get a good everyday addition for Hanrahan.  I want to add that I like the Hammer and would love for the Pirates to keep him.  I just believe that he has better value in a trade.  Keep Grilli, Cruz, Resop, and Hughes.  Maybe Meek is healthy and can close. 

  • Are you sure Meek’s arm is gone?  I would think if it was the Bucs would have left him go.

    • Reclamation projects are the Pirates specialties. If his arm is not gone, he will get a chance to prove it in ST.
      I did not think he was a bonified 8th inning guy when he did not have arm trouble, he was always in trouble, never 1-2-3. There can be as much pressure in the 8th inning as there is in the 9th inning, I never though this guy was a good pressure pitcher.

  • I think the article brings about more questions?
    1. Should they make a trade for a set-up guy, since none of these pitchers are set-up men.
    2. Should they carry a specialty left hander?
    3. Which of these guys had a fluke season last year?

    1. The first move I would make is to get a bonified 8th inning set-up guy, you can have all the pitchers in the world, but teams are getting smart and recognizing that the back end of the bullpen is one of the keys to winning, I don’t like the mix and match that the Pirates would have to do with these pitchers.

    If I had to pick from what they have this is what I would do concerning right handers.

    1. Closer- Hanrahan and Cruz, you need two.
    2. Set-up- Grilli, Cruz or Leroux
    3. 7th inning- Grilli, Resop, McCutchen
    4. 6th inning- McCutchen, Resop

    Trade Meek, from what I saw of him last year, his arm is gone, he once relied on a 94-96 mile fastball, that is gone and now he will have to learn how to pitch with stuff, since he will be in the low nineties tops this year. If they keep him, how he throws in ST will make a difference as to whether he is a candidate to make the team. A Guy like Hanrahan probably won’t be under the microscope in ST IMO.

    • but maybe Meek’s stuff isn’t gone.  I think you’re making assumptions about things you aren’t familiar with.  I mean, it may be gone for good.  However, considering his injury, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities that he needed a legitimate break rather than forcing him to come back because they had so many other injuries on the team.  If he comes back in Spring Training and can hit 93 and maybe touch on 94, I’d wager that he’s on his way back up.  If that’s the case, then you would have traded or released a player that could be your “bonifide” 8th inning guy, and gotten absolutely nothing in return.  With all the options in the mix this coming season, I would think that if he really had nothing left, he would have been rid of a while ago, the Pirates aren’t that stupid.

      You’re probably the kind of guy that thinks that they should have gotten rid of Alvarez after last year too when he doesn’t even have a full season of AB’s yet.

      • I am probably not the kind of guy that thinks they should have gotten rid of Alvarez. I am not a “Get Rid of Guy”. I am not a free ride guy either. Meek is not a comparison to Alvarez, apples and oranges.
        If you read the whole post, you would have read that I stated that if they want to keep Meek he should be watched closely in ST and not given a free ride as a guy like Hanrahan would get if he does not do well in ST.

  • Great problem the have. Huntington hasn’t done everything right but he has done a good job filling the bullpen with cheap options every year and this year it seems like we have more depth than in past years. I could definitely see us dealing Meek or Resop before the 25 man is set and we head North.

  • Hanrahan, Meek, Grilli, McCutchen, Watson, Cruz, and Leroux. I was pretty stunned when Resop got tendered, he led the bullpen in meltdowns in 2011 with 16 (with only 21 shutdowns). At any rate, they have Moskos, Hughes, Wilson, Morris, and Welker all at AAA.

    Ideally I’d like to see Corriea dealt and Lincoln as the 5th SP, Lincoln (4.03FIP) was much better than Correia (4.85FIP) in 2011. Scratch that, Ideally I’d like to see EJax signed, Correia dealt, and Lincoln as the fill in until Charlie is ready. 

  • Hanrahan, Meek, Grilli, Resop and Cruz.  I think the battle would be between Leroux and Resop, and should go to the best guy, but Resop seems to be pretty high in Hurdle’s estimation.  They might take both if they wait for a 4th starter, but I feel pretty confident that they will use a 12 man bullpen for the year.  It’s too bad because ideally I’d take McCutchen, he’s by far the best swing man they have.