We may be at an end of our era of détente.
What to make of Dejan's latest piece in the P-G? The money quote:
The Pirates' starting rotation, barring an unexpected development, is set for 2008.
General manager Neal Huntington plans to preserve all of his options regarding possible acquisitions, as per his general policy, but he made clear yesterday that the team's starters for the coming season will be Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Matt Morris and Zach Duke.
"We have not really been in the market for a starting pitcher," Huntington said. "We have been looking to add pitching depth -- a starting option or bullpen help -- but we like our starting five."
Despite a recent draft focus on arms, the 2007 Pirates had little quality pitching depth (as you're no doubt aware if you've been paying attention). They had plenty of arms in terms of numbers, but all of them were guys who would be stretched as more than the 11th or 12th man on a staff. If circumstances forced the team to lean on a Bryan Bullington or a Sean Burnett for an extended period of time, they'd be chewed up and spit out. In 70 innings last year at AAA, Burnett had 39 walks and only 31 strikeouts (to go with a 4.48 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP). If he's scared to throw strikes against Mike Restovich and John-Ford Griffin, how is he going to handle Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee? We've added a few more options through waiver claims, and some of those guys are interesting as developmental projects or lottery tickets, but right now there's nobody in whom I would have a reasonable degree of confidence if Paul Maholm were involved in an unfortunate lawnmower accident tomorrow.
This wouldn't be as much of a problem if the Pirates' announced 2008 rotation weren't nearly so shaky. Right now, we're not only assuming continued health for Snell, Gorzelanny, and Maholm, but also relying on two fairly low-percentage bets. Duke could very well be good in 2008, but you can't forget that he missed half of last season with elbow problems, and hasn't actually pitched well for two years. Morris, meanwhile, is an old pitcher with poor stuff and declining peripheral stats, and he put up a 6.10 ERA for us after we so generously took him off the Giants' hands last season. If we get one good season between the pair, we should count ourselves lucky, but for Huntington's approach to be successful we'll need the fortuitous conjunction of strong seasons from both AND good health from the rest of the staff. Any plan that relies on the consistent application of good luck in matters outside your direct control is doomed to failure in the long run. When you combine the uncertainty in the rotation with the lack of a coherent Plan B, and stir in Huntington's previously-stated concerns about our bullpen, it's a recipe for disaster.
The last time we blithely assumed that a problem of this nature would work itself out, we ended up with the train wreck that was our 2001 rotation. We got lazy about backup plans, and our various rehabbing starters didn't recover as quickly as we'd assumed, and then all of a sudden we were relying on a vast assortment of crappy options (Ramon Martinez, Oh-My! Olivares, Don Wengert, and a just-up-from-A-ball Joe Beimel) to get us through the season. Coming out of spring training, we nearly gave a rotation spot to the immortal Balvino Galvez, who hadn't pitched in the majors for fifteen years; one scout saw Galvez's name on our spring training roster, and assumed that Galvez must've had a son with the same name who was trying to break into the bigs. Galvez had the team made until he got into an argument with pitching coach Spin Williams during a rundown drill, at which point he stormed into the clubhouse, packed his bag, drove to the airport, and flew back to the Dominican Republic, never to be seen again. The P-G article describing these misadventures also includes a passage where Bonifay expresses his absolute confidence in a starting five of Todd Ritchie, Terry Mulholland, Jimmy Anderson and Jose Silva. Gack!
Thus far, Huntington has shown no sign that he's willing to tear down the entire roster and engage in wholesale rebuilding (as I would recommend, if he asked my opinion). Given that he is apparently unwilling to punt this season, he needs to find one or two more serviceable starters, or the decision may be forced upon him. It's OK that he didn't seriously pursue Matt Clement, even though Clement is a good arm and a local guy who would've probably taken an inexpensive deal along the lines of his one with the Cardinals to come here, because there are still plenty of other fish in the sea. It's equally OK if he spurns Kris Benson or Jason Jennings or Jon Lieber or Kenshin Kawakami or John Thomson... but eventually he needs to add one or more guys of that type. Adam Bernero and Runelvys Hernandez aren't going to cut it. Over the last five years, the five guys in our rotation at the start of the year have averaged 130 games started. If we don't pick someone for the remaining 32 starts, then circumstances will pick someone for us.
[This is all predicated, of course, on the assumption that Huntington isn't just lying through his teeth while he tries to build a trade market for Morris, in the assumption that he'll be able to flip our beloved albatross in time to sign a replacement. In my mind, the best argument against this explanation is Morris's obvious lack of value. I know that Bavasi still has his Weaver money sloshing around, but it's just not that hard to find a guy who can put up a 6+ ERA for you for less than ten million dollars. At this point, Morris is basically a sunk cost, and we need to devote our trade discussions to matters that have some realistic possibility of returning real value, such as finding a destination for Nady and Marte, or discreetly measuring the market for Freddy Sanchez. A statement like Huntington's is basically useless as a bluff. If people ignore it, then it doesn't have an impact, and if they believe it, then they assume that he's a moron for holding such views. Neither prospect pleases.]