Interesting blurb from the Post-Gazette:
Management heads into the spring with the stance that only [Paul] Maholm has a job in the rotation. But be sure that Ian Snell, Ross Ohlendorf and Duke have a leg up. That would leave one spot for Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Karstens or Phil Dumatrait. But that is for now. Much could change with spring performance and health.
I'm trying to identify a pattern in the idea of Snell, Ohlendorf and Duke being on the inside track, but I can't. Snell has both upside and a good pre-2008 performance record, so I think he should be in there. Duke actually isn't the terrible pitcher a lot of Pirates fans think he is, but there's not much upside there. Ohlendorf has some upside in that he throws hard, but he doesn't have much of a performance record in the majors or even particularly in the minors, and projection systems hate him. I don't understand why he'd have a better shot at a rotation job than anyone else. I'm as much about upside as anyone, and I'm interested to see what Ohlendorf will look like when he's not worn down the way he was with the Pirates last season, but given his age and stuff, I wonder if just letting him pitch out of the bullpen might be a better option. That way, he could quit worrying about pitching six innings and just let 'er rip.
Other than Maholm (obviously) and Dumatrait, who I don't think should be allowed near the rotation except in emergency, I don't see a clear case for or against any of these guys. (Forget the brief moment when Dumatrait looked like a solid rotation option last year and look at his 2008 and career stat lines; he's terrible.) I can easily imagine scenarios in which Karstens is the Pirates' best starter in 2009, and he's probably the best bet of any Pirates starter other than Maholm to post an ERA below 4.50, but he also has no upside whatsoever. I can also imagine Snell or Gorzelanny posting ERAs north of six, but I also think the Pirates need to keep trying them. EDIT: There's also Dan McCutchen, who I forgot to mention but might have more upside than most of the pitchers discussed above. It'd be interesting to see him get a rotation job, but given the relative wealth of options, McCutchen's lack of minor league experience, and the fact that he's not yet on the 40-man roster, he may not get a lot of consideration.
Here's my incredibly tentative proposal for the Pirates' Opening Day staff:
SP Paul Maholm, SP Ian Snell, SP Zach Duke, SP Jeff Karstens, SP Tom Gorzelanny
CL Matt Capps, SU John Grabow, SU Free Agent, RP Tyler Yates, RP Ross Ohlendorf, RP Sean Burnett, RP Donald Veal
That's a pretty rickety bullpen. I'd give Ohlendorf the first shot at the next open rotation position. I'd love to keep Veal, but unless he produces right away it may be difficult, because the bullpen is so problematic. If Tyler Yates is the third-best guy in your pen, you're in for a long season.