It goes without saying the Pittsburgh Pirates 2010 season has been an unmitigated disaster. Andy LaRoche, Aki Iwamura, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby all had a chance to hold everyday jobs the first half of the year. Three are now gone and LaRoche's career is on life support.
Every starting pitcher, literally every one, has been a disappointment. Zach Duke is a very real non-tender candidate. Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln have massively underperformed expectations. Paul Maholm seems to be regressing. Ross Ohlendorf, who has actually pitched pretty well the second half of the season, has one win.
We know the story of the young position players and the bullpen and those have been bright spots.
Now, with 1/4 of the season left, it is important the Pirates use this time to further evaluate some players on the bubble. Here are some of my thoughts.
Starting Pitching: It's time to go to a six or seven man rotation. James McDonald hasn't pitched a lot of innings and has done well enough that he should get a regular turn as should Ross Ohlendorf. I would probably keep sending Maholm out there as well. That leaves about 16-18 starts for the rest of the team. There is no point in being sentimental about this. Zach Duke doesn't deserve anymore starts. Period. He has the worst numbers of any pitcher in the majors. I would non-tender him after the season. He isn't worth $5 million. Time to move on. He can spot start if necessary.
On September 1 Brad Lincoln and Charlie Morton should be called up. I would put Lincoln right back in the rotation and get him five starts down the stretch. I would start Morton in the pen but would look to get him 2-3 starts before the end of the year to gauge any progress. That leaves about ten starts which I would use between Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Sean Gallagher. Bullpen usage will no longer be a factor with the expanded rosters. Gallagher's command is a huge issue but I would let him try to go five or six innings as a starter based on some effective longer stints out of the pen. McCutchen gets one last chance before being permanently relegated to the pen and AAAA status. Karsten, the one guy who has really outperformed expectations, gets the remaining 4-6 starts. He has proven useful, but I think it is apparent what he is now--an effective long-man and spot starter, nothing more.
That leaves the team with Ohlendorf, McDonald and Maholm as three of next year's starters with ten other guys being candidates. Minor leaguers Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris and Jeff Locke are not going north in April next year. It is not a pretty picture as we sit here today.
Field Positions: Five positions are effectively nailed down starting next season--left field (Tabata), center field (McCutchen), third base (Alvarez), second base (Walker) and catcher (Snyder). The two shortstops closest to the majors, Argeniz Diaz and Pedro Ciriaco have a very similar pedigree--good glove, limited bat. I'm not willing to write off Ronny Cedeno for next year but I would only give him 20 of the remaining starts and I'd split the other 20 between Diaz and Ciriaco just to get a better look. It won't tell you much, but there is no reason not to do it.
First base and left field are a hodgepodge of guys at critical junctures in their careers. The second half of this season has seen Garrett Jones fully revert to the numbers all the forecasting systems predicted of him when he came up last season. While hitting well with RISP Lastings Milledge really is not proving to be more than a fourth outfielder. His season numbers are now almost identically in-line with his career numbers and he's had over 600 PAs as a Pirate. I really see no reason to give Jones more than twenty starts down the stretch and I'd give Milledge virtually none.
That leaves four players for 60-70 starts--Ryan Doumit, Jeff Clement, Brandon Moss and John Bowker. The reason to play Doumit is that the team owes him $5.3 million next year and he's the best player out of the six. Many people don't like him, but his rate stats are exactly the same as Garrett Jones' this year and his counting stats are almost perfectly equal when you take into account that Jones has 150 more at bats. The fact is that Doumit is the best guy currently on the roster to play right field next year if Jones is playing first base. I don't have any expectations, but maybe not catching everyday will increase his productivity. And for the record, Doumit and Jones are just 79 days apart in age.
Speaking of age, it's somewhat ironic that Clement, Moss and Bowker are all only 70 days apart. Next year will be their age 27 season. (Milledge is two years younger.) I now have low expectations that any of these guys pan out. I would start Clement 30 games at first base down the stretch. I still think he has some potential, but he is out of options next year and has had less of an opportunity than Moss. If the teams rests Tabata and Cutch five games each Moss and Bowker can both get ten starts. Again, there is very little value in it, but it's better to see something as opposed to nothing at all.
Bullpen: I think Wilfredo Ledezma, Chris Resop and Gallagher, all acquired for basically nothing later in the season, have a chance to compliment Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan next year. I would focus on those three with Joe Martinez being another guy to look at.
Summary: The last 39 games aren't likely to produce more than 10-15 wins regardless, so the team should take the time to see as much as they can from some of these guys rather than known quantities like Zach Duke, Jeff Karstens, Garrett Jones and Lastings Milledge. If even one guy turns out to give a good evaluation and ends up helping the club next year it will be playing time well spent.
The reality is this brutal season might get even worse the last forty games. The sobering thought is there are still glaring holes in next year's roster that are not going to buttressed by additions from a talented but extremely young minor league system.
And for the first time in three years, I really think John Russell could be gone at the end of the season. Too many fundamental errors by the players, too many lineups that make no sense and, simply put, too much losing. Time for Russell to go.