PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 06: Evan Meek #47 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the game on September 6 2010 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. The Pirates beat the Braves 3-1. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times has a new article on bullpen turnover and which teams have replaced most of their bullpens since 2008. The Pirates, unsurprisingly, are on that list.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, the team most associated with fire sales and massive turnover, has Evan Meek heading into the season as a potential closer candidate. Meek was 25 in 2008 when he made nine bullpen appearances for the Pirates.
They also have Jeff Karstens still kicking around, though he wasn't in the bullpen in 2008. Karstens made nine starts that year, but in 2009 and 2010 has bounced back and forth between starting and the bullpen. So, we can't count him since he wasn't a reliever in 2008. Tyler Yates is a non-roster invitee by the Pirates this spring after pitching out of the bullpen in 2008 and 2009. But like Jimenez, he wasn't around in 2010, so we don't count him. So, one guy: Meek.
The idea is that teams that lose a lot (Mariners, Nationals, Pirates) or turn over their roster rapidly (Marlins, Pirates) churn through relievers even more quickly than most teams, which of course makes sense - you can't really rebuild a 100-loss team by focusing on the bullpen.
The Pirates' 2008 bullpen consisted of Matt Capps, a bunch of guys who were traded (Damaso Marte, Sean Burnett, John Grabow, Jesse Chavez), and then even more guys Neal Huntington acquired cheaply in his first year on the job (Yates, Meek, Denny Bautista, T.J. Beam, Jason Davis). There was also Franquelis Osoria (who was a holdover from the Littlefield days) Romulo Sanchez (who came through the farm system), Marino Salas (acquired in the Salomon Torres trade) and Craig Hansen (acquired in the Jason Bay trade). And then there was Meek, who was a completely clueless-looking Rule 5 pick in 2008 but turned out to be quite good once he'd had some time in the minors.
It was a pretty bad, patchwork bullpen overall, especially after Marte left, but the 2011 edition probably won't be a whole lot better, raising the possibility that the entire group, or close to it, will be turned over again by 2013 or 2014. That isn't the worst thing in the world, since bullpens should probably be the last part of a contending team to come together, and not the first. But it's not good, either.
Meek, Joel Hanrahan and hopefully Chris Resop should form a pretty good core this season, but after that there will have to be a lot of lucky breaks for the Pirates to have a good bullpen. Probably the best chance for things to come together is for Diego Moreno to blast his way through Classes AA and/or AAA and become a shutdown reliever fairly quickly. That's at least a possibility, if not a terribly likely one.
Beyond that, things get even more speculative, and you have to look very hard to find guys whose upside for 2011 is better than a hint above replacement level. Tony Watson as a LOOGY? Maybe. Jose Ascanio miraculously returning from injuries? Eh. Mike Crotta moved to a relief role? Fernando Nieve finally putting things together? I'm really trying here.
Other than that, most of the highest-level pitchers who aren't assured of big-league jobs are legitimate starter prospects who the Pirates will probably want to keep starting (Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson), or injury question marks (Kevin Hart, Donnie Veal), or guys who, in my view, just don't have a ton of upside (Jeff Karstens, Scott Olsen, Chris Leroux, Dan McCutchen, Danny Moskos, Justin Thomas, Cesar Valdez, etc. etc. etc.).
I've moved a lot in the past seven or eight years, and it seems like whenever I do, I stumble across a copy of Baseball Prospectus that's four years old, and I look with pity upon the Pirates chapter. I always get some terrifying reminder that Britt Reames used to pitch for the Bucs, or that Yurendell DeCaster was sort of a prospect. Unless there's some miracle, the 2011 bullpen is likely to be like that in a few years - we'll probably remember Meek, Hanrahan and Resop as being more than footnotes, but that's about it.