The Pirates traded away a big piece to their 2011 bullpen this week when they shipped Jose Veras to Milwaukee for Casey McGehee. Looking at the bullpen after the trade, you can see why management had no trouble parting ways with Veras.
The bullpen will be headlined once again by Joel Hanrahan (unless the Pirates try to take advantage of the market for closers and trade him away to fill other needs, which would probably be in their best interest). You already know all you need to know about Hanrahan. He is now 30 years old and has some of the best stuff in the major leagues. If the Pirates do indeed hold on to him, they have one of the best closers in the game (it would be even better if they could learn how to best utilize him).
After Hanrahan, the Pirates have strong arms in Evan Meek, Chris Resop, and Chris Leroux. Meek is kind of a question mark there since he missed a lot of time last year with shoulder issues (he made just 24 appearances). If Meek is back to 100% health and has his upper-90’s velocity back, he should be a very good setup man for Hanrahan.
Resop took a small step backwards from his strong 2010 season with the Pirates, but was still a pretty effective option with a 4.39 ERA and 2.63 K/BB.
Leroux was one of the best pitchers for the Pirates last year with a 2.88 ERA and 3.43 K/BB in 23 appearances. There has been talk of him possibly becoming a starter, but I don’t really see that happening. He’s already 27 years old and the Pirates have more than enough marginal starting pitcher options in the upper levels of the system. Leroux should be a very solid 7th or 8th inning guy for the Pirates in 2012.
After those four, the Pirates have guys like Tony Watson, Daniel McCutchen, and Jason Grilli that are good bets to make the club out of spring training. Watson is the one that could see some more times in the minor leagues, but I would expect the Pirates to have him in the pen on opening day since he’s probably their best left-handed option. Watson posted a 3.95 ERA with 1.85 K/BB in 41 big league innings last year. Those numbers could be better, but he was very impressive in his rookie season. He’s 26 years old so his best years are still ahead of him.
D-Cutch was one of the best pitchers on the roster for most of last year, although the Jerry Meals game seemed to kind of kill him. McCutchen posted a 3.72 ERA with 1.42 K/BB and should be a fixture in the bullpen once again this year. He can give the Pirates multiple innings and is a very versatile pitcher, definitely a good guy to have on the 25-man roster.
Grilli rounds out this group after being tendered a contract just this week. The Pirates signed Grilli in the middle of last year and he was very good in a Pirates uniform posting a 2.48 ERA with 2.47 K/BB. He’s another guy that can throw a couple innings at a time and he should help this team.
Outside of that group, the Pirates have even more depth. Danny Moskos, Jared Hughes, and Duke Welker are three more bullpen arms the Pirates have in the system with pretty good potential. Moskos is another lefty, something the Pirates don’t have a lot of, so that helps his cause. We saw a little bit of Hughes last year and we have yet to see Welker, but there’s a good chance they’ll both be up at some point in 2012.
The Pirates also have a surplus of MLB and AAA starting pitchers, so some of them could be used in bullpen roles in 2012. Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Brad Lincoln, Justin Wilson, and Jeff Karstens all fit that mold.
Depth is certainly not an issue for the Pirates 2012 bullpen. They have a few very strong arms that can strike guys out when they need to, and they have a bunch of other guys who can be serviceable when used in the proper situations. The Pirates have some serious question marks heading into the 2012 season, but the bullpen isn’t one of them.