At the outset of the 2012 season, not too many of the so-called experts pegged the Pittsburgh Pirates to be the story of the summer. Yet, here they are – ten games over .500 and right in the thick of the N.L. Central race, more than halfway through the campaign. The 2012 Bucs are a shining example of how a small market franchise can be built to win without mortgaging their future with headline-stealing trades or mind boggling contracts.
A quick look at how the key players for the 2012 Pirates came together:
SP James McDonald – On July 31, 2010 the Pirates traded their closer, Octavio Dotel, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for McDonald and minor league OF Andrew Lambo. Dotel pitched exactly 18.2 innings for the Dodgers, who finished 80-82. Lambo is still just 23-years old, but has struggled with injuries and inconsistency. McDonald has become an ace starter, and is under team control until 2016. This is a trade that the Dodgers wish they could un-do, a candidate for the best move made by Neil Huntington.
SP A.J. Burnett – Burnett had never lived up to the expectations of a massive contract he signed with the New York Yankees in 2008. In February of this year, the Yankees were trying to unload their veteran hurler to any team that would take him. The Pirates swooped in and acquired Burnett for a pair of minor leaguers, neither a legit prospect. To facilitate the deal, New York agreed to pick up $20 million of the $33 million owed to Burnett over the next two seasons. Ultimately, Burnett has proven that getting out of New York was the best thing that could have happened to him. He has become the veteran leader of the Bucs, and has been integral to the success of 2012.
SP Kevin Correia – Correia was coming off a down year in San Diego when the Pirates signed him to a two-year, $7 million contract in December of 2010. His workhorse mentality and veteran presence has been a great value at that price. Correia will never be a Cy Young winner, but he is the type of pitcher that every contending team needs to have – a reliable, inning-eating starter who rarely has a dud outing. By comparison, St. Louis is paying SP Jake Westbrook $8.5 million this year for essentially the same type of production.
SP Jeff Karstens – The Pirates trade OF Xavier Nady and RP Damaso Marte to the Yankees for Karstens, OF Jose Tabata, SP Ross Ohlendorf, and RP Daniel McCutchen at the 2008 trade deadline. While Ohlendorf fizzled out after showing promise, Karstens has continued to develop into a solid starting pitcher. Tabata is a work in progress, but has started 265 ballgames for the Pirates since being promoted in 2010. McCutchen represents depth for the Pirates in the bullpen, unable to find a job in the 2012 relief corps despite showing reliability last season. He will be one of the first calls if the Bucs need reinforcements for the stretch run. Nady played in 66 games for the Yankees, batting .270 before injuries derailed his career. Marte stayed in New York for a few more years, but never regained form as a dominant left-handed reliever.
SP Eric Bedard – Bedard has had a very up and down career, but it was his 2011 season that convinced the Pirates that he could fit into their 2012 plans. The Bucs were able to agree with Bedard on a suitable contract, $4.5 million for one year. While it was unknown how much could be expected of Bedard, given his past injuries, it was a chance worth taking. Thus far he has been inconsistent, a few good starts, a few bad, and most recently a decent one against Colorado. How much further Bedard goes as part of this rotation will depend on what the Pirates do at the trade deadline, and on his production over his next two starts. Either way, it was a bargain deal for the Bucs.
CL Joel Hanrahan – “The Hammer” was acquired on June 30, 2009 from Washington in the deal that sent RP Sean Burnett and OF Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals. The Pirates also received OF Lastings Milledge, who is no longer with the organization. Hanrahan has only developed into one of the top closers in baseball, saving 71 saves as a Pirate. Burnett has been a reliable lefty reliever for Washington, and Morgan is in Milwaukee after Washington gave up on him. Advantage – Pirates.
RP Jason Grilli – Grilli had floundered around the major leagues for 10 years before the Pirates bought his contract off of the AAA-Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs on July 20 last summer. Grilli was on a minor league deal that had an opt-out clause if any major league team offered him a contract, and after he dominated at AAA for a few months, the Pirates came calling. Since then, he has morphed into the best 8th inning set-up man in the National League, posting amazing numbers and building a bridge to Hanrahan in the 9th. Grilli has the stuff to be a closer, and in time he will probably get the chance. For 2012, the Pirates will continue to revile in their undefeated streak when winning after the 7th inning, made possible by the “Grilli Cheese Hammer” combo.
RP Chris Resop – Resop was another scrapheap acquisition by the Pirates, who found him on the waiver wire from Atlanta in August 2010. Resop has turned into a reliable relief pitcher who has the flexibility to pitch long relief or short, and has the stuff to shut down teams one inning at a time. He has been a great pickup that cost the Pirates a total of $1.25 million and is signed through 2015.
RP Jared Hughes – Hughes is a product of the Pirates minor league system, and has become a suitable reliever in just his second major league season. His 2.06 ERA and 1.145 WHIP are great numbers for a middle reliever making a cool $481,000 this year. He is also under team control through 2018.
RP Tony Watson – Watson was drafted three times (2003 by Florida, 2006 by Baltimore, and 2007 by the Pirates) and found a home in Pittsburgh this year. He is a homegrown product that makes $484,000 and is under team control through 2018.
As for the position players, a quick rundown on the “homegrown” products that are playing a huge part in this incredible 2012 campaign:
CF Andrew McCutchen – former 1st round pick by the Pirates in the 2005 Amateur Draft. Has become one of the top overall players in baseball in 2012 and signed a 6-year extension that keeps him in Black and Gold through 2018.
2B Neil Walker – former 1st round pick by the Pirates in the 2004 Amateur Draft. Has become a fantastic second baseman who can hit .300 and drive in 60-75 RBI per season. Walker is a Pine-Richland native who is signed through 2017.
3B Pedro Alvarez – El Toro has found his stroke in 2012. The former 1st round pick (2008) is here to stay, another in a line of great 1st round picks that have helped form this team. He is on his way to being a .250/40/100 player and is signed through 2017, with an extension probably coming this winter.
OF Alex Presley – Presley has been inconsistent but has the makings of a future starting outfielder who can hit at the top of the lineup. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 8th round of the 2006 Draft. Presley is under team control through 2018.
These players were all acquired through trades or free agent signings and have become major contributors to the 2012 Pirates:
1B/OF Garrett Jones – The Pirates signed Jones as a minor-league free agent in December 2008. He exploded onto the Pirates scene in 2009 with a 21 HR campaign in just 314 at-bats. Since then, he has become part of Clint Hurdle’s mix-and-match bench, providing solid production when called upon. Jones is making $2.25 million and can not be a free agent until 2016.
UTIL Josh Harrison – Harrison was the forgotten man in the July 2009 deal that sent SP Tom Gorzelanny and RP John Grabow to Chicago. He has emerged as a dynamic little player whose value lies in his ability to play just about any position on the field. He is an energetic player who seems to live for dramatic moments. Harrison is making $484,000 and is under team control until 2018.
C Michael McKenry – Talk about a steal! “The Fort” came to Pittsburgh last summer in a deal with Boston and immediately become the backup catcher due to his defensive skills. He has learned to use the bat in 2012, developing power and becoming a very clutch hitter. He has also been praised for how he handles the pitching staff. A player like McKenry is hard to find for so cheap, and the Pirates have him locked down through 2018 at the earliest. McKenry could very well be the heir apparent to Rod Barajas as the starting catcher in 2013.
1B/3B Casey McGehee – Acquired in a trade with Milwaukee over the winter, McGehee is a versatile player with major pop in his bat. He has helped the Pirates develop Pedro Alvarez by playing early in the season against the tough lefties and has recently began to find the stroke that made him a feared hitter with the Brewers. The cost for McGehee? The Pirates sent RP Jose Veras to Milwaukee. McGehee is signed to a very cost-efficient contract through 2015.
OF Gorkys Hernandez – Hernandez is a defensive whiz who should be inserted into a corner outfield slot late in each game to improve team defense. His bat is a work in progress, but his speed and defense are as real as it gets. He was part of the original Nate McLouth deal with Atlanta in 2009 and has spent years honing his craft in Altoona and Indianapolis. He is ready to contribute for the Bucs this summer, and is under team control until 2017.
As the trade deadline approaches, remember how this team was built. It doesn’t always take a headline-stealing deal to help a contending team down the stretch. These Pirates love each other and fight for one another, so management must be careful to not mess around with the chemistry if the team. A small deal or two, yes. But a gut-busting deal for Justin Upton or Cole Hamels……maybe that isn’t what these Pirates need.
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Topics: A.J. Burnett, Alex Presley, Andre McCutchen, Casey McGehee, Chris Resop, Clint Hurdle, El Toro, Garrett Jones, Gorkys Hernandez, James McDonald, Jared Hughes, Jason Grilli, Jeff Karstens, Joel Hanrahan, John Harrison, Kevin Correia, Michael McKenry, Neil Huntington, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Tony Watson