Despite a lot of depth, the Pirates once again find themselves with uncertainties in the pitching rotation. AJ Burnett has not displayed his dominant stuff from last year this spring and James McDonald still has his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act going. Who knows which JMac we will see time in and time out? Karstens was unable to pitch due to nagging shoulder injuries that will likely leave him on the disabled list to start the season. Meanwhile the Pirates are still waiting on Liriano and Morton to recover. Perhaps most disappointing was the fact that no pitching prospect separated themselves from the pack. Locke, McPherson, and Gomez were all neck-and-neck entering the final week of spring training before Hurdle and Huntington made their final decision.
Yesterday, Jeff Locke “locked” up his position in the rotation as the Pirates’ fifth starter. While McPherson flashed signs of having the better stuff, Locke was the more consistent of the two, which ultimately led him to his position in the rotation. Unfortunately, this move doesn’t install a ton of confidence in the fan base. Locke turned in a decent 2-1 record with a 3.38 ERA but his recent pitching is cause for concern. Locke started spring training strong turning in 3 hitless innings, but the month of March was not as kind. Throughout the rest of spring training, Locke had a 3.93 ERA and opposing batters hit for a robust .297 AVG. In his last outing, Locke gave up 3 runs, 7 hits, and a walk over 4 innings. Overall, Locke’s performance wasn’t terrible, but by no means was it overly exciting.
Jonathon Sanchez who currently holds the 4th spot in the rotation definitely isn’t a guarantee either. Sanchez is coming off a horrendous, injury-ridden season posting an 8.07 ERA, a 2.09 WHIP, 7.3 BB/9 innings, and a 1-9 record for the Royals. The lefty has always been wild but last year’s season was an outlier compared to other seasons where his numbers could be seen as respectable. No matter, Sanchez is not someone you can count on
These two lefties come with a lot of question marks entering the season and neither pitcher provides assurance for fans dying for a winning season. Both Locke and Sanchez can be seen as placeholders until Karstens , Liriano, and Morton make their way off of the IR. These 3 pitchers along with the much-anticipated call-up of phenom prospect, Gerrit Cole, will give the Pirates a bevy of pitchers. However, right now, they are strapped for quality starters. The lack of established experienced pitcher could explain why Pirates’ scouts were in attendance to watch the Dodger’s Chris Capuano pitch in a minor league game.
If that sounds familiar Pirates’ fans its because Capuano’s name was thrown around this offseason when the Pirates were shopping Hanrahan. The Pirates wanted more in exchange for their prized closer than just the lefty but it appears the interest in him still remains. Capuano did not disappoint in his outing striking out 11 in 7 scoreless innings while only giving up 3 hits. The 34 year old definitely turned heads with his performance despite it being against lower competition.
Both Capuano and Aaron Harang are in the final year of their contracts and Ken Rosenthal says the Dodgers are likely to trade one of the two. It’s unclear what the asking price for Capuano would be but they will likely ask for prospects in return for the left-hander. Pittsburgh might have to compete with the Rangers, Mariners, or Indians who also attended Capuano’s outing, which could potentially drive up the cost.
In the end, what Neal Huntington is willing to give up will decide whether the Duke graduate will be playing in the black and gold. However, the sustained interest is undeniable and reason to contemplate. The crafty lefty would provide an instant boost and help sure up a questionable staff. I’d have Capuano replace Sanchez as the 4th pitcher in the rotation and keep Locke in his role. With another quality starter the Pirates wouldn’t have to rush or worry about Karstens, Liriano, or Morton as much. His presence could also make some of those guys available come trade season. Capuano would also work out of the bullpen when the reinforcements arrive. If Los Angeles fails to trade him, he will likely be a long reliever and come in for spot starts for the Dodgers.
With the start of the season just a few short days away the prospect of landing Capuano dwindles. However, the Pirates are in need a starting pitcher for the beginning of this season. A long reliever to eat up innings down the road would be beneficial as well. Having a luxury like Capuano in the bullpen to turn the ball over to could be invaluable. A quality spot starter and inning eater could really help avoid another second half collapse when pitchers begin to tire out. If I’m Huntington I’m moving in on this guy as soon as possible. He fits both an immediate and long term need and definitely shouldn’t break the bank.
Should the Pirates trade for Capuano, trade for someone else, or stick with what they have? I’d love to hear your opinions on this one, please comment below.
PS: I’d also be open to reacquiring Brad Lincoln, I love that guy.