Bullpen options

UPDATED to add that I made a poll about the bullpen and it’s in the left sidebar. So let me know what you think.

There’s an interesting article on Pirates.com right now about the situation the Pirates face with the bullpen, having several pitchers that are out of options on top of Donnie Veal, who’s got to stick with the big club as a Rule 5 pick. Sean Burnett, Craig Hansen, and Phil Dumatrait are all out of options, which creates a the awkward situation of having way too many bad arms to fit into one impending disaster of a bullpen. Let’s look at the Pirates’ pitching situation right now:


  • Paul Maholm
  • Ian Snell
  • Tom Gorzelanny
  • Zach Duke
  • Jeff Karstens
  • Ross Ohlendorf

Relievers (mortal lock to make the team division)

  • John Grabow
  • Matt Capps
  • Tyler Yates

Bullpen (out of options division)

  • Sean Burnett
  • Craig Hansen
  • Phil Dumatrait

Guy that will make the team even if he sucks in spring training

  • Donnie Veal

So let’s assume the Pirates break camp with 12 pitchers. There will be an odd man out among Duke, Karstens, and Ohlendorf. The Pirates really seem to like Ohlendorf and there’s no use in sending him back to AAA right now. I’m betting he makes the rotation. I’m guessing Karstens does, too (at least to start the year), because Duke is too similar to Maholm and Gorzelanny. So we throw Duke into the bullpen mix.

Grabow, Capps, and Yates make the team no matter what and unless Donnie Veal looks like Ricky Vaughn sans glasses, he’s making the club because there’s no way this club is giving up a guy with such upside based on spring training. So five starters, plus Veal, Grabow, Capps, and Yates makes nine. If we push Grabow into a set-up role, Burnett is probably valuable as a LOOGY unless Veal is dominant, in which case Burnett becomes expendable. I’m guessing Burnett stays, so that’s ten. That brings us to Hansen, who’s got two things going for him. First off, he’s right-handed and the Pirates’ pen is somehow short on righties and secondly, he would almost certainly be claimed by someone if he were put through waivers. Think Huntington’s giving up on a 25-year-old with an electric arm that he just traded for? Nope.

So the choice in the ‘pen is probably going to come down to Duke and Dumatrait. I think Dumatrait would clear waivers because his health is a big question and despite every wonderful thing that’s been written about him, I’m not sure he’s that good. That’s probably the best option for the club, to send him to AAA to see how he heals and give him a chance to start.

Of course, this doesn’t even consider someone like Evan Meek, who I think is good enough to be in the ‘pen to start the year, or Jesse Chavez, who’s at least interesting enough to merit a look this spring. Veal pitching well could open the door for a Grabow trade, but I doubt that will happen before the season starts. The part that baffles me is this: I’m almost completely certain that the Pirates’ bullpen is going to be awful this year. How can they have too many arms?

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.