I’ve already written quite a bit about Erik Bedard, both below and at the beginning of November, but now that it looks like a deal is happening I want to give the lefty his own post. You can check out his career stats here and get into the nitty-gritty here at FanGraphs, but basically Bedard is a fastball/curveball guy that can get a lot of swings and misses when he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s so very rarely healthy that he just signed a one-year deal with the Pirates.
Without Paul Maholm, the Pirates’ rotation entering this off-season was paper-thin. James McDonald and Charlie Morton, the only two pitchers that offer any sort of upside for the Pirates over their 2011 performances, both have their flaws without even considering how Morton’s hip injury will affect him for 2012. Behind them, the rotation is mostly a mess of low-upside guys like Jeff Karstens and Brad Lincoln, no upside guys like Kevin Correia, and complete question marks like Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, and Chris Leroux. That’s why I hated letting Maholm walk so much: because the Pirates mostly have nothing, and Maholm is definitely something, even if he’s a bit pricey for a known and unimpressive quantity.
That means the Pirates have to do two things with their rotation this winter: add talent and add innings. The Pirates got plenty of innings last year from decent starters, and as a result the rotation was greatly improved over the 2010 edition. That said, there wasn’t a ton of talent in the Pirates 2011 rotation and that certainly showed through at times. Swapping Jeff Francis with Paul Maholm doesn’t really fix that problem, even if it more or less replaces the innings without sacrificing a ton of performance. Hoping that a rotation that couldn’t really strike anyone out repeats itself as an effective rotation is a pretty dangerous bet for a team like the Pirates to make.
This is exactly why Bedard makes sense for the Pirates: he gives them something they don’t have at all, if he’s healthy, and spending money on this sort of risk is a better use of funds than signing another Kevin Correia. Bedard will probably get hurt at some point in the year, but even 130-150 innings from him will make the rotation much better than it would be without him and if he can postpone that injury until late in the year, the Pirates might be able to flip him for some value at the trade deadline. If he’s not healthy, well, he’ll still probably be as valuable to the team as Correia for about the same price. It’s a risk, but it’s one worth taking if the Pirates had any intention of making their rotation better in 2012.
That said, it’d be foolish to think that Bedard completely fixes the depth problem the Pirates have in their rotation. The Pirates are paying solely for Bedard’s talent: actually relying on him to throw more than 100 innings is probably foolish. A McDonald/Bedard/Morton/Karstens/Lincoln rotation early in the year could pretty quickly turn into McDonald/blech/meh/yikes/ew with injuries and poor performances. Which means that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates went out and tried to pick up one more starter, likely a guy like Jeff Francis, just to put in the rotation with the idea that he’ll eat some innings up and give a relatively stable performance, Maholm-style. With Bedard in the mix, Francis becomes a bit more palatable (to me) because the Pirates aren’t really looking to him for anything more than innings.
I don’t know if that’s what the Pirates are thinking at this point, but I guess it wouldn’t surprise me. Either way, Bedard has the ability to make the Pirates a lot better, and that’s not something that can be said of most of the signings we’re used to seeing the team make. That alone makes it worthwhile, even with the unignorable injury risk.