It would be fairly easy to write the trade the Pirates made today with the Indians that sent Quincy Latimore into Cleveland's system in return for Jeanmar Gomez as a minor move of little consequence, but it's early January and nothing else is happening. Plus, I need to get back into blogging shape for spring training in a few weeks, so let's use this as a springboard to talk a bit about what trading for Jeanmar Gomez might tell us about the bigger picture as the Pirates prepare for 2013.
Gomez was designated for assignment by the Indians last week after throwing 90 2/3 mostly bad innings for them in 2012. From 2010-2012, he made 42 appearances (38 starts) for Cleveland, putting up a 5.18 ERA and a 4.58 xFIP. In his 206 2/3 innings over those three seasons, he only struck out 112 batters (12.2%) and he served up 28 homers. These are all a bunch of ways of saying, "his ERA was bad and there's not much good buried underneath it." If you want to look for an encouraging sign, his career groundball rate is 49.2%, which is probably what gives us that lower xFIP. He put up good strikeout numbers as a 21-year old in Double-A back in 2009, but that's mostly tailed off since then. He doesn't throw all that hard (his average fastball is right around 90 mph, which is not very good for a righty), so what we've got is a pitcher that's not much more than big league depth.
Latimore was the fourth round pick in Dave Littlefield's last draft (2007) and in the low minors he was an occasionally interesting fringe prospect due to his power, but he's moved slowly and in two seasons with Altoona (age 22 and 23) he only has a .308 OBP. He's depth, basically. Still, Gomez will need a 40-man roster spot and so it's worth asking why, exactly, the Pirates would want to waste even a non-prospect and a 40-man spot on a guy with little big league success and as little upside as Gomez has.
The answer, I think, is that in the absence of Francisco Liriano (and we still don't know how this mysterious 'non-throwing arm injury' is going to pan out), the Pirates plan to address their rotation depth by just flinging a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. There's still time to get the Liriano situation sorted out and the Pirates aren't completely out of rotation options even if they decide to go in another direction, but I'm starting to get pretty seriously worried about the 2013 rotation. So far, we can be pretty sure that AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and James McDonald will all have spots on Opening Day. There's a lot of talent in that trio, but Burnett is 36 and he tailed off last year and besides a dominant stretch in July and early August, he was really just a solid mid-rotation guy. McDonald is all over the map and unreliable. Rodriguez is 34 and given his dipping strikeout rate is probably headed for the "solid but unspectacular" portion of his career.
That's not so bad, except that those are the top three spots in the Pirates' rotation and after them is a whole mess of uncertainty. Charlie Morton will probably miss the start of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery and when he returns, he'll be even more of a cipher than he was before. Jeff Locke has nice Triple-A numbers and hasn't had a long stint in the big leagues yet, but whenever he does start he gets hit hard. Kyle McPherson is interesting but has less than 50 innings above Double-A. Justin Wilson still seems like a reliever to me in the long term. Gerrit Cole likely needs more seasoning before a mid-season call-up. Guys like Vin Mazzaro and Jeanmar Gomez strike me as extra arms with some kind of upside in them to have around in camp in case Locke and McPherson and Morton and Phil Irwin and Cole aren't able to fill out the rotation on Opening Day.
Of course, my concern here is that it's not at all crazy to think that Morton + the young guys won't add up to two starting pitchers on Day One, that there are plenty of concerns about the top three pitchers to boot, and that Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro and Vin Mazzaro and Jeanmar Gomez. The clock is ticking faster every day.