When discussing potential trade targets on the Pirates this year, mostly everyone hits the same highlights; Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, and maybe Ryan Doumit. LaRoche will be traded and the other three might, but for varying reasons, none of them are going to bring much of a return. There are two players on the team that will bring a little something in return, if Neal Huntington is really looking to bolster the farm system this summer. Those players are Zach Duke and Paul Maholm. Nearly every contender needs pitching as the deadline approaches, and lefties are sometimes an even more valuable commodity. According to CBS’s Danny Knobler, some teams are already interested.
There are a million different ways to build a successful baseball team. As my dad is fond of saying, it’s like solving a Rubik’s Cube. You can start work on any side of it, but the side you turn first dictates the order the rest of the puzzle is solved. In baseball you can build around speed and defense, and that in turn requires a different sort of pitching staff and a different focus on offense. You can build a big team that kills the ball and ignores defense, but that needs a pitching staff that centers more on strikeouts than one on a pitching and defense team.
Money complicates this further. Let’s look a few years into the future. The Pirates have Andrew McCutchen in center, Gorkys Hernandez/Robbie Grossman in left, Tony Sanchez behind the plate, Andy LaRoche at third, and probably Pedro Alvarez at first. We’ll assume that they focus on defense at short and second, too, so they need another big bat to compliment the rest of the lineup and to get it, they have to go out and spend some money on a right fielder. Now, say we’ve got Brad Lincoln and maybe one of Morris/Owens/Locke at the top of the rotation and some unnamed, hypothetical decent third pitcher sitting in the three slot. We need to fill out the back end of the rotation, and Zach Duke is the exact pitcher we want there. He’s left-handed, which plays into the defensive strength in left/center and away from Alvarez and whatever bopper we’re trying to hide in right, he’s likely affordable because of his ugly stretch early in his career with us and the fact that he doesn’t have the stuff to ever overwhelm anyone. Given that he’s only 26 now he could probably pitching exactly like he pitches now for ten more years.
Of course, the problem with this sort of thinking is that it counts chickens before they hatch. Who keeps a 3/4 starter around when the foundation isn’t even laid yet? And if we clear guys like Duke out and build a rotation around fewer pitch-to-contact guys, then it’s much easier to hide someone like Delwyn Young in the field.
It’s impossible to know what Huntington’s thinking right now, but he’s got to be considering all the things we just went over above. Duke, however, (and Maholm, too, but Duke is pitching much better right now) is one of the first guys that Huntington has to deal with that will probably draw some interest in the next month or so, that might have a clearly defined role in the long-term future of the Pirates, which could either help us extract more from someone in a trade or make Huntington less willing to deal him. I don’t know what Huntington is going to do with him, but whatever he does do should go a long ways towards clearing up his long-term plans.