Bucs recast bullpen to build depth elsewhere
Pirates make three deals involving relievers to fill other needs
ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates dealt from an area of strength on Saturday, deciding to largely dismantle a bullpen in order to strengthen the organization's long-term depth.
After releasing Brendan Donnelly on Thursday and dealing D.J. Carrasco earlier in the day, general manager Neal Huntington traded his two other veteran relievers -- Javier Lopez and Octavio Dotel -- just before Saturday's 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.
The subtraction left a considerable void in the bullpen for the immediate time being. But looking past the 2010 season -- which is already a lost one in terms of results -- Huntington expressed plenty of enthusiasm in the players snagged in return.
The final two deals on Saturday gave the Pirates four young players. Right-hander James McDonald, 26, and outfielder Andrew Lambo, 21, came from the Dodgers in exchange for Dotel. The Giants sent over right-hander Joseph Martinez, 27, and outfielder John Bowker, 27, to acquire Lopez.
McDonald is the only one of the four immediately headed to Pittsburgh, where it appears he'll eventually work into a starting role.
"Obviously with [Daniel] McCutchen, [Zach] Duke, [Ross] Ohlendorf, [Paul] Maholm and [Jeff] Karstens, we've got five guys in the rotation," Huntington said. "We'll make evaluations as we move forward, but we acquired James McDonald because we believe he can be a quality Major League starting pitcher."
McDonald spent most of 2009 with the Dodgers, though that hasn't been the case this season. He went 6-1 with a 4.41 ERA in 12 starts with Triple-A Albuquerque this season and had been called up just 12 days ago.
In 53 career big league appearances (five starts) with Los Angeles, McDonald was 5-6 with a 4.11 ERA. He struck out 63 and walked 40 in 76 2/3 innings.
Martinez, the other right-hander acquired by the Pirates, is headed to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he will be stretched back out to be a starter after being used recently as a reliever with the Giants.
This year, Martinez made four appearances with San Francisco and spent the rest of the time in the Triple-A rotation. With Triple-A Fresno, Martinez went 5-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 14 games (13 starts).
Pittsburgh's other two pickups improved the organization's outfielder depth. Bowker, who made his Major League debut with the Giants in 2008, has been sent to Triple-A. Andrew Lambo, once a prospect in the Dodgers' system, will report to Double-A Altoona.
Lambo's stock has dropped a bit since he was a fourth-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, but the fact that Lambo is just shy of his 22nd birthday has the Pirates believing he can still tap into that potential.
He entered the 2010 season as the Dodgers' top outfield prospect and seventh-best prospect overall, according to Baseball America. He was hitting .271 with 11 doubles, four homers and 25 RBIs in 47 games with Los Angeles' Double-A team.
Lambo missed 50 games earlier this season after testing positive for drug abuse.
"We did our due diligence, and we do feel comfortable that it's a mistake that a young man made and he's ready to move beyond it and tackle bigger and better challenges," Huntington said. "[He] got off to a great start this year ... It's a sweet left-handed swing, it's a quality hitter, and we think there's some developing power in there to go along with it."
Bowker has appeared in the Majors in parts of the last three seasons, though most of his big league at-bats came in 2008. He hit .255 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs in 11 games that season.
This year, Bowker was batting .310 with 14 homers and 36 RBIs in 51 games at the Triple-A level. He struggled in his time with the Giants, hitting only .207 with three homers and eight RBIs in 82 at-bats.
"It's a good bat that we wanted to add to the system," Huntington said. "Brandon Moss has swung the bat very well, and we've added another quality left-handed-hitting outfielder that could fit on the club as an extra outfielder. But we also have scouting reports not too long ago that have John Bowker as a potential everyday player."
Of these four acquisitions, all but Lambo were added to Pittsburgh's 40-man roster, which is now full.
While it could take years for the Pirates to evaluate the packages they received for a pair of late-inning relievers, the Pirates' current bullpen is likely to suffer during the final two months of the season as a result of Saturday's transactions. Three Pirates relievers combined to allow nine hits and seven runs in the 11-1 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday.
Dotel had converted 21-of-26 save opportunities this season, and his presence had allowed Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek to thrive in setup roles. Lopez was the team's primary left-hander in the 'pen all year.
Both Dotel and Lopez will now try and help contending teams make a push toward the playoffs. Hanrahan and Meek, meanwhile, will compete for the Pirates' closer role.
"I'm going to go to the Dodgers and try to keep doing what I have done to help them to the playoffs," said Dotel, who learned he had been dealt by hearing the announcement on TV. "It's really, really nice. My last two months, I'm going to be on a contending team. I'm going to have a chance to go to the playoffs. Being in a pennant race is something I always like. I think where I'm going, that's a pretty good team to be [with]."
Though the bullpen entered Saturday ranked 11th in the National League with a 4.18 ERA, the veteran presence of the relievers traded away on Saturday wasn't to be understated. They had a significant influence on some of the club's younger bullpen arms, and the back end of the Pirates' bullpen could stand against many of the league's best.
That would explain why the rapid departure of more than half of the team's relief staff in the past week wasn't taken lightly.
"It's very disappointing," Meek said. "Geez, it's frustrating. Again, it's the business side of the game. All you can do is wish them the best and hope that they adapt and are happy with where they're at. I'm going to miss them very much."
"We had pride in our bullpen," added Hanrahan. "We were a close-knit group. We felt that we were one of the best ones in the league in doing our job. It's tough to see all the guys leave, and you lose a lot of experience, but, obviously, Neal has an idea of what he's doing. We've got to continue to go out there and get people out."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.