Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Zach Duke, On The Block

(Sorry for the lack of posts recently, the radio show is cutting into the writing.  I'll pick it back up shortly.  This one is for the diehard Pirates fans out there.)
The Pirates will come out of the all-star break with a 30-58 record, the worst in the National League.  As I have written here ad naseum the problems with the club extend to all facets of the team--hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning, starting pitching, defense.  Just to drive the point home the bullpen, which has been the lone bright spot all season, blew two games late over the weekend, blemishing the 23-0 mark when leading after eight innings.  Needless to say, they have lost in a variety of ways.
For me the interest in the second half will be to see if the young guys are going to improve and will be the foundation around which the team can build.  Those guys include McCutchen, Alvarez, Tabata, Milledge, Walker, Lincoln, Ohlendorf, Hanrahan and Meek.  There are other guys who may be around for a few years like Jones and Maholm, but I think we generally know what we have there.
One guy definitely not on the list is Zach Duke.  I'm sure Zach is a great guy, but in a season of perplexing decisions by the team, having Duke start Friday night against Houston, in the first game after the break, may take the cake.  Duke last pitched June 16 and then went on the DL with a strained left elbow.  On the season he is 3-8 with a 5.49 ERA.  All his peripherals are right in line with those numbers.  He has never been a big strikeout guy and this year is no different.  He's 27 and is making $4.3 million this year and next year will be his last year of arbitration eligibility.  After that he can become a free agent.
On a team that is bereft of starting pitching Duke certainly isn't one of the two best the Pirates have and one can make an argument that he is actually fourth or fifth best.  Ross Ohlendorf, the Pirates best starter in the second half last year, has pitched well of late after a bad start and Paul Maholm, a somewhat similar pitcher to Duke, has clearly been better.  Yet Duke, coming back from injury and two brief rehab appearances in AA, is making the inaugural second half start.
The only rational answer for this is Zach Duke is on the block.  If Duke can put together 2-3 quality starts before the end of the month the Pirates might be able to move him for a marginal prospect and save $2 million.  (I realize the budgets are separate, but that $2 million would go a long way in fortifying the draft class of 2010.)  At the end of the season I assume the team will non-tender Duke because I can't imagine them wanting to pay $5-5.5 million for that type of production.  Maybe he would take a one-year deal for $3.5 million to stay, but I doubt it.
I think it needs to be asked of the coaching staff why Duke is starting Friday.  I realize everyone in the pen will be fresh, but Duke will most likely be on a pitch count and I'm not sure him going four innings is what your are looking for when it will be ten days until the next off day.  I doubt the team will say they are showcasing him, but I will be amused as to what they do say because no other answer is really credible.  And, during a season where John Russell has said leadoff hitter Aki Iwamura, he of the .160 batting average, wasn't the reason the Pirates weren't scoring runs and that he had to keep running Ryan Church out there because of the way he's been hitting, when he was hitting about .125 in his previous forty at bats, at least it could lead to some more comedy.  More comedy from Russell and watching some prospects are unfortunately all Pirates fans have left to look forward to with the major league club this year.


KWD said...

Hammer-Who would want Duke? He wouls have to really impress to attract a team to take on that kind of cash.

The Hammer said...

That kind of cash being $2 million for the rest of the year? That's child's play for most teams, particularly those in the playoff hunt. Of course he'll have to pitch well because he is going to be no more than a back end starter for a team in playoff contention.