Q: Hi, Dejan. Were the Pirates driven to pick up the option on Damaso Marte because of the large contracts recently handed out to relievers? His contract now becomes a bargain. Or is this a case of keeping depth to be more flexible if the right trade opportunity comes along?
Gregg Fouch, Imperial
KOVACEVIC: It probably is a little of both, Greg, and you probably know by now that the option has become a full-blown extension.
Anyone who looks at what some free-agent relievers are getting -- witness the Orioles giving up three years, $19 million for Danys Baez and his 4.53 ERA just yesterday -- can see that $2.45 million for Marte is below market value. And it could work either way you describe for the Pirates: They could keep their stable of three lefties in the pen, or they can gain some insurance if one of those lefties -- including Marte -- is dealt.
Will they move him? That was what I thought last year the moment they acquired Marte at the winter meetings, but it never came to pass. And it might not again. Jim Tracy very much likes having two left-handers in his pen other than his closer, and a Marte trade surely would open the need to bring in another lefty.
As for the money, which several readers wrote about: Is it a little strange that the reliever who probably is the team's fifth-best makes some of the most money? (Salomon Torres will remain the Pirates' top-paid reliever next year at $2.6 million.) Yeah, but the nature of the pay scale in baseball is that you make more by sticking around the longest.
Q: Having just read your Sunday piece in which Dave Littlefield says the Pirates' four starters are unlikely to be available in a trade, I would ask the question: How does he expect to get a valuable player or prospect in return?
As you have noted in this forum on several occasions -- when someone suggests we trade Jose Castillo and two Class A prospects for Johan Santana -- you must trade value to get value. If pitching is our greatest value, how can we consider not trading it?
Graham Watkins, Squirrel Hill
KOVACEVIC: The Pirates' interest in retaining the four starters could be viewed as gamesmanship, something to up the perceived ante on their value. But I do not get that impression. You would be hard-pressed to find someone in that organization who is in favor of moving one of those four to get the desired bat. And, as they would tell you, making such a trade -- even if it is a good one -- opens another hole.
It might be different, of course, if the Pirates could count on Sean Burnett regaining peak form by spring training. But his erratic 2006 does not give them the luxury of having another lefty who could take the place of one that gets dealt.
Can a reliever net a power hitter in return? One would think not. Then again, did we mention how much money the Orioles just gave to Baez?
It is a pitching-hungry market, and that goes for relievers as well as starters. The Pirates have more bullpen help than most, and that sounds like the hand they are willing to deal.
Until tomorrow ...