We saw this week an example of an MLB team that really, really wants to win and will stop at next to nothing to do so. The Boston Red Sox, who can afford it, signed free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew to a contract that will pay him $10 million for the remainder of the season. Drew is no sure thing. He guarantees nothing. But he is better than what the Red Sox had. The Red Sox could have waited, but they sensed, with a 20-23 record in the tough AL East, such a strategy would not be wise.
Here in Pittsburgh we have seen all season an example of an MLB team that wants to win but not so badly that finances won’t stop it. With a gaping hole in right field and a player to fill it, the Pirates have not promoted Gregory Polanco because, unlike Boston, they cannot afford it. A lot of fans are down on the Pirates for this failure to promote Polanco, who is crushing Class AAA pitching, but the strategy is fairly typical of many MLB teams.
But now comes an opportunity for the Pirates to show their fans that the dollar sign doesn’t always shape the team's policy.
They won last night, 9-8, over Baltimore, but in the process starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez showed he has no business being on the mound at the start of a game for a team that is serious about winning. In 1⅔ innings, Baltimore scored six runs (one earned) on seven hits against Rodriguez. He threw 61 pitches before being removed to the unhappiness of the Baltimore batters.
Don’t be fooled by the unearned runs. Rodriguez was awful.
The Pirates have a big investment in Rodriguez. They are paying $7.5 million of his $13 million salary. Teams don’t often turn their back on players in whom they have such an investment. But that shouldn’t matter with Rodriguez, who will be a free agent after the season. All the Pirates figure to get from their investment in him is more pain, more losses.
If the Pirates are serious about winning -- this year -- the time to remove Rodriguez from the rotation is now.
They have multiple possible replacement but none jumps out like Brandon Cumpton, who is 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in Class AAA. But it’s his work on the MLB level that is most noteworthy and why his promotion should be a no-brainer.
In seven starts for the Pirates over the past two seasons, he has a 2.90 ERA, an 0.99 WHIP, a .225 BAA and a 4.67 K/B. He has allowed one home run in 40⅓ innings.
Here are those same stats for Francisco Liriano last year when he was considered one of the best pitchers in the National League. He had a 3.02 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, a .224 BAA and a 2.21 K/B. He allowed nine home runs in 161 innings.
Cumpton outpitched the Liriano of 2013.
He should have been in the rotation some time ago, if not at the start of the season. The Pirates opted for Edinson Volquez in the offseason over Cumpton, despite Cumpton’s stellar performance as a spot starter last year.
The cannot opt for Rodriguez over Cumpton in the days ahead.
If Cumpton, 25, had the rep of a Jameson Taillon or a Nick Kingham, fans would be clamoring for his arrival. But he’s not the prototypical modern-day pitcher. He's not a big, strapping fireballer. He doesn't have the scouts drooling. PiratesProspects.com did not even have him in its list of top 20 prospects this year. MLB.com ranked him the 12th best Pirates prospect.
Cumpton is no guarantee. There’s a reason the Pirates went with Volquez over him. But he has earned his chance and the opportunity is there.
The Pirates can make a statement about their desire to win in the days ahead and this one won’t cost them $10 million.