Bedard bolsters starting Pirates rotation
Nate McLouth enjoyed his best season as a Pirate in 2008 when he batted .276 with 26 home runs and 94 runs batted in. Eric Bedard is 56-50 with a 3.70 ERA in a career spent with three teams.
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DALLAS -- One by one, the Pirates have checked off areas of need this offseason.
Catcher: check. Shortstop: check. And Wednesday, they crossed left-handed starter and corner outfield depth off the list.
The Pirates signed left-hander Erik Bedard and former Pirate Nate McLouth to one-year deals on the third day of baseball's winter meetings. They aggressively pursued their first two free-agent signings, Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, and continued that course of action this week.
"Our intent was to execute our game plan and where that took us as far as acquisition of personnel, that's where it took us," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've had pretty good aim, it seems like, because the matches have worked."
The Pirates took risks with both players, who have struggled with injuries and decreased production in recent seasons.
McLouth, 30, will earn $1.75 million, according to an industry source. The Pirates were the first team to call his agent, Mike Nicotera, in the free-agency period, McLouth said.
"I was a little surprised, but I was happy," McLouth said on a conference call. "Winding down, when I knew I wasn't going to be with the [Atlanta] Braves anymore, it was a thought that went through my head, maybe coming back at some point. [Returning] was the easiest decision I've ever made in my life."
The Pirates drafted McLouth in 2000, and he made his major league debut in '05. He had 26 home runs and 94 RBIs in '08, earning him a trip to the All-Star Game. The Pirates traded him to Atlanta in '09 for pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez.
After the trade, McLouth struggled. He hit .190 in '10, .228 in '11,hitting only 10 home runs combined over the past two years.
"If I could put my finger on it, I'd have fixed it a lot sooner," he said. "I dug myself into a hole, kept digging deeper and searching for answers and ways out."
A strained oblique and sports hernia kept him out for chunks of last season, and he missed time because of concussion symptoms in '10. Hurdle, a former hitting coach, said time remains for McLouth to turn it around.
"I'm well aware of some of the challenges he's had. We've talked personally," Hurdle said.
General manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates plan to start Alex Presley, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata in the outfield and rotate McLouth into the mix.
"We talked earlier in the meetings that maybe our best approach is to add depth to the organization, to add another legitimate major league player to that mix in the outfield," Huntington said. "But there will be plenty of at-bats for all the guys."
Bedard, 32, will earn $4.5 million, according to a source. He likely will join Morton, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens and James McDonald in the starting rotation and gives the Pirates leeway in case Morton does not recover fully from hip surgery by opening day.
He finished the '11 season with the Boston Red Sox after starting the year with the Seattle Mariners and went 5-9 with a 3.62 ERA in 1291/3 innings. Bedard said several teams were interested in him, but the Pirates were the most aggressive.
"They really wanted to sign me, and I was glad to do it because of the way they played last year," Bedard said.
When healthy, Bedard has displayed elite stuff. He won 13 games with a 3.16 ERA in '07 with the Baltimore Orioles and struck out 221 batters in 182 innings. But he had elbow surgery in '03, an oblique injury ended his '07 season early and surgery on a torn labrum in '09 prevented him from pitching in the majors in '10.
Huntington said the Pirates did "a lot of work behind the scenes" to assess Bedard's health and were "as confident as we can be" in his ability to stay healthy.
Signing Bedard gives the Pirates a left-handed starter, which they lacked after declining Paul Maholm's option. He also gives them a pitcher who can strike batters out in an otherwise pitch-to-contact rotation.
"We were better defenders [last season]. That being said, the easiest way to defend is if they don't put it in play," Hurdle said. "Erik has that ability."
The Pirates have committed $20.75 million to free agents this offseason, including $10.5 million over two years for Barmes and $4 million for Barajas.
"They had a great year last year," Bedard said. "They just needed a couple more pieces to help them get over the hump, and I'm going to try and [help them] do that this year and help them get some wins."
First Published December 8, 2011 12:00 am