Originally written on Raise the Jolly Roger!  |  Last updated 6/25/13
The Bucs were off yesterday in Seattle and begin a quick two game set with the M’s late tonight. Until then, enjoy some random Bucs notes… The Pirates are 46-30, sixteen games over .500. That equals last season’s high water mark (which came much later in the year). They are a game behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, but have a better record than any other team in baseball. They also hold a seven and a half game lead on the second wild card spot. Think about that. It’s really early, obviously, but that’s a pretty big cushion. Pedro Alvarez was named NL Player of the Week. Four homers in four games will do that – plus he hit .414 on the week and essentially put the team on his back. El Toro is the second Buc to take player of the week honors this year – Russell Martin did it in late April. The Pirates are hosting a blood drive at PNC Park this week, and all donors receive a pair of tickets to an upcoming game.  Take a look at the Pirates’ schedule – they play just one winning team (home vs Oakland) before the All Star Break in mid July. The schedule after that is obviously much tougher, so the Bucs need to stay hot and continue to pad their record. Injury updates: Wandy Rodriguez made his first rehab start on Sunday and pitched pretty well. It looks like he’ll pitch at least one more time with Indianapolis before coming up. Jose Tabata has also started a rehab assignment, and the Bucs could really use his bat off the bench. Heck, his return might even mean the end of Brandon Inge‘s Pirate career. Jeanmar Gomez will be activated from the DL to start Wednesday’s game in Seattle. Gerrit Cole will pitch at home on Friday against the Brewers. Cole, of course, is the big topic around Pittsburgh today because there is word that he might be sent down to the minors when A.J. Burnett returns. Burnett isn’t on a rehab assignment yet and is probably still a few weeks away from pitching with the Bucs – there hasn’t been an update on him recently. So, this is speculating pretty far in to the future and a lot of things (injuries) can happen between now and then, and one problem makes this whole debate irrelevant. But if Burnett (and Rodriguez, who will probably be back earlier) return to the rotation and nobody else goes down, that leaves the Bucs with six starters: Burnett, Rodriguez, Jeff Locke, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, and Cole. I’m already assuming Gomez will go to the bullpen as the long guy, and a few of the lightly-used young bullpen arms (Reid, Welker) will head back to Indy. Neal Huntington basically said Cole could be the odd man out despite his extremely impressive 3-0 start.  Why Cole, instead of, say, Morton? Cole’s the only one with options – meaning he could be sent to the minors without losing him. (OK, Locke also has an option, but he’s leading the league in ERA.) It sounds downright idiotic to send Cole back to the minors while continuing to use Morton, and maybe it is, but it isn’t really that simple. You can’t take Morton off the team without losing him for good, and so far that would be crazy because Charlie’s looked pretty useful through three starts. (Heck, he has a better ERA and more strikeouts than Cole, even though Cole has the big edge in the “eye test” and potential.)  Moving Morton to the bullpen might be possible, but that could screw him up (he’s coming off TJ surgery and going from a regular schedule to a variable bullpen routine may be dangerous) and would make it difficult to stretch him out as a starter again if somebody else goes down. A six man rotation doesn’t make sense either – that shortens the bullpen and takes the ball away from the best starters. Then there’s the whole Super Two thing with Cole. To review, the Pirates have already secured more six years of Cole beyond this season…but they brought him up at a point that projects to be very close to the Super Two cutoff – which means they risk owing Cole several extra million dollars over the next few seasons.  (The exact cutoff is determined by how much service time other young players across the league accumulate, so it’s not exactly known until after the fact.) They could eliminate that risk by sending him down for even just ten more days. I know, I know, that would make this a move where the Pirates are making the financially cheap decision. Go with that narrative if you want, but if they save ten million dollars down the road by skipping Cole for one or two starts (especially when the alternative option isn’t bad), I don’t see how you can blame them for that. That said, if he goes down for those ten days, and Morton pitches well, and nobody else is hurt, then what? Does Cole just hang out in AAA until somebody gets hurt, while the Pirates are pushing for a playoff spot? Does he eventually come up in a bullpen role? This is a potentially ridiculous situation (not necessarily a bad one – because it would mean five guys in the rotation would be doing their jobs), and there is no easy solution. I know folks will want to see Cole in a playoff race, and I do too, but there is a very real possibility it may not happen – at least for some period of time. Again, though, this issue is at least a week or two away from being relevant, so let’s see how things play out before going too crazy over it.
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