In the tumultuous but ultimately disappointing, three-game series in St. Louis, there was a consolation prize: Pirate fans got a chance to see "what else" the team got in the trade for closer Octavio Dotel, made in 2010.
That "what else" was Andrew Lambo, who made his debut Tuesday night.
Lambo is a right fielder—a position that the Pirates badly need to fill with a better player than the three incumbents: Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Travis Snider. The Pirates tried and failed to trade these weak hitters for for a replacement before the July 31st trade deadline.
Lambo's claim to fame is his power, but he strikes out a lot, which is why there is doubt as to whether he will hit for average. He lived up to his billing in the recent series when he struck out twice in nine plate appearances, but got on base twice, with his sole hit being an RBI double (he also walked once). In these regards, he somewhat resembles slugger Pedro Alvarez.
The first installment of the Dotel trade was James McDonald, whom the Los Angeles Dodgers had pegged as a relief pitcher after a few outings. His debut as a Pirate featured six innings of a shutout start against the Colorado Rockies in the summer of 2010.
The team could certainly have used that performance this past weekend.
After that, McDonald was an on-and-off starter before his injury early in 2013. He wasn't consistent enough to be a true ace, but he actually put up "first starter" numbers for half a season or so in both 2011 and 2012 before regressing. As such, he was a valuable stopgap during those two rebuilding years.
But the Dodgers were onto something when they designated McDonald for the bullpen.
Time has shown that he lacks the endurance to be a consistent starter over the course of a whole season. Given the current strength of the Bucs' rotation, he will probably find a place in the bullpen if his health allows, although that would certainly not rule out his being used as a substitute starter from time to time.
Dotel commanded so much in the trade because the Dodgers wanted a closer for a playoff run (that ultimately failed). This trade was somewhat reminiscent of another trade in the Pirates' history: The 1998 trade of reliever Ricardo Rincon for outfielder Brian Giles, who was flipped in 2003 for another outfielder, Jason Bay, starter-turned-reliever Oliver Perez (and a minor leaguer who never made it to the majors).
A fair return for a good closer might be a middle-inning reliever and a utility position player. Lambo is at least a utility player, and, as a sometime starter, McDonald has been decidedly a better pitcher than Oliver Perez, never mind the average middle reliever. If Lambo turns out to be better than a utility outfielder and more like Alvarez, or even Bay, the trade of Dotel for those two will probably have been the deal of the decade.
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