Dotel agrees to deal with Pirates
Veteran right-hander expected to be Pittsburgh's closer
PITTSBURGH -- In what is expected to be the final significant move made by the club this offseason, the Pirates have found themselves a closer. The team inked right-hander Octavio Dotel on Thursday in a signing made largely to stabilize the back end of a 'pen that has taken significant shape over the past month.
Immediately upon announcing the signing -- which includes a guaranteed contract for 2010 and a club option on Dotel for 2011 -- general manager Neal Huntington confirmed that there was no longer a closer competition. The role, which became vacant after the team did not offer a contract to Matt Capps, would be Dotel's to lose.
"It's a combination of [having] experience and a back-end guy who has done the role before," Huntington said. "He brings experience, but he's also a guy that is among the highest strikeout relievers still in the game. I think anytime you can add veteran experience to the back end of the bullpen, you feel good about it."
Though Dotel has not closed since the first half of 2007, management's confidence that he can still thrive in the role has brought the rest of the bullpen picture into focus.
Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek, both of whom were considered as options to compete for that ninth-inning role, will shift back into a less-pressured, late-inning role. Expect to see Brendan Donnelly, whom the team signed earlier this week, in a setup role as well. Javier Lopez, who was inked in December, provides a left-handed option. And D.J. Carrasco leads a group of non-roster invitees competing with other relievers on the roster for the final two spots.
"We feel like we're going to have some good competition not only in Spring Training, but during the year as well," Huntington said. "Competition is always a good thing and we like the arms that we've collected. We've given ourselves some depth for the season in case of injuries or if guys struggle."
Dotel, 36, noted that the opportunity to step back into a closer's role was the main determinant in his decision to join the Pirates. Though Dotel was contacted by a number of other teams, Pittsburgh was the only team able to guarantee him that opportunity.
"I think I'm the right person, and I think the right team is Pittsburgh," he said after passing his physical on Thursday. "I feel like I'm at home. I want the opportunity to be a closer again because I think I can do the job."
Dotel spent the last two seasons with the White Sox, where he combined to go 7-8 with a 3.55 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 134 appearances (129 1/3 innings). Despite pitching half of his games at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, Dotel, interestingly enough, fared better at home than on the road. In 31 home appearances last year, Dotel posted a 2.67 ERA and held opponents to a .198 batting average.
That success in Chicago, though, didn't keep the veteran right-hander from eyeing the opportunity to pitch in a more pitcher-friendly ballpark. With PNC Park fitting that mold, Dotel said he looks forward to relying more heavily on his fastball next season.
"I feel like I can throw it even more knowing that I have a big ballpark," Dotel said. "It's way different than Cellular Field. It's a pitcher ballpark, and that's what I was looking for. I'm glad I found this place. It's a good change for me."
Dotel finished eighth among all American League relievers with 10.83 strikeouts per nine innings last season. His 745 strikeouts since 2000 rank first among all Major League relievers, and Dotel has held right-handed hitters to a .207 batting average and has a 3.11 ERA in 528 career relief appearances.
Dotel has 83 career saves, with his 2004 total of 36 marking his season high.
"I was looking forward to being on a team where I knew what inning I would be throwing," said Dotel, who pitched primarily in the seventh and eighth innings with the White Sox. "[Closing] will come back to me immediately. I know how you have to prepare. Also, being the setup guy in a tough situation in a tough moment in a tough game is the same thing. I know how to handle it."
In order to make room for Dotel on the team's 40-man roster, the Pirates designated Anthony Claggett for assignment. Pittsburgh has 10 days to trade, release or outright the right-hander. The Pirates are hopeful that he can clear waivers, be sent to the Minors and then brought into camp as a non-roster invitee.
With the addition of Dotel, the Pirates are unlikely to be much more active in the weeks leading up to Spring Training. The need for bullpen help has now been adequately addressed, and the recent signing of Ryan Church satisfied the need for an additional outfielder. There will certainly be battles for the final bench and bullpen spots, but the organization is content with the options it already has for those competitions.
"We'll continue to investigate and explore and put out feelers, but I don't expect too much more from us," Huntington said. "I wouldn't anticipate anything big."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.