June 18, 2010

Trade Possibilities: Zach Duke

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / June 18, 2010

I really thought this Trade Possibilities series might generate a lot of work. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Pirates have very few players who it would be reasonable to trade. So far I've considered Octavio Dotel, who I would trade, and Ryan Doumit, who I'm against trading. Today, Zach Duke.

Why Trade Zach Duke?
Management made a statement about Zach's future with the team when unlike their handling of Paul Maholm, the Pirates didn't sign Duke to a contract even to guarantee his salary through his arbitration years.

While Duke has had his moments including starting the past two Opening Days for the Pirates, the fact remains that he's 40-63 with a 4.41 ERA for his career, 3-8 with a 5.49 ERA this year. He's earning $4.3 million this year and hasn't been worth that amount. On a playoff team he'd be a fifth starter; it's difficult to imagine Duke as a key piece on the next contending Pirates team.

What would the Pirates get?
Not much considering his recent past. Maybe one mid-level prospect or two marginal ones. Duke's above average 2009 is fresh enough in teams' memories that the Pirates at least wouldn't have to send money in the deal.

Who Would Want Duke?
I highly doubt Duke's pitch-to-contact game would play well in the American League, apart from possibly the American League Central. He's a better fit for an NL club. Unfortunately there's only one National League contender whose rotation members are not all pitching better than Duke right now.

The Philadelphia Phillies' Joe Blanton is 1-5 with a 7.28 ERA. Duke would arguably be an upgrade over Blanton or Kyle Kendrick. The Phillies' playoff hopes are far from secure, so even adding a fifth starter would help them to reach the playoffs. Yet it seems likely to me that Pedro Martinez will come back to the Phillies, in addition to a possible move for a top level starter.

The Verdict
Keep him. Duke's value is too low right now to be worth trading. At least his poor season will prevent him from getting much of a raise for 2011. With the lack of other starting options, penciling Duke into the 2011 rotation is a better idea than any of their other internal options. If the Pirates are out of contention again in 2011 and Duke is pitching well, that would be the time to trade him.

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