With the Pittsburgh Pirates designating Zach Duke for assignment Friday, it now creates a quicker opening for MLB teams to pursue the 27-year-old left-hander, considering the Pirates had no intent in offering the arbitration-eligible pitcher a contract for 2011 by the Dec. 2 deadline.
Duke, a 2009 NL All-Star selection, posted an 8-15 record with a 5.72 ERA in 29 starts last season.
The Pirates hold a 10-day window to trade the southpaw, but it’s likely he’ll hit a thin free-agent market for starting pitchers this offseason.
After earning $4.3 million in 2010, the Pirates ultimately didn’t want to be in position to pay Duke a ballpark salary close to $5 million for 2011.
General manager Neal Huntington confirmed to MLB.com Friday that the organization had previously attempted to negotiate a contract with Duke, as well as explore trade possibilities.
However, none of the other 29 MLB teams were interested in acquiring Duke this offseason, which has caused several critics to question his market value moving forward.
There’s a strong possibility that a handful of teams simply wanted to wait for Pittsburgh to not-tender Duke in order to sign him to a lower salary, rather than surrender one or two mid-level prospects via trade.
After trading right-hander Felipe Paulino to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for infielder Clint Barmes Thursday, the Houston Astros want to address the back end of the rotation this offseason by signing a low-risk, potential high-reward starting pitcher.
Duke fits the profile for Houston.
Astros general manager Ed Wade will likely tender veteran right-hander Nelson Figueroa a contract for 2011, but with top prospect Jordan Lyles in need of more experience at the Triple-A level, it’s a priority for Houston to add a respectable arm to compete for the No. 5 spot in Spring Training.
Although free-agent left-hander Jeff Francis, a 17-game winner for the Rockies in 2007, has reportedly generated interest from Houston, Wade intends to explore several options on the market.
Duke, a Clifton, Texas, native and product of Midway High School in Waco, has strong familiarity with the NL Central after spending six seasons competing in the division with Pittsburgh.
He’s posted a career ERA under 3.86 against the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, as well as a 3.38 ERA versus Houston, meaning Duke has put together a few solid outings at Minute Maid Park.
It’s easy to measure the success of a starting pitcher based on overall record, but remember, Duke pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who wrapped up the 2010 campaign with an MLB-record 18th consecutive losing season.
On a good night, Duke can match up against a Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright, yet he does possess a Jekyll and Hyde complex.
Duke needs a change of scenery, and with the assistance of pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, he could easily get his career back on track in Houston.
Ace Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris represent the first four spots in the starting rotation for 2011, but the Astros need a No. 5 starting pitcher that can bridge the gap for Lyles.
Could that be Duke?
He’s tossed over 200 innings in two of his six big league seasons, and could be a potential workhorse for the Astros at a cost-effective salary.
Don’t be surprised if Wade contacts Duke’s agent, Mark Pieper, but even if nothing transpires, the veteran left-hander compares favorably to the caliber, back end starting pitcher that Houston intends to sign.
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