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duke of dorwood
12-14-2001, 08:42 AM
From Pittsburgh Post

BOSTON -- The irony of building a pitching staff by trading the Pirates' best pitcher from last season was not lost on Dave Littlefield. But for a general manager holding a limited stack of chips, getting three pitchers who likely would be on the Chicago White Sox's opening-day roster made sense on several levels.






Todd Ritchie was 35-32 in his three seasons with the Pirates, including 11-15 in 2001 after starting 0-8. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)








"When you look at quality teams throughout the years, pitching is always the foundation of why teams are successful," Littlefield said yesterday after acquiring Kip Wells, Sean Lowe and Josh Fogg in a five-player swap.

"I think it'll give us an opportunity on a more consistent basis to be in more games. Certainly, you want to improve the offense, want to improve the defense and some individual positions. But I think initially we wanted to address the pitching with the resources we have and some of the hurdles we have," he added.

The Pirates dealt Todd Ritchie, who won 11 games and started both the season opener and first game at PNC Park, and minor-league catcher Lee Evans to the White Sox. Known for his work ethic and bulldog demeanor, Ritchie lost his first eight decisions but brought stability to a rotation devastated by injuries.













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Wells, the key to the trade for the Pirates, was 10-11 with a 4.79 ERA in 40 games, 20 of them starts. Lowe was 9-4 with three saves and a 3.61 ERA in 45 games, including 11 starts, while Fogg, who turned 25 yesterday, made 11 relief appearances in the final month of the season after a full season in Class AAA. Both Wells and Lowe are former No. 1 draft picks.

Depending on how spring training goes, Wells could be the No. 1 starter until Kris Benson returns from elbow surgery. Lowe has the versatility to start or be a reliever, and Fogg likely will start the season -- if there is one -- in the bullpen although he is projected as a future starter.

Littlefield said it was tough to trade Ritchie, who spent three years with the Pirates after signing as a minor-league free agent. The first time he saw Ritchie pitch was when he came within two outs of a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals, and the trade wasn't made any easier given that Ritchie was the starter at the end of the year who gave the Pirates the best chance to win a game.

"He's a real solid major-league pitcher. Those are the kinds of guys you want to keep, not trade," Littlefield said. "But for us to try to make some improvements, obviously we need not only quality but quantity. I certainly want to emphasize the quality [we received], but we do need some bodies as well. You have to walk before you run. We have to get some arms. Not only quality, but some bodies."

Ritchie and Lowe are the same age -- 30. Ritchie is due to receive $3.5 million this season, and Lowe, who is eligible for arbitration, likely will make around $1 million. Neither Wells, 24, nor Fogg is eligible for arbitration.

But Littlefield said the deal wasn't about money or age, and it certainly wasn't about rebuilding.

"I don't see it as rebuilding at all," Littlefield said. "I really see it as us adding depth, adding potential but also creating a little more flexibility for ourselves as we move forward. With our organization, we do have some issues with flexibility."

Manager Lloyd McClendon also blanched at the "R" word.

"I didn't come here to rebuild. I think it's an exciting day for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We got three quality arms, three major-league pitchers ready to go out and do battle. When you talk about rebuilding, you're talking about prospects. These guys are not prospects. These guys can pitch in the big leagues, and they can pitch right now. Don't be surprised if we didn't get three starters. These guys are not chopped liver," McClendon said.

"I love Todd Ritchie. But I think this gives us an opportunity to be competitive day in and day out because now we have quality that we can send out there on a daily basis," he added. "I think it's a win-win situation for both clubs."

Talks with the White Sox began before the World Series and heated up during the winter meetings. At one point, the White Sox inquired about including Brian Giles in the deal, but the teams settled on the pitchers and Evans.

With Jason Kendall signed to a long-term deal and Humberto Cota and J.R. House in the minors, the Pirates have some depth at catcher.

Wells, who pitched at Baylor University, had his longest outing of the season (81/3 innings against the Pirates July 7. He has an above-average fastball -- 94 to 96 miles per hour, according to McClendon -- but has been a bit erratic. He tied for the American League lead with 14 wild pitches last year, including four in one game against the Minnesota Twins, and hit 12 batters.

"I'm happy to be with an organization making moves to improve. I'm excited I'm in that plan," Wells said yesterday from his home in Texas. "It's almost like starting from scratch, but you have to start somewhere. We're all capable of helping the Pirates win."

Not only do the Pirates believe Wells has an upside, White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams said it was tough to let him go, even with all the young pitchers in his stable.

"Wells was guy they targeted. They stuck to their guns," Williams said. "Sometimes, you have to give up something to get something. We think we paid a high price. But we felt it was vital for us to acquire a guy of [Ritchie's] caliber."

There is some concern about the youthfulness of the Pirates' rotation. But Lowe has been described as a pitcher who can help glue a staff together.

"He leads by example. He was someone I could go to for consultation and advice," Wells said. "It's not his first rodeo."

Added McClendon: "In my opinion, age isn't what count. Talent is what counts. If you can pitch, you can pitch."

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