James McDonald has been a big part of the Pirates’ surprising season, but he just hasn’t been the same pitcher since the All-Star break. He hit rock bottom last night against the Padres, giving up a season-high seven runs over just 4 1/3 innings as part of an eventual 9-8 loss.
McDonald actually cruised through the first four innings before coming unglued in the fifth. After issuing a one-out walk to Cameron Maybin, he gave up five straight hits to blow a 7-1 lead. The big blow was a game-tying three-run homer by Chase Headley.
McDonald has an ugly 8.71 ERA over six starts since the All-Star break after posting a 2.37 ERA in 17 starts during the first half of the season. The big problem? The home run ball. He has allowed eight home runs in 31 innings since the All-Star break after giving up just seven in 110 innings during the first half. He has also issued 21 walks after giving up just 31 for the entire first half.
Regression was probably inevitable for McDonald anyway, but it’s hitting him all at once and at the worst time for the Pirates. It will be interesting to see whether the Pirates continue to exercise patience or send McDonald to the bullpen while giving Kevin Correia another shot in the rotation.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the Padres will try to get Fernando Tatís Jr. locked up in a long-term deal before the start of the 2020 season.
It’d be a wise move from the team’s perspective, of course. Tatís showed in 2019 that he’s the future of the franchise, hitting .317/.379/.590 with 22 homers and 16 stolen bases through 84 games while playing spectacular defense at short. He was a serious contender for the Rookie of the Year Award before going down to injury and still finished third despite playing just a tad over half a season.
That talent and promise means that, in all likelihood, Tatís stands to make massive money in arbitration and free agency once he gets there. If he gets there, that is. Because as we’ve seen so often in recent years, teams have been aggressive in their efforts to lock up young stars like Tatís, buying out their arbitration and at least a couple of their free agency years. These deals tend to be team-friendly, with multiple team options aimed at getting maximal value out of such players before they hit the open market. Of course, the players get much more up front money than they would in the three seasons in which teams can and do set their salaries unilaterally, usually at less than $1 million per year. It’s a standard now vs. later tradeoff, even if the value of the “now” is far less than the value of “later” and even if it pays these guys far less than they’re worth overall.
But that’s the system. And it’s one which will force Tatís to make a tough choice: either take a deal at a time when the team has most of the leverage or else turn down millions in hand now in order take a shot at many more millions later. In his case, he’ll have a rookie season with multiple injuries to think about too. Does that portend future injury issues? Could he, like some players who have been in his shoes before, end up damaged goods by the time he expected to get paid?
We’ll see how both he and the Padres calculate all of that between now and February, it seems.