After being designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates last week, James McDonald was assigned to Triple-A after clearing waivers. However, he was able to elect free agency rather than accept his assignment to the minor leagues. He is now eligible to sign with any team.
McDonald was once a great pitcher for the Pirates; it didn’t last long, unfortunately. Originally acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers along with Andrew Lambo for Octavio Dotel, McDonald was given plenty of opportunities to succeed as a Pirate.
His best string of success came in the first half of 2012. It involved plenty of Cy Young talk and an All-Star snub. In the first half of last season, McDonald pitched to a 2.37 ERA in 110 innings. He had a 8.18 K/9 and 2.54 BB/9 with a 0.97 WHIP. He pitched a bit better than his peripheral numbers would have indicated however, indicated by his 3.00 FIP compared to his 2.37 ERA.
The second half of 2012 didn’t bring that same success for McDonald. In fact, it brought an amazing downfall that resulted in him being put in the bullpen and eventually being shut down.
His ERA in the second half was 7.52. His K/9 dropped from 8.18 to 7.52, and his BB/9 went up from 2.54 to 5.41. His WHIP went up to 1.79 and he was giving up homers at a rate of 2.07 HR/9. It got ugly, and it got ugly fast. His first start after the All-Star break raised some red flags immediately. In 4.2 innings, he allowed five runs.
This season, McDonald didn’t stay around very long. He made six starts and pitched to a 5.76 ERA; the walks were a major problem, allowing an alarming 6.07 BB/9.
Now that he is a free agent, I’m sure there will be a few teams that will try to sign him to a minor league deal at some point. He has great stuff, including a fastball that ranges from 90-94 mph and a great curveball with tons of break. He has all the potential to be a very good front end starter, but if he continues to fail to command his pitches, he will never reach that potential.
It’s a low-risk, high-reward type of deal for any team that tries to acquire him.