First Pitch: Is the Pitching Staff Set?

The latest 2012 recap was the look at the starting pitchers. The last few years the Pirates have pursued a big free agent pitcher over the off-season. In 2010 they went after Jorge de la Rosa. Last year they went after Edwin Jackson. In each case the Pirates were turned down.

Looking at the current makeup of the rotation, they might not have to go that route this year. A.J. Burnett will be returning. James McDonald had a horrible second half, but his first half was so good that you have to start him. The club already spent money on pitching when they traded for Wandy Rodriguez. They haven’t exactly been committed to Jeff Karstens, and they’ve got Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke battling for time in the rotation. They also should see Gerrit Cole in the majors by mid-season.

So do the Pirates need to add pitching over the off-season?

I don’t think they need to add pitching, although it would be a nice luxury to go that route. You could make a rotation out of the above options that, on paper, looks like a strong group. But when you consider that teams usually need multiple starters throughout the year, then already you’re going to need more options. When you consider all of the variables with the above players, that need becomes greater.

James McDonald had a great first half, but what if he carries his second half over to the 2013 season? What if Jeff Karstens continues dealing with injuries? What if Jeff Locke and/or Kyle McPherson don’t have success in the major league rotation? What if Burnett or Rodriguez see a regression due to age? How about the fact that someone could get injured?

The Pirates have some options. Charlie Morton should return mid-season, assuming he’s still with the team. Justin Wilson and Phil Irwin are two options who should start in Triple-A, and could start in the majors if needed. Gerrit Cole will eventually be in the majors at some point in 2013. So there are some depth options. But at the same time, adding some outside help wouldn’t be a horrible idea. They don’t necessarily have to go after another Edwin Jackson, with a big commitment in years and money. A good depth option who can pitch out of the bullpen and start when a starter is needed would work, similar to Kevin Correia’s role in the final two months of the year. Or some outside the box thinking would be getting rid of Karstens and applying his salary to a bigger player. The problem with this is that you run a risk of being left without Karstens and without the bigger player. We’ve seen Jackson and De La Rosa turn down the Pirates the last two years, so adding a potential impact guy is no guarantee.

There are bigger needs this off-season than the rotation. But pitching wins games. We saw that this year. The pitching was strong in the first two months, and the club stayed around .500, despite the worst offense in the league. The offense picked up in June and July, which combined with the pitching allowed the Pirates to dominate. Then the pitching fell apart in August and September, and the club went with it. So while it’s not the biggest need, doing something to add some additional depth to the rotation wouldn’t be the worst move the Pirates could make.

Links and Notes

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Season Recap: Starting Pitchers.

**Arizona Fall League Recap: 10/18.

**Winter League Results: Ramon Cabrera Delivers Big Pinch Hit Double.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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