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.

Tim Williams

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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  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Pursuit doesn’t count, it’s results. Of course the Pirates need more starting pitching. The Yankees need it too. BTW, the BIGGEST payroll was eliminated last night. So I guess their season was a complete waste of time. Yankees have been in the playoffs every year except 1 since 1995 I think they said last night. Pirates, ofer. XXI looms. Penny pinching Karstens out of town will be another brick laid on the way to the 21st consecutive losing season.

  • john.alcorn

    They have 2 sure thing MLB SP on the roster. Yes they badly need SP. Sure C and SS would be bigger needs, but the solutions for those spots arn’t likely to be available. SP is the one spot where $10-12 million can buy you a good #3 SP. There is nothing wrong with having too many SP options and having younger guys like Locke and McPherson work from the pen at first (like St. Louis often does).

    • burgh_fan

      Um … it took 10 million dollars to sign Kevin Correia. What #3 starter is signing a deal worth 10-12 million dollars? I know Edwin Jackson did so this past offseason but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

        Correia signed a two year deal for $8 M total.

      • john.alcorn

        $10-12 million a year will get you any of Dempster, Haren, Jackson, Lohse, McCarthy, Sanchez, or Santana.

        • RandyLinville

          I think Dempster and Lohse are likely to get more money from some team. They were both making in that ballpark in 2012 and both put up pretty good numbers, though Dempster was mediocre after he was dealt.

          I think what NH does will depend heavily on how secure he thinks his job is. If he thinks he’ll be canned if he fails to make the playoffs in 2013, then he will almost definitely have to sign someone. He might need to go even higher than the $10-12 million that you noted above to do that. If he thinks that he is secure into 2014, then I think he’ll see what he has with the young guys. Regardless, this will be intriguing.

        • http://twitter.com/StevefromYukuDU Yukudukes

          I like your thought and agree with you that they should sign a #3 guy but Haren, Sanchez and probably Lohse are going to cost more than $10-12

  • pirateswillwinin2012

    You have to look beyond next year with regards to the pitching staff. A.J and Wandy will be gone after this year. Leaving holes for next year, 2014 rotation Gerrit Cole is the only lock, with Jameson Taillon coming either at the beginning of year or in June. We don’t know what JMac, McPherson, or Locke will do. Trying to sign a Edwin Jackson type again to 3 year deal will be well worth the “luxury”. A.J and Wandy will be off the books next year, making that type of contract very affordable. Pitching is the most important aspect of this game. As you saw in Aug and Sept it fell apart. To sure up the rotation is the most important thing the Pirates can do. Not only this year, but next too.

    • Kevin_Creagh

      When Wandy was traded, his 2014 club option turned into a player option. For the salary he is slated to receive ($13M, with some cash from Astros), he will be picking up that option and a Pirate in 2014.

  • leadoff

    This article surprises me because there is no greater need on this team than pitching and catching second. No not a SS, Not a corner outfielder, not a 1st basemen. It would be nice to upgrade all positions but we are talking needs here.
    McDonald and Karstens are huge gambles, Correia was better in the long run, and that is what the season is, “The Long Run”, the Pirates have to start to realize that when pitchers throw 90-100 pitches in 5-6 innings and keep their ERAs down they are fulling everyone, they won’t be around when the leaves turn brown. What the Pirates need to do more than anything is find the “type” of pitchers they need, they need two starters for sure and some bullpen help. I would try to keep Karstens as a 5th starter, but I would surely trade McDonald. I might even keep McDonald if the price for Karstens is too high for a 5th starter.
    I can’t see Cole anywhere near major league ready in 2013, he will come up in 2013 in all probability and get bombed and then the Pitt media will have their field day.
    I don’t think players turning down the Pirates is a big issue, they can anyone if they overpay and to put things into perspective the Yankees overpay more than any team in baseball, just about every team overpays when you think about it and every team gets turned down from players from time to time, it is just a big deal here in Pittsburgh.

    • burgh_fan

      A couple points. You say they can get anyone if they overpay? I recall them offering Derek Lee arbitration which would have been around 9 million dollars for last season and he declined. That would have been an overpayment. I recall Roy Oswalt not even listening to offers from the Pirates. If the player won’t listen the team’s willingness to overpay matters not. Sure if they offered a any player a 10 year, 600 million dollar contract they would likely come here but I certainly hope that’s not what you are suggesting. Your overall point is good but “anyone” has been proven incorrect on at least those two occasions.
      I think it srather clear that Karstens at least is a better pitcher than Corriea in the “long run”. You can cite injury concerns with him but to say he isn’t the better pitcher is flat out false. McDonald/Correia I’ll give there is a bit better argument for. I still think mcDonald had the better season in the “long run” but that can be debated.
      I do think they need to add a starter but a couple of your points seem way off track.

      • leadoff

        A couple of explanations.
        1. “Anyone” was a generic term and there are players from time to time that have other agendas, but that happens to all teams.
        2. I believe Karstens is a better pitcher on a given day, but when I use the term “long run”, I am saying Correia was a better pitcher to have on the roster this year than Karstens was, not getting on the field is a big item, Karstens has been a China Doll, give me a strong pitcher with a 4.0 ERA and you can keep the China Doll with the 3.00 ERA. (Again Generic numbers)
        There is no debate to it when it comes to McDonald having a better season than Correia, he didn’t. If the season would have ended the first of July, McDonald would have had the better season, but that is one of the Pirates problems, they don’t seem to understand they need players that can make it through 182 games.
        Why the Pirates want to kick Correia to the curb when they need a 4th or 5th starter with experience, I will never figure out.

        • http://twitter.com/scottklima Scott Klima

          Completely agree. Every team needs a Correia to help anchor the rotation. The Pirates are in trouble if they expect McPherson, JMac, and Locke to be consistent.

  • duckwoes

    I think adding a starter and a bullpen arm or two is warranted. I would like to see McCarthy or Marcum in the rotation next season. Getting them to come to Pttsburgh….. always a challenge

    • john.alcorn

      I think Cutch’s breakout season has done a lot to change the perception of the team among players.

  • piratemike

    This really shows the failure of the 2009 draft if they would have done a better job either choosing or developing they would have had some pitching prospects in the upper levels to go along with Cole and Taillon and either had a strong young cheap pitching staff in 2014 or could have a couple of good trading pieces, if they had a traditional draft they could have had at least one solid no.1 pick who would probably be holding down a starting spot next season.

    • john.alcorn

      The 2009 draft was very poor at the top behind Strasburg, the next picks were Ackley, Tate, Sanchez, Hobgood, Wheeler, Minor, Leake, Turner, Storen, Matzek, Crow, Green, Purke, and White. There is on elite talent there in Zach Wheeler and another who is really struggling Dustin Ackley (who of course went #2). The rest of that group are somewhere between busts and so-so talents. A lot of teams had tough 2009 drafts.

      • piratemike

        I guess that I wrongly assumed that the Pirates had a large group of scouts scouring the baseball fields of the U.S. looking for talent, instead they sit on their asses and read BA to find out who to draft.
        Why do the Pirates even have a scouting and development dept.?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Lease/1032731036 John Lease

          It’s far too early to judge! Just wait until all that ‘mental conditioning’ training takes hold, they will be world beaters! Until they are traded for Robinson Diaz.

          http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?query_type=year_round&year_ID=2009&draft_round=1&draft_type=junreg

          Angels sure didn’t do too bad with their compensation pick for losing Teixeira, did they? Or maybe Mr. Alcorn forgot Mike Trout. In the worshiped WAR stat, he beats out Strasburg handily. Mike Minor, Mike Leake and Drew Storen would all fit quite handily on the Pirates. Of course, when Sanchez gets here and hits .220, we’ll be praising him because he is better than Barajas.

          • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

            Do you really think he can hit .220?

    • http://twitter.com/StevefromYukuDU Yukudukes

      Seriously? The 2009 draft is why the Pirates might need a vet in 2013? Do you understand how players develop and I mean actually develop not develop in Bob Smizic/Dejan dream land?

      • piratemike

        Stuff you’re idiotic Smizic remarks.

  • http://twitter.com/scottklima Scott Klima

    If the Pirates don’t upgrade their rotation from its current status, they will not improve, and will definitely not go to the postseason. McPherson and Locke have shown they can’t be depended on as every 5th day starters. AJ, Wandy, and JMac are all locks. They need another established guy in there after Wandy. Hopefully they could bring in a 4-5 guy again, I personally want Correia but know that isn’t happening.

    If nobody else, have Karstens, McPherson, and Locke battle for the last spot. Having 2 of these guys in the rotation is a big problem.

    • http://twitter.com/scottklima Scott Klima

      Ideally for me: AJ, Wandy, FA (Edwin Jackson type, not necessarily him), Correia, JMac. Karstens in the pen as the #6. McPherson and Locke battle for pen spots.

      • RandyLinville

        I think this is an interesting thought. Obviously, things won’t be the exact same as last year. But the five NL playoff teams this year posted a starters ERA of 3.75 or better. All else the same (and hopefully JMAC will find a happy consistency level), the four guys who are holdovers put up a combined ERA of about 3.90 in 2013 (because that’s about where they were in 2012 – all else the same). To drop the starters ERA into the same range as the Giants and Braves (3.70 to 3.75), then the new guy would have to be at 3.10 or better in about 200 innings. I don’t see this club pursuing a guy who we would expect to have an ERA in the low 3.00s. Just don’t see it happening – it would cost too much money up front. Of course, they could acquire someone who exceeds expectations and that would be nice. But I’m not sure the last time a Bucs FA signing worked out all that well when millions of dollars were involved.

        Let’s say in 2013 JMAC takes some strides and puts up an ERA about equal to Wandy’s – 3.70 let’s call it. If that happens then the new guy – Free Agent X – could be right about AJ’s 2012 ERA (3.50-ish) and this club would have a starters ERA right in line with what SF and ATL did in 2012. That seems more reasonable/more doable.

        My personal preference would be AJ, JMac and Wandy, plus a mix of Karstens, Locke, Wilson & McPherson with Cole waiting to come up mid-year assuming all continues to go well with him. The money not used in picking up Correia and a FA starter could then be used to pick up a solid bat.

        Or better yet, spend a bunch of money and get both a FA SP and a FA bat.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Lease/1032731036 John Lease

          Kevin Correia has been the Pirates biggest ‘win’ for a FA pitcher in a long, long time. Starting pitcher certainly, probably since Jim Bibby.

          • RandyLinville

            Are you trying to make me sad? It is working. I think you are 100% right. I can’t come up with anyone off the top of my head who is better than Correia since Bibby was signed. If it wasn’t so sad, this would be funny.

  • ElGaupo77

    Having a rotation of Burnett, Wandy, JMac, Karstens and FA would allow the two most obvious kids (Locke, McPhearson) to be waiting in the wings for inevitable injury. I count on Morton for nothing.

    I like Wilson in the Lincoln role even though Wilson’s control is bad. 80 innings with a lot of 2 inning outings from him would be nice.

  • ElGaupo77

    I like Hochever coming to the NL. He could go from mid-4.00 ERA with a DH in a tougher division/league to a high 3.00 ERA in the NL.

  • keithconto

    You kinda contradicted yourself there. Every potential starting pitcher has a question mark. Some bigger than others. You said it yourself, when they pitch well they win. I;d rather see them do everything they can to put the best staff they can out there. I don’t think Karstens and Morton will be part of it. And while McPherson showed something, Locke didn’t. Or I should say that Locke showed nothing different than alot of back of the rotation starters they’ve tried over the years. J Mac seems to have a fragile confidence ala Snell or Wells.
    If you want to be a winner you can’t keep relying on so many “if’s” amd “maybe” s.

  • emjayinTN

    Let’s not get caught up in thinking that Jeff Locke is going to be a Kershaw-clone or another Gio Gonzalez. He has been developed by the Pirates since 2009, and was 3rd in ERA in AAA and 4th in K’s in 2012. With the Pirates he had a 5.50 ERA, but 34K/11W in 34 IP and a .267 Average Against. Some LHSP’s from 2012 – Bruce Chen, 5.07 ERA, Jon Lester 4.82 ERA, Derek Holland 4.67 ERA and Rickey Romero 5.77 ERA. All are experienced veterans, and in Derek Holland’s 1st year he was 8-13, 6.12 ERA. We are looking for a No. 5 SP. Remember Paul Maholm? After 3 years in the league, he gave us a 23-38 record and a 4.43 ERA from 2009 thru 2011. Locke’s 6 starts all came during the floundering days of August and September. His K/W Ratio of 3/1, his ability to hold runners, throw ground balls, pitch inside, and 3 near + pitches (Fastball, Curve, Change) are all reasons we need to see him in the Rotation learning from Wandy Rodriguez and AJ Burnett in 2013. It is all a learning process.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.ransom.5 Jeremy Ransom

    Shohei Otani? ;)