Pittsburgh Pirates Suddenly Have Much-Needed Starting Pitching Depth

Andrew KaufmanSenior Analyst IJanuary 22, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 03:  Jeff Karstens #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on before the game against the Atlanta Braves  on October 3, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It looks like Francisco Liriano will be a Pittsburgh Pirate after all, as Ken Rosenthal reported Monday that Liriano and the Bucs had agreed to revised contract terms.

The new contract will not have dramatically different terms than the initial agreement, though it appears the Pirates will have more protections if Lirano's lingering injury to his non-throwing arm flares up again. Thus, it seems the Bucs are expecting Liriano to be in their starting rotation as early as Opening Day.

With Jeff Karstens already in the fold, it admittedly is a bit of a surprise to see Liriano on his way to Pittsburgh. Suddenly, the Pirates find themselves with a much deeper pitching staff than most fans had been anticipating.

For most of the offseason, it looked like the Pirates were going to begin 2013 with four experienced starting pitchers at most—now, they have five. In A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Liriano and Karstens, each likely member of the Bucs' Opening Day rotation will have several years of major league experience.

This experience means that pitchers like Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson and eventually Gerrit Cole will provide the Pirates with much better starting pitching depth than they have had in recent years.

Locke, the most seasoned of the three, could probably be a good No. 4 starter in most rotations right now. He has posted strong strikeout rates throughout his time in the minors and compiled decent peripheral statistics in 34 innings with the Pirates last season. 

McPherson might benefit from a bit more time in Triple-A, but he is perfectly capable of filling in when called upon. Cole will be promoted based on his own performance, not the team's, but he should be ready before the All-Star break and his emergence will only further loosen the pressure on the back half of the rotation.

It should be noted that the Pirates are fortunate to have this pitching depth, as they will likely need to call upon it on multiple occasions throughout the season. Liriano and Karstens are both performance and injury risks, and McDonald's poor finish to 2012 does not guarantee him a rotation spot for the entire season.

Locke and McPherson will be needed at some point, and by the time Cole is promoted, the rotation may not be particularly overcrowded. But it is still nice to see the Pirates finally have some depth in such a critical area.