Pirates have some starting pitcher depth heading into season
BRADENTON, Fla. — It once was the stuff of science fiction — the New York Yankees completing a salary-dump trade with the Pirates — but no more.
The deal to bring right-hander A.J. Burnett to the Pirates was consummated Sunday night. After the excitement that comes with acquiring a potential front-line pitcher dies down, a question remains: What does it mean for the rest of the starting rotation?
"He's going to back up some guys into roles or spots in the rotation," manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday after directing a lively, 2.5-hour workout to open spring training. "It could create less of a gap from our fifth to our sixth guy. And it could rearrange some of the personnel so that our bullpen is stronger than we anticipated."
The Pirates essentially have six pitchers — Burnett, Kevin Correia, James McDonald, Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton — vying for five rotation spots. Former first-round pick Brad Lincoln will remain stuck in a holding pattern. Non-roster invitees Jo-Jo Reyes and Daniel Cabrera face even longer odds of making the team.
Ever the optimist, Hurdle sees upside amid the turbulence of a crowded field.
"One of the signs of a club getting better is when your decisions get tougher as you move forward," Hurdle said. "We're going to put people on the mound, let them pitch, and it will all shape itself up."
Each candidate can make a strong argument for staying in the rotation, but it won't exactly be an open audition.
Burnett and Bedard are locks, considering their experience and the size of their contracts. Burnett will make $33 million over the next two seasons, with $13 million of that being paid by the Pirates. Bedard, the lone lefty in the mix, signed a one-year, $4.5-million deal.
McDonald, who finished strong last season, and Morton, who was consistent throughout, are young building blocks of the rotation. The wild card is Morton's rehab from hip surgery. Hurdle proclaimed Morton "fit for duty," yet any setback likely would force the right-hander to begin the season on the disabled list.
The starters under closest scrutiny will be Correia and Karstens because both need to prove their durability.
"Our mindset for the starters is, we're looking for seven innings (per start) at a minimum," Hurdle said. "We want to go to the bullpen when we want to, not when we have to."
A sore shoulder forced Correia to miss the final month of last season, although he is healthy now. He has thrown more than 154 innings just once over eight years in the majors.
Karstens makes up for underwhelming stuff by being the craftiest pitcher on the staff, and he was the Pirates' most effective pitcher much of the past two seasons. He's worked seven innings in just 14 of his 76 career starts and spent the winter sweating out a boot camp-style regimen with a personal trainer in Tampa, Fla., to build his endurance.
"The way I look at it, somebody's always out there working hard and trying to take my job," Karstens said. "I've got to keep busting my butt."
Karstens, 29, has been a long reliever before. But that would seem an odd role for him now, given the $3.1 million contract he signed in January.
Correia, 31, is in the final year of his contract. He'll make $3 million, plus another $1 million in incentives if he reaches 210 innings and 32 games started.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates notebook: Bucs to target pitching on trade market
- Saturday’s scouting report: Pirates at Reds
- All-star Watson blows late lead as Reds rally past Pirates
- Statistically speaking: Mesoraco, Martin travel different paths to success
- Pirates minor league notebook: Kingham cruising since promotion to Triple-A
- Kovacevic: Who’s better than Cutch?
- Thursday’s scouting report: Pirates at Cardinals
- Pirates notebook: Liriano could make weekend start vs. Reds
- Report links Pirates first baseman Sanchez to PEDs while in college
- Kovacevic: No measuring Harrison’s heart
- Pirates’ Harrison, McCutchen, Watson picked for All-Star Game