Well, it looks like the Francisco Liriano roll of the dice will come about later in the season, if at all. According to reports, his on-again, off-again saga with the Bucs is currently at checkmate; the Pirates apparently want to bring him back on a minor league or maybe two-way deal until his broken wing heals, while Liriano wants a guaranteed contract.
Good luck with that, Cisco Kid, though a deal could be struck that's heavily backloaded with performance markers. Still, the chips are all on the FO's side of the table right now, and they'd like to keep their 40-man roster intact into camp rather than burn a spot for an iffy arm. But no matter how his long, strange road ends, his injury does help clarify the early starting rotation.
The Pirates will start with AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Jeff Karstens to open the season, but will have to settle into a five man staff by the second time around this year, as this April isn't sprinkled with its usual early glut of off days.
So we're back to the Jeff Locke - Kyle McPherson battle for the fifth spot. Locke is the second lefty the Pirates seek to balance the rotation; McPherson has more upside and could someday slot as a mid-rotation arm, although that day isn't today, but down the road. We'd lean toward Locke as the frontrunner if his spring performance is OK, both because he's a lefty and only has one option remaining; McPherson still has a pair in hand.
It's possible the loser could end up in the bullpen, but we think that's probably not going to happen. Aside from the relief corps already having an overload of candidates, both guys have more value to the Bucs as starters, so it would make sense to get the loser into a regular groove with steady work at Indy.
The staff shake-ups will come later in the year when guys start to become available. Charlie Morton and possibly Liriano will be back from injuries by mid-year, and Gerrit Cole and Justin Wilson are the two arms with the most upside at Indy. They could be looking at call-ups as the season grows older, though both will start the year with the Indians.
We're beginning to look at a rotation in transition. The kids who have been laboring on the farm are starting to grow up, and in the next couple of years should begin taking their turns in Pittsburgh.
AJ will be 37 in 2014, and in his 16th year of MLB ball. JK, with his health concerns, could be easily returned to the bullpen as a multi-role pitcher. Rodriguez is under control through this year and possibly next, depending on whether his option vests. J-Mac needs to show that he can be a consistent performer. So there will be openings, one way or another, as Cole, Jameson Taillon, McPherson, Wilson and the other handful of strong prospects approach the bigs in the next couple or three seasons.
The FO did a decent job of cobbling together a respectable rotation recently. But the time to fill the staff with home-grown arms is just peeping over the horizon.