The Pirates started the year with enough pitchers to field a pair of rotations. Good thing, too, as attrition has claimed its toll in the first dozen weeks of the campaign.
Performance has sent a couple of guys to the trash heap. Jonathan Sanchez flamed out about as spectacularly as humanly possible, and we'll find out any time now what the Bucs plan to do with J-Mac. It's possible he could end up in the pen, and just as possible he ends up in a different uniform. But he won't be starting. Andy Oliver was considered MLB-ready when the Bucs traded for him. But until he resolves some brutal control issues at Indy, he's out of the picture, having been bypassed for Brandon Cumpton when a spot start became available.
Injury has also reared its ugly head. Jeff Karstens had shoulder surgery this month, and we won't see him again until September. Kyle McPherson, who was in the mix with Jeff Locke for the last rotation spot, had shoulder issues in 2012 and has been out since early April with an elbow injury. Phil Irwin was put on the minor league DL in early May with "arm fatigue" and was placed on the 60-day DL.
Then there's been the garden variety injuries. Wandy Rodriguez has been down a couple of times, but is about due to return; he may or may not toss one more rehab start. Jean Gomez will be back this week to work against Seattle. AJ Burnett is out and hasn't begun baseball activities yet, so his return date is uncertain.
The rotation is regaining its shape. By the weekend, it will be Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole, Jeanmar Gomez and Charlie Morton. When Wandy returns, he'll presumably slide into Jeanmar's spot, with Gomez returning to his long man/spot starter role in the bullpen. When AJ returns, Cole is likely to go back to Indy. That's not a performance or fiscal issue, but a one of depth. There's really no move remaining for the Pirates that doesn't cost them a pitcher; only Cole and Locke have options.
The question will be how long he'll be down; we'd expect that he'll return before September 1st if the Bucs remain in the hunt, to make him playoff eligible.
Of course, that's without any other injuries to the staff, and that's pretty unlikely.
The Pirates now feature seven starters - Burnett, Rodriguez, Locke, Liriano, Morton, Cole and Gomez. The trio of healthy minor league starters on the 40-man are Stolmy Pimentel, Cumpton and Oliver; that's the cavalry. And if the Pirates can get away with a summer of nicks and bumps, that's enough; most starting depth charts are built to run eight or nine deep over the course of a season.
Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham are at Altoona. By next summer or maybe 2015, they should join McPherson and Irwin as guys in the mix.
2014 could be a shake-up season. Cole will certainly start the season with Pittsburgh, as will Locke, both firmly inder team control. Liriano has a club option for 2014, which we assume will be used. Morton has another arbitration year and so is also under team control. The others are a little iffier.
Rodriguez has a player option worth $13M, and there's a good chance that he may not exercise it and take a stab at free agency. If so, the Pirates will probably offer him a tender, which would net the Bucs a draft pick if he goes. AJ is a free agent, and hasn't made up his mind whether or not to return. J-Mac will be arb eligible; if he's still here, the betting line is against his getting tendered.
Pimentel, McPherson, Irwin, Oliver, Kingham, Cumpton and Taillon will all be under team control, and it will be a year of decision for Oliver and Pimentel, as both will be out of options.
If the Bucs can avoid a rash of injuries post-All Star, they have enough depth to survive the usual missed starts of the summer, being seven deep but thin at Indy because of injuries. Next year could well begin the long awaited transition to a younger and more home grown staff.