Monday, August 5, 2013

2014 Pitching...Same Ol' Gang?

Yah, we know; we're jumping the gun a little bit here. But the Pirates mantra has been on sustainability, and what sustains these Buccos is the pitching.

The current rotation could return intact; the biggest question mark is whether AJ wants to continue as a Pirate warhorse or retire to pasture after 15 years of MLB jousting. Burnett is making $16.5M this season, with the Pirates picking up $8M (thank you, NY). We're sure the Pirates would like him back, but not so sure that they plan to pay the 36 year old that much; we'd speculate that they may offer 2 years/$25-28M for him. So his status will be a ongoing sidebar story in the off season.

Wandy has a player option for $13M in 2014. Our guess is given the time he's missed that he'll exercise it rather than jump into the market, and the Pirates won't mind as the Astros are on the hook for $5.5M of the salary. Francisco Liriano has an $8M club option for 2014; you can bet the Bucs will exercise that baby.

Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole are locked up and under team control for at least five more years. Charlie Morton will be in his final arbitration year, and it's likely the Bucs will keep him around, though that's not an absolute given. James McDonald is in his second arbitration year in 2014, and the tender on him and his role down the road will be the subject of off season debate by the FO.  Jeff Karstens will be a free agent after the year, and he's probably DL'ed his way out of the Bucs future plans.

As the Pirate yo-yo starter this season, Brandon Cumpton has proved that he can fill a back end slot, although his problems after going through the order once may earn him a conversion to the pen, ala Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, Justin Wilson and Bryan Morris. Stolmy Pimentel will get a look; the Pirates promoted him aggressively to Indy this season as he'll be out of options in 2014. LHP Kris Johnson had a breakout year at Indy, but at 28 he's past the prospect phase, although he may be useful as a long man/spot starter.

Kyle McPherson and Phil Irwin impressed in camp, but both went under the knife, and this lost season will keep them from landing MLB jobs, at least until after the 2014 All-Star break. And they'll have competition then; if all goes well, that's about when Jameson Taillon, recently promoted to Indy, should be ready to join the show. A dark horse candidate is Nick Kingham, a prep draftee in 2010. He's at Altoona now, and still learning the ropes, but by next summer he could be close, although 2015 is a more likely arrival date for him.

The bullpen is tied up for next year. Jason Grilli is signed for $4.25M, Mark Melancon and Vin Mazzaro will be in their first arbitration season and the rest of the pen - Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Bryon Morris and Jared Hughes - will still be pre-arb. Out-of-options Jeanmar Gomez is the only guy they'll have to make a decision on, and how he performs in the dog days after a solid four months will determine his 2014 status. They still have Vic Black, Ryan Reid and Duke Welker at Indy; Black in particular will push for a 2014 spot.

These are just the pieces in place. The Bucs, like every other team, will get a fresh $25M to play with next year from the new  national TV contract, and they'll drop some of that windfall to bring in a handful of new pitchers to camp. That's been their MO; they like competition and depth.

We'd like to see them bring AJ back; the pitching in the pipeline is more likely to spill into Pittsburgh around 2015 rather than next year, so keeping another front-liner on the roster will help ease the transition. But they look pretty sound coming back, if maybe a bit thin, but we're betting NH will address that in the off season.

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