Will AJ Burnett, 37, return? He would certainly help bridge the gap between the young Buc arms in the system and the upcoming season. AJ's a free agent who has said that it's 50-50 if he comes back, although he did add that if he did, it would be as a Bucco. The Pirates, for their part, have said they wanted him back and should tender him, which would be the equivalent of a one year, $14.1M contract. So that's one storyline.
Wandy Rodriguez is another. He has a $13M player option that he would be foolish to not exercise after missing most of the season. But what Wandy will return? The steady mid-rotation guy or a 35 year old with tendinitis and arthritis in his money arm?
Beyond those five are a lot of possibilities, but no sure things. Jeff Locke, 25, had a second half meltdown. There are those that believe he was a sabermetric disaster waiting to happen, with his walk, BABIP and strand rates being unsustainable. Others think that he was just ground down in his first full big league season. A third gang believe his fundamental approach needs to be more aggressive. Still, it's hard to write off ten wins and an All-Star selection even if he appears to be veering toward the same career path as J-Mac.
RHPs Jeanmar Gomez, 25, and Stolmy Pimentel, 23, are expected to be in the mix for starting roles going into the spring. Gomez lives by his sinker resulting in a 55% ground ball rate, so he's a fit into the Pirate scheme. Pimentel features a fastball/slider menu and averaged almost a K per inning in his brief September audition. Both are out of options, so they'll get a close look in their use 'em or lose 'em scenario.
RHP Jeff Karstens, 31, is probably out of chances after another season spent in the whirlpool.
RHP Brandon Cumpton, 24, and LHP Kris Johnson, 29, both showed some promise in brief appearances, but the pair are back-enders and may be better suited for relief roles. That may be especially true for Cumpton, who had a 0.00 ERA for innings 1-3, but from innings 4-6, the second time around in the order, he shot up to a 4.61 ERA.
RHP Phil Irwin, 27, who had ulnar surgery early in the year, is pitching in the Arizona Fall League and may have a shot at a back-end spot. RHP Kyle McPherson, 26, who was the pundits' choice to land the last rotation spot during 2013 camp, instead lost the season to TJ surgery and isn't expected to be back until mid-summer.
Everyone has high hopes that RHP Jameson Taillon, 21, (5-10/3.73) will prove a Cole clone and charge into the dog day frays as a Bucco, but we're not so sure. Cole was older, a college player, and more polished. We'd look more for a 2015 ETA for Taillon, without writing out a shot at 2014. His 2013 counting numbers could use some buffing.
The pitching pipeline doesn't end with him. RHP NIck Kingham, 21, (9-6/2.89) will start at either Indy or Altoona and should be right behind Taillon in the show. LHP Joely Rodriguez, 21, (9-8/2.70) will be at Altoona. RHP Tyler Glasnow, 20, (9-3/2.18) will open in High A Bradenton while RHP Luis Heredia, 19, (7-3/3.05) will be in Low A West Virginia.
Some guys on the market that could interest the FO are (with K/BB, % sinking pitches thrown, GB rate, SIERA, xFIP) :
- RHP Dan Haren 10-14/4.67 Washington: 8.01K/1.64 BB; 55.9%-cutter/sinker, 36% GB rate; 3.60 SIERA, 3.67 xFIP. His second half was strong (6-4/3.52), but he'd prefer to play on the Coast where his family is.
- RHP Tim Hudson 8-7/3.97 Atlanta: 6.51K/2.47 BB; 33.3%-cutter/slider; 55.8% GB rate; 3.75 SIERA 3.56, xFIP. The Braves are deciding whether to tender him or not to make room for their young guns.
- RHP Josh Johnson 2-8/6.20 Toronto: 9.18K/3.32 BB; 45.1% GB rate; 33%-two seamer/offspeed; 3.73 SIERA, 3.58 xFIP. Two time All-Star with a couple of down years, but his peripherals are all in line.LHP Chris Capuano 4-7/4.26 LA Dodgers: 6.9 K/2.04 BB; 46.4% GB rate; 35% change/curve; 3.87 SIERA, 3.67 xFIP. He and the Dodgers have a $6M mutual option to decide upon for 2014.
- RHP Tim Lincecum 10-14/4.37 San Francisco: 8.79 K/3.46 BB; 46.6% GB rate; 40.7% curve/change/ 2 seamer; 3.75 SIERA, 3.56 xFIP. He's said to be looking for a one or two year deal to rebuild his value. Red flags are that his velocity is down a couple of ticks from 2011 and his walk rate is pretty high. To further complicate matters, the Giants are expected to tender an offer, which would add a draft pick to the compensation package. (EDIT - The Giants signed him for 2 years/$35M)
- RHP Edinson Volquez 9-12/5.71 Padres/Dodgers: 7.5 K/4.07 BB; 47.6% GB rate; 58.6% sinker, curve, change; 4.36 SIERA, 4.20 xFIP. Some compare him to the old Francisco Liriano, with good stuff but bad command. Our major concern is that he's dropped from 93.6 to 92.5 in fastball velocity from 2012 to 2013, and that shouldn't be for a healthy pitcher who is just 30.
The Pirates will be in the market for a starter, maybe two, for 2014. The direction is undetermined yet; they'll want at least one mid-rotation guy as Wandy insurance, and may look for a #2-type pitcher if AJ decides to STFD; they'll have his allotted contract money to play with in that case.
They will also bring some bodies in as they did last year; they do a good job at coaching guys into ground ball machines. The FO has a philosophy in being eight deep in starting pitching (not often met, we admit), and right now they have three-man core to build around.