Not too long ago, heads were shaken over the final two spots in the Pirates’ rotation. They couldn’t allow Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson to fill them, could they?
This morning, it appears Locke and McPherson may start the season in Class AAA Indianapolis.
The deal is expected to take a while to become official; an announcement is not imminent.
We’ve discussed the on-the-mound impact of Liriano the first time through this business: Serviceable fastball, good slider, lacks command, two years removed from good 2010 season, etc. Here are the two main takeaways from the revised agreement on terms with Liriano:
1. The signing further increases the Pirates’ payroll commitments for 2013. We explored on Monday the $63.7 million committed to 12 players for ’13. Add minimum salaries, arbitration salaries for Neil Walker and James McDonald and the rest of the 40-man roster, and the projected opening-day payroll is roughly $76 million. The Pirates would be responsible for about $63 million of that.
We don’t know the figure for Liriano’s ’13 salary – and the Fox Sports report noted that the number could change depending on whether or not Liriano misses any time – but adding a couple million dollars pushes the payroll to $80 million or more.
That raises the question of whether the Pirates will look to trade Garrett Jones, who avoided arbitration and will make $4.5 million in ’13. The Pirates have Gaby Sanchez, Clint Robinson, Jerry Sands, Jose Tabata and Travis Snider currently on the 40-man roster, giving them options at first base and right field.
It’s a stretch, though, to think that any of those options could replace Jones’ 27 home runs, .516 slugging percentage or .832 OPS. Having that bat in the middle of the order can help overcome other problems, like a weak bottom third of the lineup or poor pitching.
The increased payroll may not pose a problem for the Pirates. Slight increases in ticket prices, increased attendance, money not spent in the amateur draft and more MLB TV money coming in 2014 may have provided them with more money to spend.
2. The signing creates solid depth in the starting rotation, which if Liriano passes his physical and signs will look something like this: A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Liriano, Jeff Karstens. That leaves Locke and McPherson in Indy. Charlie Morton could return from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in June or July, and Gerrit Cole could be ready for the majors in the second half of the season.
It's possible that McPherson or Locke could earn a spot in the rotation in spring training, but I believe it to be Karstens' spot to lose.
The Pirates displayed how much they needed starting pitching depth last season when they lost Burnett, Morton and Karstens because of injury for various portions of the season.
Assuming Indianapolis has Locke, McPherson and Cole in their rotation, that leaves little room for Jeanmar Gomez, Andrew Oliver, Phil Irwin, Chris Leroux, Justin Wilson and any other pitchers the Pirates may want to start. It will be interesting to see how that rotation settles itself.
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