Oct. 1, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Jeff Karstens (27) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates: Suddenly the Bucs have pitching depth

Just one week ago the Pittsburgh Pirates looked to be a team in trouble when it came to starting pitching for the 2013 season.

They still aren’t in good shape in that department, but things look a whole lot better today than they did only one week ago.

While there are still plenty of question marks in the Pirates’ starting rotation, the additions of Jeff Karstens and Francisco Liriano go a long way to at least adding depth, something the Bucs didn’t have just one week ago.

September 1, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (58) pitches during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald holding down the top three spots in the rotation, Liriano and Karstens likely will fill out the final two spots. But now that the rotation seems settled, the Pirates also have the likes of Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson to add depth. Plus there is Charlie Morton who is set to return in July, giving the Bucs eight arms they could potentially use if they need to.

Also consider the fact that youngsters Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon could potentially force their way to Pittsburgh this season. Looking long-term that’s doubtful and Cole has the better shot than Taillon this season, but you still can’t close the book on him just yet for next season.

Overall the Bucs have quite a few options in terms of starting pitching heading into the 2013 season.

But quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality as there are question marks with every single potential starting pitcher for next season.

Having said that, let’s take a look at some of the concerns.

A.J. Burnett: Can the Pirates expect 16 wins and a 3.51 ERA like Burnett posted a season ago? Judging by his career, that’s not likely. But it is a contract year, so Burnett has a lot of motivation to pitch well, however it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take a small step backwards.

Wandy Rodriguez: Rodriguez finished the year very nicely, but his strikeout rate continues to fall, which is a concern. Despite that I like the prospects of having him in a Pirates uniform for a full season.

James McDonald: Which J-Mac will the Pirates be getting, the one from the first half of the season or the one that had a dreadful second half?

Francisco Liriano: The Liriano signing is nice as it gives the Bucs a pitcher with proven major league talent, but there are a ton of questions. Can he stay healthy? Can he throw strikes? Will the switch to the National League help? If all of those answers turn out to be yes, then the Bucs may have something.

October 1, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the second inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Karstens: Can Karstens stay healthy? If so, can he give this team what Kevin Correia did out of the five spot in the rotation? Both are debatable at this point.

Jeff Locke/Kyle McPherson: Can either youngster force the Pirates hand in spring training? Both guys have talent, but can either guy be counted on to turn in a solid outing every fifth day?

Gerrit Cole/Jameson Taillon: If either guy seems ready, will they force the Pirates hand? That’s doubtful as judging by history the past few years; a lot would have to happen to see one of these guys in PNC Park this season.

The good news is that the Pirates have good numbers in terms of options.

The bad news is 1-8; you just don’t know what you have in these guys. A lot of things need to go well for the Pirates to have a solid starting rotation and even more has to go well for them to sustain success for six months of baseball.

Is the staff better than they were a season ago? That’s debatable.

Keep in mind that Correia needs replaced.

Say what you want about Correia, but you knew what you were going to get from him and he turned in consistent performances. He also won 12 games a year. Someone is going to have to win those games this year. I just don’t know if the Pirates have that guy that they can count on at the back of the rotation.

But things at least look better than they did just a week ago. Hopefully that is a good sign for 2013.

If anything, at least the Pirates have options.

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Tags: A.J. Burnett Francisco Liriano James McDonald Jeff Karstens Pittsburgh Pirates

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