By Jim Sankey
Allied News Baseball Columnist
The grass is seldom greener. The Pittsburgh Pirates went into baseball’s winter meetings this week in Nashville in search of starting pitching.
Remembering the Bucs’ concern about payroll, that A. J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez are firmly entrenched as solid 1-2 starters, and that James McDonald is being counted on to bounce back as the number three starter, how about considering these two for the back end of the 2013 pitching rotation:
ä A 32-year-old right hander who won 24 games in 61 starts over the past two years (12 wins each season) when he amassed a 4.49 ERA at a salary of $4 million in 2011 and $3 million in 2012.
ä A 30-year-old right hander who won 14 games in 41 starts over the past two seasons (nine wins last year and five in this injury-plagued year). His 3.38 ERA in 2011 was followed by a 3.97 ERA this year. He made $1.1 million last year and $3.1 million in 2012 and is projected to get about $4 million in arbitration.
While neither is to be confused with Cy Young, we’re talking about projected number four and five starters.
If it sounds OK to you—it does to me—welcome to the stats of Kevin Correia (24-22 in his two years with the Bucs) and Jeff Karstens (14-13 the past two seasons).
The Bucs did their best to alienate both pitchers this season, banishing a relatively consistent Correia to the bullpen when Rodriguez arrived in Pittsburgh and dismissing Karstens to the ’pen in favor of lesser qualified youngsters during September auditions.
Management did little to indicate that they would love to see them in Pittsburgh in 2013, and they, like astute fans, saw the move as a harbinger of their unceremonious dumping to come after the season.
The Bucs made everyone feel that Correia’s departure was a foregone conclusion and that they were concerned about Kartsen’s ability to stay healthy in 2013 after pain in his hip and shoulder limited the hurler to 90 innings last year.
Funny, but physical conditioning was the same concern many voiced about Eric Bedard, to whom the Bucs gave $5 million last off-season before they unconditionally released him last August.
In addition, the Bucs just gave rehabbing pitching Charlie Morton a $2 million contract to NOT pitch in 2013 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Even the most optimistic projections don’t have Morton back with the Bucs until August, an unrealistic forecast given his history.
As always, the Bucs explained the Karstens move through PR speak.
“It was a tough decision for us,” general manager Neal Huntington said when the pitcher was designated for assignment last week, making him the only one of the eight arbitration-eligible players to be non-tendered.
“We worked hard to reach a [contract] agreement with his agent and were unsuccessful,” Huntington added. “Our next step became trying to trade Jeff. We were unsuccessful, so we reached the decision to let him leave.”
Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review reported that Karstens began throwing two weeks ago and feels great. “It’s going well,” the writer relayed that Karstens had said. “It feels nothing like it’s felt in the past [off-seasons]. I feel happy to throw. In the past, I was nervous about even playing catch in the off-season.”
So while the Bucs search to replace two rebuffed pitchers who combined for 17 wins last season, the thought turns to whom the Bucs might have to give up to land a solid starter.
Most sources indicate that 31-year-old All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan is the team’s best bargaining chip, fresh off a 2012 that saw him post a 5-2 record with 36 saves to go with his 2.72 ERA. This followed his 1-4 record from last season, but his 40 saves and 1.83 ERA were among the best in baseball and should get him a 2013 salary in the $7 million range.
Trading Hanrahan could return a solid starter, but who would close—especially with Jason Grilli now a free agent.