After a long, weird negotiation, Ken Rosenthal reported this afternoon that the Pirates and Francisco Liriano have finally finalized a version of the two-year/$12.75 million contract that we'd all thought the two sides agreed to back before Christmas. The main difference in the deal is that if Liriano misses any time this year due to his injury (which Rosenthal characterizes as a broken non-pitching arm), his 2013 salary will be rolled back accordingly.
Assuming that there are no more weird plot twists in this story, that leaves the Pirates with a rotation of Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald, Karstens, and Liriano for 2013, with Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Vin Mazzaro, and Jeanmar Gomez to provide immediate depth while Gerrit Cole gets himself ready in Indianapolis. I spent most of the winter warning about rotation depth and how the Pirates could really be in for disaster this year, so bringing Karstens back and signing Liriano are both welcome moves. This pitching staff still raises plenty of questions (Rapid fire: How much do Burnett and Wandy have left? How many innings can you count on from the old guys? James McDonald in general. How many innings is Karstens good for and is he due for some regression? Was betting on Francisco Liriano a really dumb idea? What happened to his arm anyway? Can Locke or McPherson be a solid big league pitcher if they have to be? How quickly will Cole be ready? Seriously, why even waste time with Gomez or Mazzaro? Should I have mentioned Justin Wilson or is he just going to be a reliever?) but it's fair to say that the Pirates have five Major League pitchers that are all capable of pitching well in their rotation for now and that Locke and McPherson aren't really bad options as fringey sixth starters (I'm not opposed to giving either of them innings in 2013; it was just the thought of having to give them innings for lack of other options that worried me).
Like many of the things that we're going to talk about as the 2013 season approaches (I'm going to be blogging more regularly, honest!), there are two different Pirate rotations to consider right now. There's a Theoretical Ideal Pirate rotation, which is actually pretty good. There's a lot of talent in this group -- more so than in any season in recent memory, I think -- that could make that group of five a productive group if everything goes right for the Pirates. There are also plenty of things that could go wrong, which means that the other Pirate rotation -- the Actual Pirate Rotation -- isn't going to be nearly as good as the ideal one. The problem is that 40% of this fivesome is getting up there in age and 40% is maddeningly inconsistent and 20% is Jeff Karstens. That makes it hard to figure out where this group will fall on the "ideal outcome/abject disaster" continuum, which is kind of maddening with spring training so near.
Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the Pirates fan community is really down on Jeff Locke and I'm not sure why. The kid's been one of our top prospects for several years; he's got a 2.44 ERA with decent peripherals in 170 AAA innings; he struck out a batter an inning in MLB last season. Sure, we all know that Jeff Locke is never going to be an ace, but characterizing him as a "fringey sixth starter" just seems crazy to me (McPherson less so, since he probably does need some AAA time). I'm certainly happy that we don't NEED to have him in the Opening Day rotation, but it's his age-25 season; if he is what we hope he can be, he ought to be a contributor this year.