Originally posted on Raise the Jolly Roger!  |  Last updated 12/28/11

Yes, it’s still EXTREMELY early and tons of things could (and should) change between now and April 5th, but since we are now under 100 days until the season and there isn’t much else going on at the moment, here’s a look at the Bucs as they currently stand. We’ll start today with the rotation.

Starting rotation:

  • Erik Bedard
  • Jeff Karstens
  • Charlie Morton
  • James McDonald
  • Kevin Correia

Well, this is the area most are pointing to in terms of an upgrade during the remainder of the offseason. At a glance, those five aren’t too bad…but every guy on that list has at least one significant question mark going into the year. Will Bedard stay healthy? (Or…how long will he stay healthy?) Can Karstens avoid a significant regression? Will Morton be ready to go after hip surgery? Can McDonald build on his late-season success? Will Correia be at-least serviceable instead of the disaster he turned into in the late summer?

If something goes wrong with any of the above five, Brad Lincoln is really the only decent option to fill in, and he’s far from reliable. After that, the Bucs would have to go to an unproven prospect like Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, Kyle McPherson, or a reliever like Chris Leroux or Tony Watson. Improving rotation depth absolutely needs to be the highest priority going into 2012.

The Pirates can (and probably will) add another starting pitcher, but of what caliber? Frank Coonelly told us at PirateFest that the Opening Day payroll would likely be higher than last year’s $53 million mark, meaning the Bucs should have at least $7 million to spend (based on Tim’s payroll projection). That certainly isn’t enough to land them an ace, but could they make a worthwhile upgrade?

Here are some possible free agent options:

Paul Maholm:

I don’t know if Huntington or Maholm would be interested after the Bucs unceremoniously turned down his option, but both have at least said  they remain open to a reunion. There has been surprisingly little interest in Maholm this winter, which leads me to believe that he’ll get less than the $9.75M his option was worth. I know Maholm may have fallen out of favor a bit with his struggles in the second half, but he’s a good bet to provide a season’s worth of relatively solid innings. You can’t really say that for anyone on the staff right now.

Edwin Jackson:

Jackson is probably the most attractive free agent pitcher out there that the Pirates have a chance at. He’s young (28), has some good strikeout ability, and already has a pretty good career resume with a no hitter and a WS ring under his belt. His numbers aren’t all that great and he can be pretty erratic, so I suspect he’ll be overpaid by somebody (possibly placing him out of the Bucs’ price range). Still, Jackson can probably had if the Bucs are willing to pony up some cash to improve their pitching, which I would be all for.

Wei-Yin Chen:

The Pirates are known to be interested in the Taiwanese lefty, but his price tag and health are very much unknown at the moment. Pre-Tommy John, he threw 95 with great strikeout numbers, but saw his velocity and K’s dip after the surgery. It will really depend on what MLB teams find out about his health and how much teams are willing to throw at him.

Jeff Francis: 

Francis would come pretty cheap, but you get what you pay for – he’s got a 4.93 ERA over the last few years. He’s a lefty and an ex-Rockie (Clint Hurdle connection?) and has been connected to the Pirates numerous times.

There are many more, although most affordable ones would fall into the barely or not-really an upgrade category. Still, the Bucs need pitching depth and I expect them to add at least one more arm before camp opens in February.

©2011 Raise the Jolly Roger. All Rights Reserved.

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