The Pirates are indeed going to non-tender Jeff Karstens. Jeff was entering his third arbitration year and was projected to make around $4 million. Instead, the Bucs are allowing him to become a free agent.
This move doesn’t make sense to me. Karstens has shown to be a very reliable starter/long reliever during his time for the Pirates, which spanned parts of five seasons. Obviously he’s no ace or anything like that, but to me he was a steady middle-of-the-rotation presence that gives the team a good chance to win every time he takes the mound . His numbers aren’t going to blow anyone away but in 2011 and 2012 he improved quite a bit, posting a 3.59 ERA over 41 starts.
The decision to let Karstens go comes down to two things: cost and health. Karstens missed two months early in the season with shoulder inflammation, then missed another couple of weeks after a hip flexor problem in late August. The injury forced him out of this strong performance against the Brewers in the seventh inning, but he insisted he was fine afterwards. Jeff made his next start on the road against the Brewers and got shelled–it was apparent that he wasn’t really ready to pitch. He hit the DL, but even when he returned and was healthy the Pirates essentially ignored him for the rest of the year, sticking him in the bullpen while giving starts to Kevin Correia, Jeff Locke, and Kyle McPherson.
As the non-tender rumors started to swirl this offseason, the thought seemed to be that his injury concerns or lack of durability would be the cause. To me, if he’s completely healthy now, I don’t understand why the Pirates wouldn’t take a risk on him. $4 million or so is good value even if he does miss some time…heck, the Pirates gave $5 million to Erik Bedard last year using that exact mentality. I do think it’s worthwhile to note that the Pirates doctors/staff know about Karstens’ arm/shoulder/hip/whatever better than anybody else right now and they could have easily seen something that led to this decision. For the Pirates’ sake (not Jeff’s–he’s a great guy and I wish him well) I hope that is the case, because if not this seems like a very poor decision to me.
Taking Karstens out of the equation leaves the Pirates’ rotation like this: A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Locke, and McPherson. Gerrit Cole is lurking in Indy, but won’t start the season in the Burgh. Even assuming Cole can make it up relatively soon, the rotation is going to need some work, and the non-tender of Karstens (following yesterday’s hefty investment into Russell Martin) leaves doubt as to whether or not the Bucs will spend to address it. Starting pitching is expensive and the 2013 payroll already looks like it’ll be around $65M as things stand now (most don’t expect it to top $70M). Again, maybe there was something with Karstens the Pirates didn’t like and maybe they have plans to invest heavily in an upgrade. There’s a lot of offseason left and it’s silly to judge everything before the Bucs get a chance to replace him (a lot of folks weren’t happy about declining Paul Maholm‘s option last year, but that was later offset by the additions of Bedard and Burnett), but I think the Pirates have made things harder on themselves here.
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