Constructing an ideal Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation


Though November can be a very uneventful month when it comes to Major League Baseball, speculation of potential moves is always high. The offseason is a time in which teams are particularly busy in regards to bolstering their rosters. The Pittsburgh Pirates are expected to be one of those busy teams throughout the next couple of months, strengthening their lineup, rotation and bullpen.

One aspect of the Pirates roster that may look a little different once the Pirates open their 2016 campaign is the starting rotation. With the slim odds of both Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke returning, and the retirement of A.J. Burnett, the Pirates will look to fill some voids in their rotation, which served as a strength for a ball club that won 98 games in 2015. I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a look at a potential starting rotation for the team, highlighting five starters including returning starters and a few additions to the starting five.

1.) Gerrit Cole

This one is clearly obvious. Throughout the last few seasons, Cole has cemented himself as the undisputed ace of the Pirates rotation. Since making his MLB debut in 2013, Cole has undeniably improved throughout the years. His numbers, his stuff, and his ability to compete against the number one starters on opposing teams have earned him the right to be the ace of the staff. You could even base his Ace status off of the type of season he had in 2015. This past season, Cole finished with a 19-8 record, a 2.60 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 208 innings pitched. He was also elected to his first career All-Star game, and though he was not selected as a finalist for the Cy Young award, I think he did garner some attention as being one of the best young pitchers in Major League Baseball. While some of the other spots in the rotation may be up for grabs, Cole has solidified himself as the clear number one guy.

2.) Francisco Liriano

Liriano is also a clear choice to appear in the Pirates starting rotation when the team opens the regular season on April 4 against the St Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. Though Cole is the clear choice to start that game on Opening Day, Liriano is a stellar option as a number two starter. The 32-year-old, who has rejuvenated his career since joining the Pirates in 2013, had a shaky 2015 campaign while dealing with injury issues and streaks of inconsistency. However, he proved to be a vital contributor to the team’s success both on the mound and at the plate. In 31 starts, Liriano posted a 12-7 record with a 3.38 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 186.2 innings. He also showed promise at the plate, hitting .169 with one home run and 7 RBI in 65 plate appearances. Though he struggled with command throughout a few of his starts, Liriano is bound to give the Pirates a stellar one-two combination within their starting rotation.

3.) J.A. Happ

I will be the first one to admit that I did not see this one coming. The late season surge by J.A Happ in 2015 was unexpected by many, but was welcomed with open arms from Pirates fans. There have been rumors circulating that have suggested that the team was interested in resigning Happ, however, I’m not sure if it will actually happen due to the rise in his stock. Like Liriano, Happ was another one of the pitchers to rejuvenate his career while playing for the Pirates. In 11 starts with the club, Happ went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. His stock on the free agent market is extremely high following his incredible stretch performance, and despite an evident show of interest from other teams around the league, I feel as if the Pirates have a legitimate shot at resigning the 33-year-old lefty. There is an abundance of available starting pitchers in this year’s free agency crop, which could serve as an advantage for the Pirates. It all depends on whether or not Happ will fit into the team’s price range and whether other pitchers will also garner the club’s attention.

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4.) Tyler Glasnow

The last two spots in the rotation, which were previously held by Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke, look to be open and up for grabs. It looks as if the organization is moving on from Morton and Locke, who both faded in the second half of 2015, posting a combined 6-13 record and 5.18 ERA. With those two gone, I believe this is an opportunity for one of the Pirates young stars to shine and step up at the Major League level. Though I do expect the 22-year-old Glasnow to make his Major League debut in 2016, I think he could have a legitimate chance at starting the season in the Pirates rotation. This of course is a best case scenario. Glasnow has clearly been the Pirates best starting pitching prospect throughout the last few years, especially with injuries to top prospects such as Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham. Glasnow was able to get experience at three levels last season, posting a 7-5 record with a 2.39 ERA with 136 strikeouts in 109.1 innings pitched at Single-A West Virginia, Double-A Altoona, and Triple-A Indianapolis. Though his control and his 3.5 BB/9 is a bit of a concern, his 11.2 SO/9 is also a cause for celebration. Both Locke and Morton had the same control issues throughout the last few seasons and were given plenty of opportunities to improve. Things might work out with the young right-hander and things might not. However, I believe he does deserve the same opportunity to thrive at the Major League level.

5.) Other Free Agent Signing

The back end of the Pirates rotation could also be filled by a decent free agent signing, depending on a decent price. Options such as Mat Latos, Scott Kazmir or Tim Lincecum could all fit into a need that the Pirates have within their rotation. Now, they may only be able to sign just one bottom of the rotation starter, but each one of these veterans could provide the Pirates with a solid number four or five starter. Both Latos and Kazmir could also be solid middle of the rotation guys, while Lincecum could serve as another possible Pirates pitching success story, following in the footsteps of Liriano and Happ. I’m not saying that the Pirates are for sure going to sign any of these three or can even afford to, but I do not think a possible Pittsburgh landing spot is out of question.

Now remember, this is just a scenario that I think would best suit this ball club. There is no guarantee that these situations will actually happen. I believe that resigning Happ, giving Glasnow a shot and signing another solid back of rotation starter would be obvious upgrades to a Pirates rotation that already includes a quality duo at the top of the rotation. I’m not sure what the organization will actually do in order to fill these voids, however, it will be interesting to see who steps on the mound for the Pirates in 2016.

What does YOUR ideal starting rotation look like? Let us know in the comments or hit us up on twitter!

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