Ben Cherington has made two additions to the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation this offseason, but it is still a group that is sorely lacking the depth and talent needed to win baseball games
Entering the offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates had plenty of needs. First base, second base, designated hitter, the outfield, another high-leverage bullpen arm. No need, however, was as big as their starting rotation.
When the offseason began, the Pirates had arguably the worst starting rotation in the National League. General manager Ben Cherington has addressed the rotation and it is no longer that poor, but as things currently sit it is still likely the worst in the NL Central.
So far this offseason the Pirates have traded for left-handed starting pitcher Marco Gonzales, and signed fellow lefty Martín Pérez to a 1-year deal. While they are both an improvement over the in house options that were available, both also come with their fair share of question marks.
Gonzales was limited to just 50 innings in 10 starts, while posting a 5.22 ERA, last season due to a nerve issue in his forearm. Any sort of nerve issue for a pitcher is always a red flag. As for Pérez, he is coming off a season in which he posted 4.45 ERA and a 4.99 FIP in 20 starts. Due to his struggles he lost his job in the starting rotation, and only has two seasons in his career (2022, 2013) in which he's posted an ERA below 4.38.
Again, both of the lefties that have been added upgrade the Pirate starting rotation, but if the team is going to be serious about contending in 2024 there is still work to be done with the starting rotation. It is still a rotation that is lacking at the top.
Even with the strides he has made, Mitch Keller still is not a true no. 1 starting pitcher. Last season, Keller posted a 4.21 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and a 2.9 WAR in 194.1 innings pitched across 32 starts. Solid numbers, no doubt, but not the numbers of a true no. 1 starting pitcher.
Now this is not to say the expectation should have been for the Pirates to add a true top fo the rotation arm this offseason. While it was the team's biggest need, with the way they operate it was never going to be realistic for them to be in on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell, or an Aaron Nola.
That said, there is no reason they could not have been more aggressive in adding another starting pitcher the caliber of Keller. If you're not going to have a true no. 1 arm then you need to have multiple arms that are no. 2/3 types in the starting rotation.
Being more aggressive in the pursuit of starting pitchers such as Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, or Marcus Stroman is what the Pirates needed to do this offseason. Now, sure, of those three only Gray has signed and there are other starters of that caliber still available, but there is zero reason for anyone to believe the Pirates will seriously pursue them. What have they ever done to instill that confidence in anyone?
Instead, they are currently set to go into the season with Keller at the top of the rotation, a pair of no. 4/5 types in Gonzales and Pérez slotted behind him, and then likely pick two of Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz, Bailey Falter, and Quinn Priester off the scrap heap to fill out the starting rotation.
Sure, help could be on the horizon early in the summer. Prospects such as Paul Skenes, Anthony Solometo, and Jared Jones could arrive, as well as the Pirates getting JT Brubaker and Mike Burrows back from Toomy John surgery. That said, the team could be buried by the time that help may arrive.
Additionally, four of those five have never pitched in the majors, so you can't truly count on them until they prove anything at this level. And after being promoted to Double-A and Triple-A, respectively, last season both Solometo and Jones struggled.
Also, you do not know what Brubaker or Burrows will be like post-surgery, and even before his surgery Brubaker was in a similar boat to Gonzales and Pérez, although Brubaker likely has a slighter high ceiling than those two.
All of this is to say that the Pirates do not currently have a starting rotation that is good enough to compete, not even close. It is made even worse when you have a lineup littered with question marks, holes, and young hitters you are simply hoping take a step forward this season. Buckle up, because year five of the Cherington Era will likely be very similar to the first four.