After a relatively quiet start to the offseason, general manager Neal Huntington and the Pittsburgh Pirates have added a few key pieces to the team’s roster that could help lead them back to the postseason for the third straight year.  

While the signings of starting pitchers Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett were much needed insurance for the Pirates’ rotation, there are still doubts about the back end of the rotation.    

With Liriano and Burnett, the Pirates will head into the regular season with a pretty solid rotation that also consists of Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley and Jeff Locke.  

There is no question about Cole’s dominance on the mound. The No. 1 overall pick by the Pirates in the 2011 amateur draft, Cole has gone 21-12 with a 3.45 ERA in two seasons, and while he only started 22 games last season, he looks primed to have a breakout year in 2015.  

Then, there is Worley, who was a key contributor to the Pirates’ second-half surge last season, going 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 17 starts; however, he has never made more than 23 starts in a single season.  

Based on his performance in 2014 and on the Pirates’ need for starting pitching, Worley will likely fit in nicely as a No. 3 or No. 4 pitcher. At the same time, it will be interesting to see if he can put a full season of work together for the Pirates.  

Locke is unique because of the spurts of dominance he has had over the last two seasons for the Pirates. In 2013, Locke started a career-high 30 games, going 10-7 with a 3.52 ERA; however, those statistics are not as impressive when you look at the drop-off he had in the second half of the season.  

In the first half of the 2013 regular season, Locke was 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA and was in serious consideration for the National League Cy Young Award. Those talks quickly went out the door when he went 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA in the second half.  

In 2014, Locke made just 21 starts, going 7-6 with a still respectable 3.91 ERA.  

Simply put, the Pirates could use another starting pitcher to compete with Locke for the fifth spot in that rotation.  

While the organization is not in the running for big-name free agents such as Max Scherzer and James Shields, there is still talent available on the market.  

Consider a guy like Ryan Vogelsong, who pitched for the Pirates for five seasons during 2001-2006. Although he is going to be 38 in July, he has displayed great stamina and durability throughout his career.  

In 2014, as a member of the San Francisco Giants, Vogelsong went just 8-13 with a 4.00 ERA but was able to throw 184.2 innings. At this point in his career, he probably isn’t seeking a lengthy contract, and he could serve as a nice No. 5 guy in the Pirates’ rotation if Locke cannot find his groove.

Another avenue the Pirates could head down is considering a guy like Carlos Villanueva, who could serve as a spot starter or a regular reliever.  

The 31-year-old righty has not been very good as a starting pitcher, going 18-33 with a 5.00 ERA in 76 career starts. Over the last two seasons, however, Villanueva has gone 12-15 with a 4.27 ERA in 89 games (20 of those he started).  

On the bright side, Villanueva is 27-17 with a 3.55 ERA when coming out of the bullpen in his career (439.0 innings pitched). Depending on what kind of deal he is seeking, the Pirates may benefit from having a versatile player like Villanueva who could give them a spot start on any given day.  

The Pirates have managed to put together a solid-looking team on paper this offseason, and if Locke and Worley can both put together full seasons of work, Pittsburgh will likely contend for the National League Central title.  

If even one of them fails to stay healthy and/or productive, however, the Pirates will need another insurance arm to slide into the starting role.  


Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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