For the first time in a great many years, teams in the NL Central will have to be wary of the Pittsburgh Pirates. If their surprise first-half run in 2012 wasn’t enough to draw the attention of the rest of the division, Pittsburgh’s off-season moves—including signing catcher Russell Martin and acquiring outfielder Jerry Sands–are sure to let the cat out of the bag for good.
Although the additions of Martin and Sands may have gotten the bigger headlines, it’s the secondary deals that may make the bigger impact in 2013.
With the re-signing of Jeff Karstens and the addition of free agent Francisco Liriano, the Pirates rotation has a chance of rivaling the pitching of their early 1990s playoff teams. It’s been 21 years since Pittsburgh has been able to boast multiple 15-game winners. The last Pirates team to accomplish the feat was the 1991 squad, led by John Smiley (20-8), Zane Smith (16-10), and Doug Drabek (15-14). But they’ve only had three 15-game winners since—Drabek in 1992, Todd Ritchie in 1999, and A.J. Burnett just last season.
Karstens and Liriano will join Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and James McDonald for the upcoming season to form a very formidable five-man rotation. Together, the latter three won 40 games last year. Rodriguez was a July trade-deadline pickup in 2012, while Karstens was a late addition to the rotation, finishing the season with a 5-4 mark. Liriano, if he can stay healthy, could prove to be a solid fifth starter. Over the winter, the Pirates were also able to re-sign Jason Grilli, a reliever that posted a 2.76 ERA over the last two seasons.
With some nice moves in the off-season, the Pirates will be a legitimate first-half contender once again in the NL. The question will be if their deeper rotation can steady the ship after the all-star break and avoid another second-half letdown. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a winning season in 20 years, but their 2013 roster gives them a genuine opportunity to break that streak.