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Should Pirates Still Attempt to Add Starting Pitcher?

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Michael Lorenzen, Pittsburgh Pirates

Major League Baseball opening day is less than a month away. On Mar. 28, the Pittsburgh Pirates will kickoff their regular season with the start of a four-game series against the Miami Marlins.

The first three starting pitchers for the Pirates in that series are all but set in stone. 2023 All-Star Mitch Keller has already been announced as the opening day starter. He will be followed Martín Pérez and Marco Gonzales in the rotation in no particular order.

Who will start that fourth game against Miami? Well, that’s still to be decided.

The Pirates have an open competition for the final two spots in their rotation. Right-handers Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz, Quinn Priester and Chase Anderson, along with left-hander Bailey Falter, are the key pitchers competing to earn a spot.

Competition is never a bad thing, but should the Pirates have a more solidified option to fill one of those rotation spots? The answer is probably yes.

The Pirates say they plan on competing, but that’s easier said than done when 40-percent of the starting rotation is still a question mark. The Pirates do have some pretty decent depth to fill the open voids, but all five come with question marks.

Contreras and Ortiz both took substantial steps back in 2023 after showing promise the previous year. Priester struggled mightily in a brief stint of his debut season, and Bailey Falter has been an unspectacular performer in his career. Anderson, meanwhile, is a non-roster invitee after disappointing seasons the past few years.

If the Pirates do indeed try and bring in outside help for the rotation, there have been a handful of names they’ve been linked to this offseason.

The Miami Marlins have listened on a few of their young starting pitchers — notably, right-hander Edward Cabrera and lefty Braxton Garrett.

As a soft-tossing southpaw, Garrett fits the profile of which general manager Ben Cherington seems to favor. Garrett put up strong numbers last season, finishing the year at 9-7 with a 3.66 ERA in 31 appearances/30 starts.

Cabrera made a career-high 22 appearances last season (20 starts) and was a solid rotation option. Walks are a concern (66 walks in 99.2 innings), but Cabrera struck out 118 batters and posted a 4.24 ERA.

A couple of free agents the Pittsburgh Pirates have been linked to include Domingo Germán, Michael Lorenzen and Noah Syndergaard.

Germán presents a fine back-of-the-rotation arm and has looked excellent at times, none more impressive than when he threw a perfect game agaisnt the Oakland A’s on June 28 of last season. There are also off the field concerns, however. Germán was previously suspended by the league for a domestic violence incident and his 2023 season ended prematurely when he checked himself into inpatient treatment for alcohol abuse.

Lorenzen has transitioned back to the starting rotation after spending the majority of his career in the bullpen. He was an All-Star last season with the Detroit Tigers before he was traded at the deadline to the Philadelphia Phillies. Lorenzen threw a no-hitter in his second start in Philadelphia but faded down the stretch.

Syndergaard struggled in 2023 between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Guardians. He finished with a 2-6 record and a 6.50 ERA between the two teams. He is, however, one year removed from going 10-10 with a 3.94 ERA in 2022.

While the Pittsburgh Pirates probably should add another pitcher into the mix, they could certainly opt to go with what they already have.

In addition to the five starting pitchers battling for a rotation spot this spring , the Pirates will have some reinforcements seemingly ready to step in at varying points throughout the season.

2023 top pick Paul Skenes only has 6.2 professional innings under his belt, but all indications are that he will make his debut at some point in 2024. Fellow pitching prospect Jared Jones logged 82 innings with Triple-A Indianapolis last season and is knocking on the door to making his big-league debut.

The Pirates are expected to get right-handers JT Brubaker and Mike Burrows back from Tommy John surgery sometime around midseason. Brubaker pitched over 300 innings with Pittsburgh from 2020-22. Burrows was set to make his major-league debut last year before his injury.

So while the assumption is that more starting pitching is needed, the Pirates at least have options if things go poorly to start the season if nobody else is brought in between now and opening day.

Still, if it was up to me, I would be looking for more outside help.

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