Rob Biertempfel tweeted this afternoon that the Pirates will non-tender Jeff Karstens at tonight's midnight deadline. There's no word yet on any of the Pirates' other arbitration-eligible players, but Karstens was probably the most important player on the brink (Charlie Morton may get non-tendered, but that's probably more health-related than money related and I could see him back either way, Chris Resop is Chris Resop, and everyone else will likely be tendered) and so he's the one that's worth talking about.
Jeff Karstens is a pretty unexceptional pitcher in a lot of ways. He doesn't throw hard or strike a ton of people out, but he he changes speeds quite well and his control is improving as he ages. He's generally average at keeping the ball on the ground and in the park. He can start, but he's not hugely durable, as he fades late in the season pretty regularly and he's only topped 120 innings once in his career. He is due somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million (maybe slightly less) in 2013. That makes him affordable but something of a gamble for the Pirates, as he's only been worth 1 WAR once in his career.
If we apply the same logic to Karstens that we did to Russell Martin yesterday (ie, Martin is worth $8.5 million to someone, but not necessarily the Pirates), the question is whether Jeff Karstens is worth $4 million to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013. You can make this argument either way: you can say that he's only likely to throw 120 innings and that makes him not worth the money, or you can say that the Pirates have serious pitching depth problems and that means that keeping Karstens as a 120 inning pitching depth insurance policy is most certainly worth $4 million.
Right now, I'm leaning towards the latter. The rotation has a lot of question marks behind McDonald, Burnett, and Rodriguez and that top three isn't overwhelmingly impressive on their own. Karstens is no ace, but he's a serviceable arm in a way that Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson might not be and he would've been reasonably priced and to me, that makes him an asset worth keeping. To my eyes, the Pirates' 2013 rotation as constructed has some serious questions and this is now the most important question for the team as the winter meetings start next week.
Again, though, each and every offseason is a sequence of events and never one or two decisions in isolation. I'm not really all that encouraged by the decision to sign Martin or the decision to non-tender Karstens, as it gives me a lot of questions about the team's winter priorities, but Karstens is hardly an irreplaceable pitcher. That doesn't mean that signing a replacement for him on the free agent market will be easy, and trades are impossible things to bank on. Hopefully this decision will make more sense in a couple of weeks or months. If not, I have a feeling that this winter is going to leave me feeling pretty unhappy with the Pirates.