In general, the arc of winter for a Pirate fan goes like this:
- Depression bought about by the end of the season.
- Talking yourself into the coming season's team as the front office makes trades and signings.
- Release of the ZiPS projections, followed by the crushing realization that upcoming Year Y will be no better than the prior Year X.
Today: FanGraphs has the 2013 Pirates ZiPS projections!
Actually, as Carson Cistulli notes in his post about the projections at FanGraphs, the projections take a bit of a different path for the Pirates on the offensive side. Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker can be expected to give Andrew McCutchen some help at the plate and Starling Marte and Russell Martin should at least be solid contributors due to their defense and at least some offensive help.
I'm not here to talk about the offense, though, because once you scroll past the encouraging offensive numbers there's a much grimmer sight waiting for you. Out of the Pirates' entire pitching staff, only Wandy Rodriguez is pegged for more than 1.5 WAR and Phil Irwin is projected to be the team's fifth best starter, if you throw out Jeff Karstens (who's still associated with the Pirates, presumably because he hasn't signed elsewhere yet). This is terrifying. You can say that maybe James McDonald finds some consistency and that some of these guys (Irwin, Kyle McPherson, Gerrit Cole, even Jeff Locke, whose ZiPS are probably hurt by his bad numbers in a small big league sample the last two seasons) are young and talented or have had non-traditional minor league careers, which means they could be better than a projection system thinks that they might be, but sheeeeesh, basically 60% of the Pirates' rotation is staked to that assumption right now.
This is why it's no surprise to learn that the Pirates are still negotiating with Francisco Liriano, despite his arm injury that came after the two sides agreed to terms and why they're interested in Shaun Marcum, who's injury problems have kept him on the market late into the winter, and even why they'd be looking into Joe Saunders, who's basically a left-handed Kevin Correia. It was fine that the Pirates let Kevin Correia wander off into free agency and not-as-completely-indefensible-as-people-think that they non-tendered Jeff Karstens (who, you'll note, hasn't generated much interest to this point in the off-season), but they haven't added any real options to the starting rotation at this point (Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro are depth guys, not people you want to lean on) and you end up where the Pirates are right now.
Pitchers and catchers report in 28 days. The clock is ticking …