Facing uncertainty in their starting rotation, the Pirates brought back one of their former pitchers to add experience to the unit.
The Pirates and right-hander Jeff Karstens, who pitched for the organization during parts of the previous five seasons, agreed to terms on a one-year contract pending a physical, according to a source.
Karstens, 30, is a free agent because the Pirates did not tender a contract before the Nov. 30 deadline. The Colorado Rockies expressed interest, according to the Denver Post, but Karstens remained available about a month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
Terms of the deal were not immediately available but Karstens is expected to earn around $2.5 million in 2013. Charlie Morton, who pitched 501/3 innings before having Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in June, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $2 million contract for 2013, indicating Karstens could receive slightly more.
Karstens earned $3.1 million in 2012 and would have earned a raise to between $3.5 and $4 million in the arbitration process had the Pirates tendered him a contract.
The agreement came against the backdrop of negotiations with left-handed free agent Francisco Liriano. The Pirates and Liriano were close to agreeing on a two-year, $12.75 million contract in late December, but the starter injured his non-pitching arm before taking a physical and the deal never became official.
It is still unclear how Liriano hurt his arm.
Without Karstens and Liriano, the Pirates rotation most likely would have featured both Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson in addition to A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald. Locke and McPherson, both 25, have made a combined 13 major league starts, with mixed results. Karstens will force Locke and McPherson to compete in spring training for the final spot in the rotation.
Because Karstens will earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 million, the Pirates retain payroll flexibility. They could sign Liriano on new terms, or possibly sign right-handed free agent starter Shaun Marcum, who the Pirates are interested in, according to a Fox Sports report.
In 2012, Karstens had a 3.97 ERA in 902/3 innings in a season where he missed time because of injuries to his shoulder and hip. He missed two months with the shoulder issue, and the pain in his hip surfaced later in the season.
He struck out 66 batters and walked 15 in those 902/3 innings and had a 1.15 WHIP.
The Pirates cut ties with Karstens on Nov. 30, the day they made official catcher Russell Martin's two-year contract. General manager Neal Huntington said at the time that he tried to negotiate a contract with Karstens before the non-tender deadline, then tried to trade him.
Karstens came to the Pirates in 2008 along with Ross Ohlendorf, Jose Tabata and Daniel McCutchen from the New York Yankees in exchange for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.
Karstens by the numbers
Five seasons with the Pirates:
Year GP IP W-L ERA
2008 9 511/32-6 4.03
2009 39 1080/0 s 4-6 5.42
2010 26 1222/33-10 4.92
2011 30 1621/39-9 3.38
2012 19 902/35-4 3.97
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published January 15, 2013 5:00 AM