You might have heard that the Pirates won't have many position battles heading into Spring Training. That is, for the most part, true, and the reason is that the Bucs are better prepared now than they were in years where they weren't winning. There is now no shortage of competent players that needs to be addressed with NRIs.
In fact, most of the roster drama this spring is likely to stem from the fact that the Pirates have too many players. To see what that might mean, here's a look at the pitchers who head into Spring Training who would seem, on the surface, to have a realistic shot of making the team.
I assume here that Brandon Cumpton, Bobby LaFromboise, Rob Scahill and Casey Sadler will start the season in the minors. All have options left, and none profile as impact players.
Still, there are 13 pitchers here, and only 12 will make the team, since the Pirates almost always carry 13 position player. A number of factors will determine who makes the team, and what roles each player will occupy. None of these are problems, but they're worth being aware of.
-P- Charlie Morton's health. Morton had hip surgery in September. There's been optimism this offseason about his timetable, but it still wouldn't be surprising if he started the season on the DL.
-P- Radhames Liz's role. Liz did a remarkable job as a starter in the KBO from 2011-2013, improving his walk rate as he went along. The flip side to a lot of the warnings we've issued about Jung-Ho Kang's stats this offseason is that posting a 3.03 ERA in 202 innings in the KBO, as Liz did in 2013, isn't easy to do. It's unclear whether Liz will start or relieve in the big leagues. My money is on the latter, but I wouldn't be shocked to see him get a shot in the rotation at some point, particularly if Morton isn't ready to start the season. Liz might be the single biggest wild card in camp for the Pirates, even more the Kang -- Liz is signed to a big-league contract, and yet it's not at all clear what he can be or what the Pirates think of him.
-P- Jeff Locke's option status. Even if Morton is hurt to start the year, though, Jeff Locke is out of options (as is Vance Worley), so if the Pirates were to put Liz in the rotation, they'd have to bump someone to the bullpen. Neither Locke nor Worley would serve much purpose there, though, and as good as Worley was last year, it seems like a waste for him to begin the season anywhere but the rotation anyway.
-P- Stolmy Pimentel's option status. Pimentel is also out of options, which means that he'll be ticketed for the bullpen unless there's a trade.
Jared Hughes has an option left, so if Morton is ready to start the season, Hughes might be the odd man out. The Pirates obviously could also option John Holdzkom, but that seems silly unless they have very good reason to believe his dominance down the stretch last year wasn't legitimate.
The Pirates won't need a fifth starter until April 12, but that doesn't really help them. It's less than a week into the season, for one thing, but also, their "problem" right now is too many potential starters, not too many potential relievers. They aren't going to try any roster shenanigans with Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano or A.J. Burnett (although they actually could if they wanted to, in Cole's case), and they can't option Locke or Worley anyway.
My guess here is that Morton misses the first couple weeks of the season and Liz begins the year in the bullpen, but we'll see -- there are a lot of moving parts.