PITTSBURGH -- Unless there's a major move coming this offseason, the Pirates' surprisingly stable 2017 rotation will return intact this year.
At the Winter Meetings, general manager Neal Huntington hinted that the Pirates will stick with the starters they rode through most of last season: Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams, all of whom made at least 25 starts. That gives them a leg up over rotation hopefuls like Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow, the only other pitchers to start for the Bucs in 2017.
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Cole led the way with 33 starts and 203 innings last season, though he could be traded at some point this year -- a move that would clear a spot for Brault, Glasnow or perhaps an external addition. Nova and Kuhl made 31 starts apiece, while Williams and Taillon each started 25 games.
MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotation of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Pirates might stack up:
ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Gerrit Cole, RHP
Jameson Taillon, RHP
Ivan Nova, RHP
Chad Kuhl, RHP
Trevor Williams, RHP
There's plenty of upside and depth. Cole was a National League Cy Young Award candidate in 2015, and he was healthy again last season. Nova was dominant from the second half of '16 to the first half of '17. Taillon's excellent start was derailed by cancer. Williams pitched well after joining the rotation, and Kuhl improved dramatically in the second half (3.63 ERA).
The Pirates have options, too. Brault and Glasnow starred in Triple-A last season. Nick Kingham should be ready soon. Clay Holmes has pitched a full season in Triple-A, as has Tyler Eppler. The Bucs were fortunate to avoid injuries last season, and their depth gives them some protection in case they aren't so lucky this year.
Will any of them consistently pitch to their potential? It didn't happen last year. Cole's results (12-12, 4.26 ERA) did not always match his stuff. Nova fell off dramatically in the second half (5.83 ERA). Taillon struggled after his return (4.85 ERA). Kuhl posted a 5.58 ERA after his first 15 starts.
If they trade Cole, who will step up atop the rotation? Taillon has the ability, but he must stay on the mound. Glasnow has the raw talent, but his command remains a roadblock. Nova has the durability, but he was hit hard after an excellent first half. Top pitching prospect Mitch Keller could be the answer, but he may be a year away from the Majors.
WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Cole could be traded. There has been less buzz over the last few weeks, but the possibility still exists. The Yankees have expressed interest this offseason, and the Twins have also reportedly inquired about the 27-year-old right-hander with two years of club control remaining. A report on Monday revealed the Astros' interest. At this point, Cole is the Pirates' presumptive Opening Day starter, so the effect of such a move would be significant.
Any trade would open a spot in the rotation for Brault, Glasnow or another acquisition. That would also impact the composition of Pittsburgh's bullpen, as Brault or Glasnow -- possibly both -- could begin the season there if Cole remains on board.
It seems unlikely the Pirates will pursue a trade for Nova, who has two years remaining on his contract, so the rest of the rotation should remain the same heading into Spring Training. Huntington said the Pirates didn't want to put too much stock into Spring Training performance, but it's at least possible that something could sway them before Opening Day.