The Pirates' search for a fourth starter has come full circle.
Pittsburgh signed free agent right-hander Jeff Karstens to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. The need for a No. 4 starter arose when they decided not to tender Karstens a contract on Nov. 30.
Karstens, 30, was eligible for arbitration, and the Pirates did not want to go through the process because he figured to gain a salary of approximately $4 million if he reached a hearing. Thus, the Pirates likely saved $1.5 million by waiting Karstens out.
"This is the one place I wanted to play," Karstens said. "It was just a matter of getting an opportunity."
Last season, Karstens was 5-4 with a 3.97 ERA in 19 games, including 15 starts, but was hampered by shoulder and leg injuries.
On Dec. 22, the Pirates agreed to terms on a two-year, $12.75 million contract with free agent left-hander Francisco Liriano. However, Liriano injured his non-throwing arm a few days later, and the Pirates backed away from the deal.
The Pirates still have some interest in Liriano as well as two other free agent pitchers, lefty Joe Saunders and right-hander Shaun Marcum. However, a club source said the Pirates will only sign one of those pitchers "at a reasonable cost."
For now, the Pirates are content to let left-hander Jeff Locke and rookie right-hander Kyle McPherson compete for the fifth starter's job in spring training.
Right-hander A.J. Burnett is expected to start in the opener April 1 against the Chicago Cubs. He'll be followed in the rotation by left-hander Wandy Rodriguez and righty James McDonald.