Free-agent SP: Low-cost options

Perhaps the Pirates can convince Kevin Milwood to put off retirement for one more year.

Perhaps the Pirates can convince Kevin Milwood to put off retirement for one more year.

The Pirates are shopping for a starting pitcher, but, with RHP A.J. Burnett and LHP Wandy Rodriguez already in the mix, the club does not need a top-of-the-rotation guy — which is a good thing, because the team cannot afford one, anyway. GM Neal Huntington will go after someone to fill either the 3, 4 or 5 spot, preferably a veteran arm who can be counted upon to eat some innings.

RHP Kevin Correia is a free agent, and management has given no indication it will try to bring him back. RHP Charlie Morton is out until at least July as he recovers from elbow surgery, and might be non-tendered. Even if RHP Jeff Karstens, who’s in his last year of arbitration eligibility, is tendered a contract, the Pirates will want to bring in a free agent to provide injury insurance and competition in spring training camp. Despite his Jekyll-and-Hyde performance in 2012, RHP James McDonald is in the plans for the rotation next season. Rookies Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson are minimum-wage options. Of the two newbies, McPherson was more impressive during the September auditions.

Free agents can begin signing with other clubs after midnight Friday. Options for the Pirates, considering the team’s needs and budget constraints, include:

RHP Kevin Milwood: Turns 38 years old Dec. 24 … $1 million in 2012 with Mariners … Went 6-12 with 4.25 ERA and 1.391 WHIP in 28 starts (161 innings). Verdict: He was a bargain this year for Seattle. He’s mulling retirement, but Pirates might be able to tempt him with offer.

RHP Tim Stauffer: 30 years old … $3.2 million in 2012 with Padres … Pitched in just one game in majors before having season-ending surgery on flexor tendon in right elbow. Verdict: Worth a gamble. If healthy, he should get a decent number of offers.

RHP Chris Young: 33 years old … $1.1 million in 2012 with Mets … 4-9 with 4.15 ERA and 1.348 WHIP in 20 starts (115 innings). Verdict: Pirates have liked him for a while. Maybe this is year they finally get him.

RHP Carlos Villanueva: Turns 29 years old Nov. 28 … $2.28 million in 2012 with Blue Jays … 7-7 with 4.16 ERA and 1.269 WHIP in 38 games (16 starts). Verdict: Wants a multi-year deal and assurance he’ll be a full-time starter. That’s what Correia got two years ago, and you saw how that worked out.

LHP Jeff Francis: Turns 32 years old Jan. 8 … $2 million in 2012 with Royals … 6-7 with 5.58 ERA and 1.478 WHIP in 24 games (113 innings). Verdict: Could be reunited with Clint Hurdle, who was his skipper with Rockies from 2004 to 2009.

RHP Bartolo Colon: 39 years old … $2 million in 2012 with A’s … 10-9 with 3.43 ERA and 1.208 WHIP in 24 starts (152.1 innings). Verdict: It looks like he’s still got some gas in the tank, but Pirates’ also-ran outlook hurts their chances.

RHP Randy Wells: 30 years old … $2.7 million in 2010 with Cubs … 1-2 with 5.34 ERA and 2.058 WHIP in 12 games (four starts) … Was super (12-10, 3.05 ERA) as rookie in 2009, but has gone 16-22 with 4.62 ERA in 67 games since. Verdict: Recent struggles will reduce his cost, but do Pirates really want another big question mark (a la J-Mac) in their rotation?

RHP Freddy Garcia: 36 years old … $4 million in 2012 with Yankees … 7-6 with 5.20 ERA and 1.370 WHIP in 30 games (17 starts). Verdict: Doesn’t seem to be much upside left.

RHP Rich Harden: Turns 31 years old Nov. 30 … $1.5 million in 2012 with A’s … 4-4 with 5.12 ERA and 1.427 WHIP in 15 games. Verdict: Still has good strikeout stuff, but batted balls are finding holes more often these days.

LHP Francisco Liriano: 29 years old … $5.5 million in 2012 with Twins/White Sox … 6-12 with 5.34 ERA and 1.468 WHIP in 34 games (28 starts). Verdict: Probably too costly for the Pirates.