News of Chris Carpenter's unlikely return for the 2013 season couldn't make the Pirates feel any better about their prospects in the National League Central race. After all, the Cardinals got little help from their pitching warrior in securing a playoff spot last season.

However, the development did make Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington feel a lot better about his ongoing mission to finalize deals with a pair of veteran left-handers.

Huntington confirmed continuing negotiations both with Francisco Liriano and Jonathan Sanchez, two free agents he hopes will be reporting to Pirate City along with other batterymen on Monday.

"We're working toward agreements with both guys. We continue to have conversations," Huntington said. "As developments in St. Louis have shown again, you can never have enough starting pitching."

The Cardinals should have enough to compensate for the unexpected loss of Carpenter, whose misfortune resonated with the Bucs' GM. They grew up six years and 60 miles apart in New Hampshire -- Huntington in Amherst and Carpenter in Manchester.

"He's a guy who went to Trinity High School, in the area I grew up in," said Huntington, himself a prep standout who went on to play four years at Amherst College. "He was just getting started when I was in college, so I've always tracked his career.

"I had nothing but respect for him as a hockey and baseball player. Tough as nails. When healthy, he's been a tremendous asset for that organization. But he's battled injuries on and off for a while. It's tough to indicate how this will affect the Cardinals and the Central. St. Louis has built up a quality stock of arms and, going forward, the Cardinals still have a deep group of arms."

The depth helped the Cards pull away from the Pirates in the Wild Card race last season. Carpenter, sidelined by shoulder woes until a trio of late-season starts, never faced the Bucs. But he left his career mark on them, with a 12-3 lifetime record against Pittsburgh.

St. Louis will now line up candidates to replace Carpenter -- immediate options include prospects Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal -- just as the Pirates hope to soon add to their rotation competition with Liriano and Sanchez.

L'affaire Liriano has entered its seventh week since the Bucs' original two-year deal and before the southpaw broke his right arm in a domestic fall. Sanchez, who arguably was the Majors' poorest starting pitcher last year, is new on the scene.

Sanchez went 1-9 with an ERA of 8.07 (and a WHIP of 2.088) while splitting last season between Kansas City and Colorado. But he is only 30, a couple of years removed from a 205-strikeout season (in San Francisco) and has spent an offseason dedicated to finding himself. He would obviously sign a Minor League contract and come to camp on a non-roster invite -- which makes it more likely that Liriano would get a Major League deal, removing the main obstacle to finalizing his agreement.

"They've both had a lot of success in the recent past and have quality stuff," Huntington said. "And both have battled some adversity more recently. But they can help. They have an upside. We want to build some depth, and we have to take chances on guys here and there to put us in the best position to eventually take a quality 12-man staff north.

"So we're motivated to sign both, to add competition for the rotation and give us more options for depth."