Reportedly signed LHP Francisco Liriano for three years and $39 million. [12/9]
Already with A.J. Burnett and Radhames Liz in tow, Neal Huntington finished his rotation spending early, making Liriano the fourth starting pitcher to sign this offseason—third with the Pirates.
With the market focused on top tier starters Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, Pittsburgh received a free negotiating window with Liriano until the dust settled elsewhere. A draft picks was attached to him, and teams who believe they’re in contention for Lester weren’t likely to be chasing Liriano as seriously as the Pirates were—they’d rather keep their first rounder, thanks very much. That makes his signing a small surprise in its timing, as Liriano might’ve seen more money, or a fourth year, if he waited out the others. As many as four teams were considering nine-figure contracts for Lester, and while Liriano doesn’t qualify for ace money, he’s a respectable, second-tier option at a fraction of the price. He might’ve even only cost a second rounder for the lavish spender.
At $15.3 million, the one-year qualifying offer Liriano rejected exceeds the average annual value of his new contract, suggesting he wanted to cash in long term on two good seasons in which he made just $7 million, total. Rejecting the qualifying offer and attaching a first rounder to his price tag, however, may have closed his market to Pittsburgh and a few other teams willing to pay the extra tax. While he could’ve waited for the starting pitcher dominos to fall—just Jason Hammel, Burnett, and Liz have tipped off the board—this might be the best deal he’ll receive, though one can’t doubt a Ubaldo Jimenez-like deal might’ve come to him late in the winter.
Liriano is not a candidate to severely decline, but does come with durability risks, a likely cause for capping this deal at three years. Liriano hasn’t made 30 starts in a year since 2010, and has never posted a 200-inning campaign; with Tommy John surgery on his resume and shoulder and arm injuries contributing to seven career DL trips, he’s susceptible to missing time as he progresses into his 30s—though the Pirates have kept him mostly healthy these two years. Initial PECOTA runs put him at around 140 innings with a mid-threes ERA.
Liriano will return to pitch in front of the same efficient infield defense that has made him a successful groundballer in Pittsburgh. He will, however, miss Russell Martin’s receiving, leaving Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli to catch him—both able pitch framers. Regardless, Liriano’s stuff is more than capable of handling batters on either side of the plate, whether that’s riding his slider to the NL’s third-best strikeout rate or letting his infield clean up the copious amount of groundballs he generates. The walks (and inconsistency) are part of the package, but it ultimately adds up to a capable starter near the top of Pittsburgh’s rotation.