First Pitch: Thoughts on Liriano, Hanrahan, the Rotation, and the Payroll

Some quick hits tonight in the aftermath of the Francisco Liriano deal. I was on the road most of the day today, and had a lot of time to think about the fallout from this deal.

**I mentioned earlier that I felt the Francisco Liriano deal was a good risk for the Pirates to take. I was on TribLIVE Radio this afternoon further discussing the deal. ┬áLiriano is a great gamble for the Pirates to take. He’s definitely got some concerns with his high walk rate the last two years and his high ERAs. However, his advanced metrics are usually much better than his ERA, he strikes out a batter per inning, and he’s a lefty with an above average ground ball rate. Those last bits will give him an advantage pitching half of his games in PNC Park. He’s only 29, so he shouldn’t be on any sort of decline during his two years with the team. The main issue will be fixing his control.

I noticed a few people drawing similarities to A.J. Burnett. I think the situations are similar if you look at them as guys with ERAs that were much higher than their FIP numbers. Both pitchers also had strong seasons prior to their recent struggles. But the issues were different. Burnett was getting hit around too much. Liriano struggles with control and doesn’t strand enough runners. If the Pirates, and specifically Ray Searage, can do something with Liriano’s control, he could turn into a steal. There’s definitely the possibility that this move blows up in their face. But it’s high risk/high reward. The risk comes with the money, and the potential reward comes if Liriano can turn things around with a move to the NL and PNC Park.

As for the money, I’m not sure it’s outrageous. If you look at the contracts being handed out recently, Liriano’s seems reasonable. Mike Adams just received two years and $12 M as a set-up man. Liriano is making about $400 K more per year as a starter. Kevin Correia received two years and $10 M. Correia is a pretty safe #4-5 starter in a bad rotation, and he has little chance of being more than that. Liriano is making about $1.4 M more per year, and has much more upside. Scott Baker is a similar pitcher to Liriano: good strikeout numbers, FIP better than his ERA, and injury concerns. He recently received $5.5 M with incentives, and he will miss the opening of the season due to recovering from Tommy John surgery. Considering those deals, and other deals, two years and $12.75 M for Liriano seems perfectly reasonable.

**Now that Liriano is set to be signed, the Pirates don’t have a big need for a starting pitcher in a Joel Hanrahan trade return. The rumors are already out that Pittsburgh is looking for shortstops. If they could get a young shortstop prospect for one year of Hanrahan, I’d be surprised.

**The starting rotation now has A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Francisco Liriano, and one of Jeff Locke or Kyle McPherson. That’s looking like a potentially strong rotation. The wild cards will be McDonald and Liriano. If McDonald pitches more like his 2012 first half and Liriano can see a turn around, the Pirates could be strong contenders. If McDonald is closer to his 2012 second half and Liriano puts up similar numbers to 2011-2012, the Pirates could be turning to Gerrit Cole to fill one of those spots by mid-season.

The rotation is also pretty diverse. Burnett was added as a salary dump for two minor prospects. Rodriguez was added for three actual prospects. McDonald was added when he was sort of a prospect, and regained his former status after moving to the Pirates. Liriano is a free agent signing. Locke and McPherson have mostly been developed in the Pirates’ system, although Locke was originally acquired in a trade when he was in A-ball.

**With no other moves, the 2013 payroll will be over $70 M. I’d expect Hanrahan to be moved, so that number should come down, unless they pick up salary or add a player who adds salary.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!

**Baseball America looked at breakout prospects Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco. They then named ten international players who could breakout in 2013. Number one on the list? Dilson Herrera. We’ve got him as the most likely to have a Hanson/Polanco breakout in 2013 in the recently released Prospect Guide.

**Pirates to Sign Francisco Liriano.

**Joel Hanrahan Friday Rumors: Pirates Now Looking at Shortstops?

**Winter Leagues Recap: Fuesser Strong In Loss.

**A good read from FanGraphs on the slow death of ERA, and how pitchers with a strong FIP are getting paid.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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