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.

Tim Williams

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/kirk.vandergrift Kirk Lee

    A few thoughts: I think Liriano is a fantastic candidate to turn things around with the Pirates. He’s a lefty in PNC with high K/9, good groundball rate, and his one major problem has been control. Enter Russell Martin, one of the Major Leagues’ best pitch framers. He won’t necessarily eliminate the issue, but he could provide some non-negligible assistance. My only major concern is the strand rate, strangely. Liriano already struggles with it, and now he’ll be joining the Pirates, who have a policy of letting virtually anyone who reaches first also steal second and third. Then again, maybe it’ll do him some good to learn how to ignore his baserunners, if any of it is truly in his head.
    Also, all the names mentioned above do look to provide a pretty solid rotation. Let’s not forget that we may also be getting Morton back midseason and he could certainly provide good depth and a valuable arm if he returns to his better form. You can never have too many viable starters, and the Bucs seem to be pretty deep already before 2013 has even started.

  • emjayinTN

    Kirk: Some food for thought. Burnett was a 1.4 WAR pitcher in the AL in 2011 and then a 3.4 WAR pitcher in 2012 for the Pirates. Liriano was a 1.7 WAR last year with Minnesota and the White Sox. A 1/1 K/IP guy who also has a GO/AO of around 1.30. He plays well into the scheme in Pittsburgh, and will pitch all of 2013 as a 29 year old. Averaged around 93 mph on his fastball, and has a dynamite Slider. He can also throw a Curve and a Change. On holding runners, he is the same as Rodriguez – both held runners to only 16 SB’s last year. JMAC held runners to only 12 SB’s last year. I hope the Pirates have the guts to go 3 LH starters, because I think Locke can really benefit in a Rotation that includes Rodriguez and Liriano.

    • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

      Those ‘stolen bases against’ numbers aren’t very good. Among starters with 150 IP in 2012, all four of the locks for the 2013 rotation finished with a higher than average number of steals against. JMac compared to AJ looks good. But JMac was still worse than median number in the league. So was Wandy. So was Liriano.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    “The wild cards will be McDonald and Liriano. ”

    I would also put Locke and Kyle in that category, also.

    In fact, our only dependable starters for now appear to be AJ and Wandy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Tim….you posted this yesterday….
    Avg War by pick:
    http://viewfromthebleachers.com/blog/2012/08/23/success-rate-of-mlb-draft-picks-by-slot/

    That and the below article (and the links in the first para) should be required reading for the “we should have more depth from our draft” crowd!

    http://viewfromthebleachers.com/blog/2012/08/23/success-rate-of-mlb-draft-picks-by-slot/

    Success Rate of MLB Draft Picks by Slot

    • swartnp7

      I’m all for this signing. I agree, props should be given for getting him and doling out the $ to solidify the back of rotation. At worst he is a 5. At best he is frontline. Good risk.
      In waiting we have: Locke/McPherson/Wilson/Morton and others. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Karstens is back (no one is throwing money at him…yet).

      As for Hanny, it would be a coup to get a decent SS prospect. I’m not sold on Gordon, but if they view him as fixable, fine. It stinks that we will not and cannot get the value we all wish we could get for Hanny. I’m also all for keeping him and dishing him at deadline. It’s not my money!

      • http://twitter.com/pezN8 pezN8

        If Mike Adams is going to get 2yrs/12 million as a setup guy, Liriano can get 2 yrs/12.75 mill as a starter.
        Question is, what to do with Hanrahan.
        Keep him til deadline?
        Try and trade a package to Dodgers for Capuano and Gordon? (I know they just got Liriano, but a rotation of AJ, JMc, Wandy, Liriano, & Cap would not be too shabby).
        Try and get Iglesias and more from Boston?
        I’m also for going after CJ Cron from LAA.

  • piratemike

    Seen the MLB Tonignt show and Larry Bowa and Mitch Williams ripped the Liriano signing. They said there were better pitchers available for the money they spent.
    I hope they turn out to be wrong. I don’t like to be negative because it wears me out I would rather be in a positive frame of mind because I am happier person then. But man NH does wear me out.