Back on December 21st, the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to a two-year deal with left-hander Francisco Liriano. The deal has yet to be finalized, and we learned the other day that Liriano suffered an injury to his right arm, which is holding up the deal. It seems the deal could go either way at this point. The Pirates could still finalize the deal and Liriano could pitch for them in 2013. The deal could also fall through. It all depends on the nature of the injury.
If the deal does fall through, here are the alternatives for the Pirates.
The Internal Options
Before Liriano was added, the rotation projected to include Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke. After the addition, both pitchers were set to fight it out for the fifth spot. They’re both major league ready, so both could step in if the Liriano deal falls through.
The Pirates have added Vin Mazzaro, Zach Stewart, Andrew Oliver, and Jeanmar Gomez this off-season. Mazzaro and Gomez profile as depth options, and wouldn’t have a chance at making the rotation out of Spring Training unless the Liriano deal falls through and there’s an injury to another starter. Stewart and Oliver are formerly top prospects who have both struggled in their jumps to the majors. Stewart gets hit around too much, while Oliver has dealt with control problems. Unless they have a very quick turnaround, neither would be an option out of Spring Training. Both would be better off going to Triple-A to work on their issues.
Chris Leroux is another option. He’s probably better in a bullpen role, but has a chance to be the long man out of the pen with the occasional spot start. He would probably fall in the Mazzaro/Gomez tier.
After agreeing to a deal with Liriano, we learned that the Pirates had expressed interest in Joe Saunders. The lefty is still unsigned, and if the Liriano deal falls through it would only make sense that the Pirates would still be interested.
Liriano is no guarantee to bounce back, but the upside is high. Saunders doesn’t have the same upside. He’s a Paul Maholm/Zach Duke type, only he doesn’t have the high ground ball rates that those guys had. His ERA the last few years has been anywhere from the 3.40 range to the 4.60 range. His xFIP is more consistent, usually in the 4.25-4.50 range. The Pirates would be better off going with Locke and McPherson than signing Saunders.
Shaun Marcum is also still on the market, although there are some red flags. He’s dealt with a lot of injury problems in the past, including elbow and shoulder issues. Liriano has also dealt with injury issues, so the Pirates have already taken on that risk. He might be hurt by PNC Park since he’s a right-handed fly ball pitcher. He’s had success in three starts at PNC, but the Pirates haven’t had a lot of dominant lineups over the last few years.
Kyle Lohse is the top option on the market, and hasn’t been getting any offers. He’s 34 years old and would require the Pirates to give up their first round pick. His xFIP has been closer to 4.00 the last few years, despite some Cy Young contending ERAs. The age, the comp pick, and the advanced metrics aren’t a good combo. If the Pirates wouldn’t lose the 14th overall pick, Lohse would make sense.
The Pirates could still sign Liriano if the deal falls through. His injury is to his right arm, so it shouldn’t have any long-term effects on his pitching. It just depends on the severity of the injury. If the injury would keep him out for part of the season, the Pirates might be better off turning elsewhere. Marcum would make the most sense. The Pirates could just shift Liriano’s money to Marcum.
The Pirates had been linked to Chris Capuano earlier in the off-season, but that was when they were discussing Joel Hanrahan with the Dodgers. Los Angeles has been shopping Capuano and Aaron Harang, and could deal one of them before the off-season is over. Capuano would make a lot of sense for the Pirates. He’s a left-hander with a good career ground ball rate and a high strikeout total. He would cost $6 M, which is about what Liriano was owed. His trade value was about the same as Hanrahan’s. The Dodgers don’t seem to be a team that would care about an extra $6 M in payroll, so I don’t see them reducing his value just to dump salary.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!