First Pitch: What Are the Alternatives if the Liriano Deal Falls Through?

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.

Free Agents

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!

**Pirates Acquire Jeanmar Gomez From Cleveland for Quincy Latimore.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Marte, Marte, Marte.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Top Prospects: #18 – Vic Black.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Assuming we had the pieces to consider all of the above options (internal, FA & trades), I’d chase them (the REALISTIC options that we’ve seen show up in the rumor mill, that is) in this order of preference:

— Chris Capuano (trade, Dodgers have excess starters) – strong preference as single-best option out there, if we had some trade piece(s)
— Johan Santana (assumes HUGE salary dump/kick-in from Mets, could include trade pieces, too)(our net would have to be, like, sub-$10 mil, so….)
— Ricky Nolasco (salary dump, w/poss trade pieces)
— Roy Oswalt (FA, but he scares me a little, prima donna/head-case)
— Justin Masterson or Ubaldo Jimenez – trade, excess starters, w/different pieces depending on which one you chase (more for Justin, less for Ubaldo)
— Phil Hughes (trade, Yanks leveraging his final year)
— Jeff Locke (internal)
— Kyle McPherson (internal)
— Bud Norris (trade)
— Jeff Karstens (FA)
— Chris Leroux (internal)
— Rick Porcello (trade)

I think any of those could work well while other moves happen (Cole, Taillon, etc.).

After that, I guess I would consider others, but they get much less attractive IMO (either for cost, anticipated performance or injury-prone reasons), folks like, in declining order as well, Lohse, Marcum, Chris Young, Pavano, Floyd, Happ or Saunders)

If anyone else in the rumor mill isn’t above, I either thought they were very unrealistic or, um, eh………


Pirates have been adding all this starting pitching depth to help toward the end of the season when regular starters start doing poorly. To feel comfortable, they’d need to sign a good starter and not hope that one of their signings has an amazing year. Need someone who is reliable.

The Pirates DO NOT need any more outfielders. If they’re looking for getting a big name person in a trade, Tulowitzki would come cheap prospect-wise (meaning Pirates pay A LOT for contract), or he’d be worth a top prospect or two for the Rockies to eat some of his salary. This would get the Pirates a middle of the rotation SS (because we all know how people don’t like Clint Barmes) for a long long time. His first FA year is 2021. When healthy, Tulo puts up 5-6 WAR (according to baseball-reference WAR). That’d be worth the money IMO…


The Pirates should go after Joe Saunders and also Kevin Millwood. Millwood can come cheap. Both will eat up alot of innings as well. Also like the idea of trading for Capuano as well. Will the Dodgers take Tabata in return? Michael Bourn signing will be good as well, and the the Pirates can trade Garrett Jones for a SS prospect. What about Reid Brignac from Tampa Bay, he is only 26 years old.


Also a deal for Justin Upton would be nice as well. Would not want to give up Cole, Taillon, or Marte. Was thinking Heredia, Planco, and JBell?


Porcello is the best answer here. Its very rare that you get a chance to get a 24 year old SP with 3 years of control left on the cheap.

I would still like to see him acquired regardless of Liriano’s status.

That said, the Dodgers have 8 SP right now, they need to dump Capuano.

Lee Young

where did you read that Porcello was a cheap trade acquisition?


I am not the world’s biggest Joe Saunders fan but to say Locke or McPherson would be better options isn’t really fair.

His ERA since coming to the NL was:

2010 – 4.25 (after trade)
2011 – 3.69
2012 – 4.22 (traded to AL mid-season)

His Inter-league ERA mostly against NL is 3.34.

His ERA at Chase Field was 4.51.

His home/road splits in his only full season in Arizona are drastic:

Home – 4.42
Road – 3.14

It’s tougher to pitch in the AL and Chase Field is one of the most hitter friendly parks in the NL. I think you get him back to the NL playing half his games in PNC and you could probably expect and ERA under 4. I like Locke and McPherson but I don’t think they’ll match that… not to mention the depth it would add.


I agree, I think Saunders is a solid 4 or 5, I like the Idea of Locke or McFear in the rotation and the other in the pen. Saunders is a work horse type pitcher that will give you innings. I also like him better than McDonald, I don’t think McDonald is that good when his fastball goes away, usually that is around June and last year it never came back. Saunders looks a lot to me like a left handed version of Karstens.


Good points and with the concerns with McDonald that’s one reason I’m worried about going with internal options. If McDonald goes bad again you’ll need Locke and McPherson and then someone else.


Neil Walker would love to see the Pirates sign Marcum, since that’s his least favorite pitcher to face (per Piratefest interview).

I would like to see the Pirates re-do the Liriano deal to 1 year or 1 year + club option. The 2 year deal was what always bothered me about Liriano.

The trade market is a lot more than just Capuano, obviously, but Gavin Floyd (payroll reduction) and Porcello (extra starter in DET’s rotation) have been mentioned this offseason and I’m in favor of getting one of them.


My question is- Is there any chance we could possibly see what interest there is in Karstens in the market and attempt to resign him possibly at an amount below what our tender would have had to be? To me, he is still the best option. Great value for his performance when healthy, great flexibility out of the pen with proven success if one of our rookies becomes ready, rocksteady when he is healthy on the mound as a starter, and best of all, great control and limits walks when you have a horrid defense against the running game.


only one team has stated that they are interested in Karstens, and that was the Rockies. and that interest was lukewarm at best, mainly because Karstens is a flyball pitcher and Coors field may not be the best environment for him to pitch 20 games

Brian Bernard

There remains another option, which is to use the money on a bat and Michael Bourn is available.

The team has plenty of arms, Leroux, Wilson, Locke, McFear, Oliver, Gomez, to start the year and by mid-season Ground Chuck and Gerrit Cole will be trying to push somebody out.

We also have plenty of OF, but only two of them are elite like Bourn – and that is Cutch and Marte. That threesome would be the kind of trio that would intimidate other clubs, it would be both a defensive and offensive weapon. I would be the kind of thing that makes fans show up just to see how awesome it is. I know it would make me want a ticket.

You just don’t have the kind of talent in Tabata, Presley, Snider, or Sands that a player like Bourn has. He’s a legit leadoff guy, game changer. C’m Huntington look deep into the bottom of the coin jar and see the runs being scored… aaeh? Yes #BurghsignsBourn


plenty of arms doesnt mean diddly. a SP is still what this team needs to compete.

Bourn doesnt get on base a ton, barely hit for any power until this past season and he strikes out way too much for a guy who needs to get on base to create havoc. other than a really good glove in CF, I dont see him worth the money it would take to get him.


I have to disagree with both of you. We have enough depth at SP at the moment, and we have too many unproven powerless outfielders. This team needs to find a way to invest this money and maybe a few prospects into a corner outfielder with decent power and some major league experience, like a Josh Willingham or Jason Kubel. Our outfield is already strong defensively, McCutchen and Marte could cover 75% of it by themselves, and Presley and Tabata could be decent defensive subs if need be.

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