Today is the final day for teams to re-sign their departing free agents, as well as the deadline for teams to extend a qualifying offer. I don’t expect the Pittsburgh Pirates to re-sign anyone today, although the qualifying offers will be significant news. There are two players who easily deserve qualifying offers, if only to get the Pirates some sort of compensation when/if they sign elsewhere.
The easiest decision lies with Russell Martin. The Pirates have already made it clear that they will extend a qualifying offer to their catcher. This makes perfect sense. Getting Martin back at one year and $15.3 M (if he accepts the offer) isn’t going to happen, and it would be a total gift if it did. The Pirates will pursue Martin, and it will probably cost at least four years at that qualifying offer price to get him to sign. The offer will at least give them a draft pick if he doesn’t return.
Francisco Liriano is believed to be the more difficult decision, although I don’t think the decision is that difficult at all. Liriano is coming off two of the best years of his career. He was one of the better starters in baseball over the last two years, ranking 19th in xFIP out of 86 pitchers with 300+ innings. I wrote about a month ago that Liriano should expect to receive a $48-50 M guaranteed deal this off-season, just like Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco, and Ubaldo Jimenez did last off-season. All three were about the same age as Liriano, and Jimenez had a qualifying offer attached. You could argue that Liriano is the best of the four pitchers.
This is Liriano’s chance for a big payday. Earlier today I posted a link to MLBTR’s prediction that he would be looking for a three or four-year deal. I think he’ll be looking long-term, and trying for more dollars, rather than a short-term payday. If it works out, he will be getting about $30-35 M extra in guaranteed money. If it backfires, he’ll be getting a few million less on a one year deal, if he even loses anything at all. The multi-year option didn’t work for Ervin Santana last year, although he ended up receiving the same rate on a one-year deal late in Spring Training. Liriano has made just over $20 M in his career. At that point, he’s in a good position to gamble a few million in hopes of seeing his career earnings more than triple.
Last year the Pirates didn’t tend a qualifying offer to A.J. Burnett, citing payroll as the reason they didn’t want to make that offer. That made sense, considering the situation at the time. Burnett was saying he would either retire or return for another year to the Pirates. As we later learned, the Pirates weren’t interested in giving him more than $12 M on a one-year deal. By giving him the qualifying offer, they would have been paying him several million more than what they wanted to give him. It turned out that this was a wise move, as Burnett struggled this year, and now the Phillies are in a position where they might be stuck with him for $12.75 M next year.
Burnett’s situation and Liriano’s situation are totally different. If the Pirates wanted to bring Liriano back, they’d have to offer up much more than $15.3 M guaranteed. So a qualifying offer wouldn’t be bidding against themselves in this situation. Payroll actually wouldn’t even be a factor. On paper, there would be a risk of Liriano and Martin both accepting, and eating up $30 M in payroll. But due to this low probability of both players accepting, that’s not a real concern.
The Pirates will extend a qualifying offer to Martin. They absolutely should do the same with Liriano.
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