Today there was a rumor from Jon Morosi that the Baltimore Orioles were interested in Francisco Liriano, but the Pirates didn’t want to trade him as they continued to push for the playoffs.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 22, 2016
I can’t think of a rumor or a tweet that perfectly sums up the current Pirates situation. They are currently five games back from the second wild card spot. They are four games under .500. One of the (many) reasons they’re so far back is because Francisco Liriano has struggled this year.
And yet Liriano has value. It could be that this is the beginning of the end for him, and he won’t get back to what he was doing from 2013-15. But right now, he’s that pitcher who is just having a few bad months and can be turned around. If a team like the Orioles would want him to help them in 2016, then the Pirates would be in the same situation.
For all of the talk about bringing up Tyler Glasnow or Chad Kuhl or bringing someone in via trade, nothing will really help the Pirates if they don’t get guys like Liriano back on track. They’re stuck in a situation that is created by the likes of Liriano, Tony Watson, Gerrit Cole’s injury, and all of their former productive middle relievers. That’s also a situation that can only be fixed by those players turning things around.
But at what point do the Pirates give up? When do they decide that even if those players turn it around, they still won’t be contenders?
The Pirates might be just five games back at mid-season, and that’s not a lot. But they’ve got three teams ahead of them in the standings, plus the second wild card team, plus two teams that are right behind them. They also have a brutal schedule, with four against the Dodgers, two against the Mariners on the road, four on the road against the Cardinals, and three at home against the Cubs before the All-Star break. Then, they come out of the break with three against the Nationals.
It could very well be that the Pirates end up sellers after all of that, falling to that point where they are so far out of it that it wouldn’t matter if their guys turn things around.
But there’s another thing to consider here. Liriano is under control through the 2017 season. Even if the prospects all arrive and perform well, the Pirates will need additional starters. They could go with Jon Niese, but his best wouldn’t compare to Liriano’s best. Having a rotation of Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Chad Kuhl is a best-case scenario for the start of the 2017 season, as there’s no guarantee all of them will be ready by then, and no guarantee that they will all be productive, since rookies can be inconsistent.
So even if Liriano turns it around this year and it’s too late to help the 2016 team, he could help the 2017 team. And since the 2017 free agent pitching market looks like hot garbage, it would be hard to imagine finding a better option than him. You’d likely be looking at finding an option with his upside, who you would also have to fix.
The same can be said for Tony Watson (one more year of control, and good luck finding a replacement with more upside from this current bullpen), or other players who could help the team beyond 2016.
Of course, the conversation gets interesting next month when talking about players like Mark Melancon, who is only under control through the end of the season, or someone like John Jaso, who is blocking a top prospect who would be called up if the season didn’t matter, or if there wasn’t a productive first baseman already performing in the majors. And I don’t even want to get into Andrew McCutchen and Austin Meadows.
The 2016 Pirates are a frustrating group. They’ve got a good team, and a lot of good prospects on the way. But some of their best players aren’t performing at the big league level, they’ve dealt with a ton of injuries, and the prospects aren’t ready. So the result is that they’re probably not contending in 2016, but still have a good chance to contend in future years. If they reach the point where they are sellers this year, any trade needs to come with those considerations.
**Pirates’ Inefficient Offense Proves Costly. Alan Saunders recaps the latest loss, where the pitching let one slip away, and the offense failed to score on chances in three innings in a row when down by one run.
**The Challenges of Evaluating the Pirates Middle Relievers. Alan looks at how it has been challenging to evaluate the middle relievers when none of them have been up for long enough stretches to get an evaluation.
**Prospect Watch: Glasnow Throws Seven No-Hit Innings. Speaking of prospects not being ready, this was the second no-hit outing by Glasnow in a row. The last one didn’t look good. This one looked great, and John Dreker broke down why.
**Injury Updates: Gerrit Cole to Miss Another Start. He won’t be ready to return on Sunday, which means the Pirates will need a starter that day.
**Pirates Call Up Kyle Lobstein, Option Wilfredo Boscan. The Pirates get some bullpen help for a few days.
**Mitch Keller Looks Like He’s on the Path to Being a Future Ace. Abigail Miskowiec looks at the progression Mitch Keller has seen this year, and how he’s on the path to being a future ace.
**Morning Report: The Best and Worst of the First Half for Altoona. John Dreker continues his first half breakdowns, this time with Altoona.