Well, they finally did it.
After an entire off-season in search of starting pitching, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced on Friday that they have come to terms with free agent pitcher Francisco Liriano on a two-year contract worth $14 million.
Clearly the Pirates needed to add a starting pitcher. Before signing Liriano, the Pirates were projected to enter the season with two rookies potentially in their starting rotation. The addition of Liriano gives the Pirates four major league starters, to go with A.J. Burnett, James McDonald and Wandy Rodriguez.
Liriano is a very Pittsburgh-type signing. He was affordable because of his inconsistency, but when compared to some of the other pitchers that were on the free agent market this off-season, his best is better than their best. It just doesn’t always come out.
Liriano has posted ERA’s over 5.00 in each of the past two seasons and in three of the past four. He has not been nearly the same pitcher he was before his 2007 Tommy John surgery, but he does still show flashes of brilliance.
The issue for Liriano is his control. Over the past two seasons he has walked over 5 batters per nine innings. Liriano routinely allows fewer than a hit per inning and consistently strikes out more than a batter per inning, so the ability to be a dominant pitcher is there. The high ERA comes from the extra base runners he allows. If he can keep them under control, he has a chance to dominate once again.
The Pirates are a good fit for Liriano. Instead of being asked to lead a weak pitching staff, Liriano will likely be the Pirates number four starter. Additionally, left-handed pitchers benefit from playing at PNC Park which has a deep and expansive left field that severely limits right-handed hitters.
At a price of $7 million per season, Liriano is a good signing for the Pirates. Even with his command issues, Liriano can be a back-end guy, which the Pirates badly needed. But the real bonus will be if Liriano can get his command issues under control. Every team thinks they can fix a talented player, and the Pirates are no different, but even if he is the same pitcher he was the past two seasons, the Pirates got a reliable pitcher for a cost-efficient price.