Pittsburgh Pirates: What Do Francisco Liriano And A Qualifying Offer Have in Common?


Hopefully nothing, and let me explain why.

The deadline for MLB teams to extend qualifying offers to their free agent players is Monday at 5 p.m. ET.  For the Pittsburgh Pirates, there are three key players who could receive a qualifying offer – Russell Martin, as discussed in this previous article, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez.

There’s no question that Liriano followed a near career season in 2013 with a solid 2014 campaign and was a key cog in the Pirates’ success in 2014, even if his 7-10 record didn’t indicate as such. His ERA was well below his average (3.38 in 2014 vs. 4.07). His innings were up from the previous year (162.1), albeit only by an inning. He was missing more bats from previous years, as indicated by his H/9 (7.2) and K/9 (9.7) rates.

What’s not to like? Well, there are a couple things, actually.

First, and probably most importantly, he’s getting older. The 2015 season will mark his 10th season in Major League Baseball. It would seem that Liriano would be positioned to seek a multi-year deal, but what if that phone never rings and the qualifying offer is on the table?

The Pirates would have just dropped about $6 million more on Liriano than his perceived market value. It’s not as much of a risk with Martin given the current state of the catcher’s market in MLB, but can the same really be said about Liriano specifically?

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Another concern is Liriano’s control. The amount of walks he granted in 2014 (81) is nearly the highest of his career (87, 2012), and his 2014 season saw the most wild pitches (12) of his career.  Perhaps this is an easy fix as we saw with Ricky Vaughn in Major League, or perhaps it’s the sign that his control is starting to falter.

Liriano made $6 million in 2014, which was the highest of his career. It’s quite possible that Liriano could expect a three-year deal on the open market to the tune of $22-25 million to a somewhat desperate team in need of a veteran presence for their pitching staff.  This is probably on the Pirates’ high-end of what they’d be willing to pay a starting pitcher, but it’s not something to be discounted outright, as we’ve seen in years previous.

For the Pirates, making Liriano a qualifying offer is quite the risk as compared to Martin.  Primarily, there’s a chance he may actually accept it for another guaranteed year in the sun for a hefty paycheck of $15.3 million. More specific concerns would be that Liriano doesn’t chew through innings like A.J. Burnett had (or even like No. 2 Edinson Volquez does) and that he’s somewhat prone to injury.

That said, if seems for as much heartburn the Pirates would have in extending the offer, there would have to be some hesitancy on the part of Liriano to decline it, for the the latter reason, at the very least.

It’s difficult to say what the Pirates will do. If they are committed to winning, one would hope to see a qualifying offer made to either Volquez or Liriano to anchor the top half of the rotation, or receive draft pick compensation at the very least. Martin will most assuredly receive one but he will decline, so there’s really no financial liability to the Pirates with that move.

If they are committed to the Pirates’ way of the last 20 years, they will allow the deadline to pass and not make any moves. Instead, they will sign a guy like Volquez in the off-season that most Pirates’ fans have never heard of before, but maybe that won’t be so bad. After all, the Volquez decision seemed to work out quite nicely for the Pirates.