Pittsburgh Pirates Opinion: Francisco Liriano Is A Must-Sign


The Pittsburgh Pirates need a minimum of one more arm to anchor their starting rotation going into the 2015 season. This arm will join a formidable starting rotation comprised of Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton and either Jeff Locke or Vance Worley. That arm needs to be Francisco Liriano.

Coming off of the 2014 season, the Pirates saw two of their top-of-the-rotation guys in Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez become eligible for free agency. Of the two, the Pirates opted to make a qualifying offer to Liriano only, which allowed Volquez to enter into free agency straight away, ultimately to be followed by Liriano a week later after he declined the qualifying offer. As it stands at the time of this writing, both players are still available and accepting offers.

So, why should they sign Liriano and not Volquez? I didn’t necessarily say they shouldn’t. Each has their own upside, but of the two, I think Liriano is the better fit for the Pirates and will ultimately be easier to sign.

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First, allow me to explain why he’s a better fit.

The primary reason you’d want to sign Volquez is to eat innings. Volquez averages around 180 innings per season (over the last 3 years), to Liriano’s 160 innings per season. Prior to the recent acquisition of Burnett, I would probably be pushing for the Pirates to sign Volquez, but with Burnett on board, that’s no longer a huge concern. Burnett threw 213 innings in 2014 and there’s no reason to expect he won’t be above 190 innings in 2015 so long as he remains healthy.

It’s quite simple. The more (quality) innings your starters can throw will save your bullpen from being heavily taxed, which will directly affect them later in the season. If the Pirates really think they are going to make a run, they are going to need strong, well-rested arms out of the pen.

Next, consider effectiveness of each.  Volquez was definitely better than Liriano in 2014, but in aggregate, Liriano has better numbers. Volquez is more like a box of chocolates year to year, you never know what you are going to get. In related news, here’s Forrest Gump’s scouting report on Volquez.

Here’s a comparative analysis on each player’s ERA since 2008.

I like Liriano’s trendline better, personally.

Aside from numbers, Liriano is going to be much easier to sign than Volquez by comparison. This is due to the qualifying offer that the Pirates opted to extend to Liriano, which was ultimately declined. As part of the qualifying offer process, should Liriano sign with another team, said team will have to surrender a draft pick in order to complete the signing.

Considering Liriano and Volquez being on the market at the same time, each commanding a similar salary and term, most teams would take Volquez over Liriano because they won’t have to surrender a draft pick (and Volquez may arguably be less expensive). This is something that will obviously be in the Pirates’ favor.

There is really no need for the Pirates to keep both guys. There’s no more of Wandy Rodriguez‘ silliness with that forearm business, and the other guys have been relatively healthy (except for Locke and Morton, perhaps). Further, the decision to keep only one of the two guys was a decision that was pretty much set in stone when the Burnett signing was completed.

With Russell Martin and his salary departing via free agency, the Pirates should have some extra cash lying around that they can now afford to spend on re-signing a quality arm in Liriano.

Let’s hope they actually reinvest the money into the team and not just stuff it under the mattress.