First Pitch: Should the Pirates Trade Francisco Liriano?

This isn’t going to be a popular article. The title is going to lead to a lot of immediate “NO!” responses on Twitter and Facebook, approximately ten seconds after the article goes up. It might lead to people saying I’m crazy for this suggestion. Or, maybe some people will read the article and come away with the same opinions I have. I know some have already brought up the subject in previous comment sections. Either way, this is an idea I’ve been thinking about since August, and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.

Trading Francisco Liriano.

NO! That’s crazy! Or is it?

Liriano just came off an amazing season. He had a 3.02 ERA in 161 innings. He had a 9.1 K/9 and a 3.5 BB/9 ratio. His advanced metrics supported the ERA, with a 3.12 xFIP. Today he was named the Sporting News NL Comeback Player of the Year. His 2014 option has already vested for $6 M, and he has a very real chance to make up to $2.5 M in additional performance bonuses. Even at $8.5 M, he would be a steal if he repeats his 2013 campaign. He turns 30 years old at the end of the week, so he shouldn’t be a risk for a steep decline. And if he repeats his 2013 season in 2014, he will be due for a huge contract, and at the least will bring back draft pick compensation.

So why would I suggest trading Francisco Liriano? All of the above.

Francisco Liriano is coming off a great season, and the Pirates would be smart to sell high and look for the next Liriano. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Francisco Liriano is coming off a great season, and the Pirates would be smart to sell high and look for the next Liriano. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Liriano’s value will never be higher than it is right now. The trade market could include a few top pitchers, such as David Price and maybe Max Scherzer. But starting pitching is always in demand, and a guy like Liriano should get a huge return if he was made available.

There are reasons to doubt that Liriano can’t maintain this success. For one, he has never had back-to-back strong seasons. He had an amazing season in 2010, then struggled the next two years. He had a strong year in 2006, then missed 2007 with an injury. His half-season in 2008 was good, but 2009 was horrible. And then there’s the injuries to worry about. Liriano has been injury prone in his career. The 2013 season saw his second highest innings totals of his career, with 161 innings. He has only gone over 136 innings three times. Year-to-year fluctuation and injury concerns aren’t just a Liriano problem. That’s a pitcher problem in general, but Liriano hasn’t shown himself to be the exception.

This is a bit more than just a “sell high” situation. It also involves the faith that Liriano wasn’t just a fluke.

The Pirates have had success finding reclamation pitchers. The Yankees paid half of A.J. Burnett’s salary, and got little in return in prospects, all because he had struggled the previous two years. With the Pirates he has been a top of the rotation starter. In fact, out of 74 qualified starters over the last two seasons, Burnett has the ninth best xFIP, ahead of off-season trade candidates like Price and Max Scherzer. Then there’s Liriano. He had a horrible ERA the previous two seasons, with some poor control. He bounced back this year, as noted above. Charlie Morton had his game completely overhauled in 2011, and after an injury impacted year in 2012 he bounced back in 2013 and looked like a number three starter. It has even worked with relief pitchers, such as Mark Melancon, Jeanmar Gomez, and Vin Mazzaro.

All of these cases aren’t luck. Instead, they rely on three things.

1. A focus on throwing the two-seam fastball instead of the four-seam fastball.

2. An adjustment by Ray Searage, if needed.

3. The infield defensive shifts.

Number one is meant for more ground balls, and number two is usually designed to get more movement and angles, for the purpose of generating ground balls. The shifts only help the first two by making sure that a larger percentage of those ground balls turn into outs.

I don’t think Liriano was a fluke. I think he was part of a plan that has been working well for the Pirates, and should continue to work well going forward. Burnett, Liriano, Morton, Melancon, Gomez, and Mazzaro weren’t luck. They were part of a design to target guys with two-seam fastballs, get them to throw those fastballs more often and more effectively to generate grounders, and position the infielders to give the best opportunity to field those grounders. The system requires that Neal Huntington and his scouting department can find the right players for Ray Searage and the pitching staff to work with, so that the defensive shifts generated by the stats department can be completely effective. It’s the ultimate team strategy.

The argument for trading Liriano is that you could get a massive return. As an example of the return, look at what the Mets got last year for one year of R.A. Dickey. They landed Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard as the main pieces of the deal. D’Arnaud opened the season as the number 23 prospect in baseball, and is the catcher of the future for the Mets, making his debut at the end of the 2013 season. Syndergaard has been getting a lot of hype this season, and could be rated the same or higher than Jameson Taillon in next year’s rankings.

Or there’s the deal that the Rays got for James Shields. They landed Wil Myers and three other prospects for two years of Shields, Wade Davis, and Elliot Johnson. Liriano is only under control for one year, so he might not get the same return, but if he only gets a prospect as good as Myers, that would be worth it. And if you are sitting there thinking that this idea falls in with my “what would the Rays do?” line of thinking, you are right.

The Pirates could potentially fill a long-term spot by trading Liriano. They could land a long-term solution at first base, shortstop, or maybe a long-term alternative to Pedro Alvarez at third base, since there are no current options in the system. On top of that, they could add more prospect depth to an already strong system. It’s not like this can’t be done. Aside from the examples above, there was also the mid-season trade of Matt Garza, where two months of Garza landed Mike Olt — a top 50 hitting prospect — and three Grade B pitchers. Even if

We’re coming off a season where the Pirates made the playoffs, and because of that, they are going to be expected to make the playoffs next year. It would certainly help to have Liriano pitching the same way he did in 2013. And talking about trading for prospects isn’t usually the conversation you have when talking about contending the following season.

This is where the reclamation system comes into play. If the method the Pirates used to acquire Liriano is legit, then why would they ever keep a guy like Liriano when they could trade him for a big return and find the next Liriano? It’s the best of both worlds. And this isn’t like a lot of off-season trade ideas where people suggest that a team trades a player for a big return, then goes out to get someone just as good on the free agent market. Those ideas always raise the question: why can’t the trading team save their prospects and sign the free agent?

In this case it’s because the other teams don’t have those alternatives available. The Pirates have shown a tendency to be able to scout reclamation pitchers, have the pitching coaches adjust them, and have the stats department give them a boost. I don’t believe that’s a fluke, and if it is something that can be repeated, then the Pirates have more talented starting pitching options available than other teams. It’s true that a lot of these pitching options don’t look good on the surface, and come with assumed risk involved. But if the system continues to be effective, then there wouldn’t be much risk to worry about.

I could see how people wouldn’t like this idea. It would definitely be tempting to keep Liriano, hope he stays healthy and doesn’t have a down year in 2014, and hope that this once again leads the Pirates to the playoffs. After that he’s probably gone, and the Pirates are probably left with a compensation pick in 2015. That’s the safe route, and it doesn’t involve the risk of trading a pitcher coming off a great season and replacing him with a pitcher coming off a poor season with hopes that the new pitcher will do a 180. That’s a bigger risk if you don’t trust the Pirates system, and think that all of the examples from the last few years have been luck.

I don’t chalk Liriano, or anyone else, up to luck. These guys didn’t magically revive their careers with the Pirates. It was a combined effort from the scouting, the pitching coaches, and the stats department. I don’t know if the Pirates will actually consider this over the off-season. I actually don’t think they would do this. But it should be something for them to consider. There’s a very good chance that they could get a huge return for Liriano in a trade, then replace him with someone new who will be the next Liriano.

And if you’re looking for a way for the Pirates to sustain their success over the long-run, then there’s no better way than an effective buy low/sell high plan with starting pitchers, as that’s the most valued commodity in baseball.

Links and Notes

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Season Recap Index

The Latest Season Recaps

**2013 Bradenton Marauders Season Recap and Top 10 Prospects

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Recap: Center Field

**2013 Altoona Curve Season Recap and Top 10 Prospects

Today’s Articles

**Don’t Sleep on Joely Rodriguez as a Future Major League Pitcher

**Francisco Liriano Named Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year

**Winter League Recap: Double For Polanco, Tejeda Homers and Triples

**AFL Recap: Two Hits For Dickerson, RBI For Hanson In Win

If You Missed it Over the Weekend

**Gregory Polanco: “The Walking Toolshed”

**The Reds Intend to Trade Brandon Phillips This Off-Season

**Minor Moves: Pirates Trade Jimmy Rider to Red Sox

Weekend Winter League Recaps

**Winter League Recap: Gregory Polanco Homers Again

**AFL Recap: Big Day At The Plate For Alen Hanson

**Winter League Recap: Polanco Goes Deep in Season Opener

**AFL Recap: Three Shutout Innings for Irwin, Walk-Off Hit for Dickerson

  • One question: so the Pirates would receive a compensation pick if Liriano leaves after next season, right? Is this the same situation as Lohse, where the new team would have to give up their first rounder? Or is it a free sandwich pick from MLB? And how is this situation impacted by a trade?

    With the way we saw the Lohse market dampened by the comp pick, I wonder if players are gonna start to push for trades that would eliminate such road blocks (if that’s possible).

  • You know what would be cool? If you guys would slurp the Rays a little more. I’ve only seen then mentioned in about 25% of these responses.

    We get it, they’ve had a great run developing players.

  • Should the next reclamation project take a ball off his face in bunting drills or break his non-throwing arm while playing with his kids? How will they get those extra weeks in extended Spring Training?

  • Well Tim, I think the title of your article is silly. It hints that we should trade Liriano, flat out. In fact, the title should be, “Should Liriano be traded if we are offered more than he is worth” and I think the answer to that is almost always yes. So this shouldn’t be news to anyone. The problem is, with the amount of uncertainty with the rest of the starting rotation, and with Liriano being a lefty power pitcher: 1. There most likely will not be anyone on the market who will have the kind of bounce back year that Liriano did this year, and even if there was, we are still 1 out of over 30 teams and the chances of us landing that player, while maybe stronger than most teams, still isn’t realistically as high as even 10%. We got lucky, period. 2. You have to get a return for him which is better than a full year of his service plus the number 1 compensation pick, and that return is really going to be hard for most teams to beat. I can only see 2 scenario’s, you need a #1 or #2 caliber starting pitcher in AA or AAA as well as a front line prospect for shortstop or Thirdbase. who played at least at the AA level last year. I’d go so far as saying that 1 of those two players needs to be ready to contribute in 2014 to offset the value you are losing from trading Liriano. 3. Until we know if we are going to have Wandy and/or AJ back, its basically PR and possibly team chemistry destroying to risk losing your #1 and #2 pitcher following a playoff year, its a huge risk. More than that, its a completely unnecessary risk given the resources we have. Trading him to get more prospects or depending on another turn around candidate is almost….greedy. Now, if in March Wandy is given a clean bill of health and AJ is brought back….sure, go ahead….trade Liriano. Too many unknowns though at this point to do it, lets revisit this as pieces fall into play after the winter meetings.

    • “It hints that we should trade Liriano, flat out. In fact, the title should be, “Should Liriano be traded if we are offered more than he is worth”

      1. I feel like the title “Should the Pirates Trade Francisco Liriano?” asks the question. I doesn’t hint anything. If I said “The Pirates Should Trade Francisco Liriano”, then it would say that they should trade him, flat out.

      2. The suggestion is a bad title for two reasons. One is that the answer is yes, and there’s no reason to even read the article. In fact, my article would just be the word “Yes” if that’s the title. Two is that this is too many characters for a title, and bad for search results. But that’s just the business side of things.

      • Fair enough- so it should be, “should we trade Liriano for the right price?”

      • Either way, Tim you are missing the point. The name of your article is silly because you ask a question, then give an extremely one sided answer of a very two sided argument. I really wish you would actually present both sides a little more often in your columns. You have a ton of great information, but it seems like half the time you have an agenda and overlook the other side of the coin too much. Overlook isn’t right, because you are too smart to overlook it, you discard it.

        • Do you not realize what this column is? It’s my thoughts and ideas on different subjects. What you’re suggesting is that I write other people’s ideas in my own column to counter my own thoughts, all because there’s someone who might disagree with me.

          These are opinions. There’s always going to be people who have different opinions. I ask the question in the title. I answer with my opinion. Nothing else but my opinion belongs in this particular series of articles. If this was just a regular article on the site, I’d present other sides. But First Pitch is exclusively my opinion.

  • jg941, to borrow from your earlier logical arguments, it’s not just one year of Liriano that the Pirates would offer. It’s one year of Liriano (a $15M+ value for an equivalent pitcher) for the $6M that the Pirates or acquirer will pay him for 2014. The $9M+ difference is surely of significant value in acquiring top prospects in return. And if additional value needs to be added to a good deal to have it make sense (say a relief pitcher) then why not do the deal if it will upgrade the offense? I really like Liriano, but if only one year is at stake then the timing isn’t right for him and Pittsburgh.

  • Folks…….you need to remember that we are talking about trading one year of Liriano. One. With whatever uncertainties that folks herein, and around baseball, have attached to Liriano.

    Some of the names/scenarios being tossed around – Profar, Sano, Myers, Syndergaard, d’Arnaud (Travis), Addison Russell, Castellanos, etc. just aren’t going to be part of a discussion for one year of Liriano, IMO. Not even close. Maybe a Mike Olt….just be careful what you wish for.

    Remove the sense of urgency/stupidity of a trade deadline – cooler offseason heads will slot things differently, and the comparison of who Liriano would pull to that above list, and the comparison of the Rays deals involving Shield and Price, will seem like comparing apples-and-Volkswagens.

  • Maybe Liriano would being willing to sign an incentive laden extension? Hearing his name chanted in a playoff victory might count for something. My comments about the value of trading him depended on the assumption that he couldn’t be resigned past 2014. If he could be, and he can continue to keep his pitches down, he could be very valuable as a left hander at PNC.

  • It would have to be one insanely good deal to be better than 2014 Liriano + 2015 comp pick. You don’t have to trade a Liriano to still have a stacked system and have the best possible team in 2014. That seems like the ideal scenario, even if you’re able to turn a Josh Johnson into Liriano/AJ.

  • Lot of good comments on both sides of the issue. I think you need to start the discussion with a clear headed analysis of whether the Pirates could win the World Series in 2014. If you think yes, then keep Liriano. I think the Pirates’ offense is too pedestrian (statistically middle of the pack, way behind the Cardinals) to give them a realistic shot at winning the WS next year. The Pirates won’t have a shot until 2015, 2016 when Marte, Alvarez etc. have matured and you have to let that focus all of your team building decisions. Trading Liriano at his peak value, when we won’t be able to afford him in 2015 anyway if he is successful, makes a lot of sense. Particularly if we can get a Miguel Sano, or equivalent young power bat, in return. The Pirates contended for a Division Championship in 2013 because of their pitching, but fell short because of the offensive inadequacies. Until the offense is upgraded the Pirates shouldn’t worry about retaining any pitchers who won’t be here in 2015 or 2016, including Liriano, AJ, Wandy or possibly even Morton.

  • As Branch Rickey once said about Ralph Kiner, the Pirates should be willing to be overwhelmed.

  • IMO, the Bucs should try to extend Liriano, if they can’t, always look at offers. Since I have a captain hook or trader lane mentality, I would trade anyone for the right price, there is no untouchable on any team as far as I am concerned.

  • This idea is borderline ludicrous in the real world of baseball. To suggest the Pirates best course of action to unseat the Cardinals as division and league champs is to trade away the most effective SP for prospects is the definition of insanity.

    Furthermore, Tampa Bay is not the franchise the Pirates should model, nor the A’s, it’s the Cardinals! And I can assure you, the Cardinals aren’t going to trade away Wainwright (their most effective SP) for prospects.

    Lastly, the Pirates are building a fan base after 20 years of ineptitude. They need to make the fine people of Pittsburgh believe they are going to do what’s needed to compete for a title in 2014, not 2015 and beyond. Do you all not remember the Pirates were literally one Charlie Morton mistake pitch away from beating the Cardinals?

    This type of move is the last thing any rational person would do considering the circumstances of the Pirates on October 22, 2013!

    • …but who is a more home-grown, built on their own prospects team than the Cardinals? Look at that pitching staff–where did that come from? If anything, the Cardinals have modeled themselves on the draft-and-develop philosophy more than the Pirates have. The Pirates can’t fool themselves into thinking that they can stand pat because they were almost good enough. If you’re talking about “prospects” in terms of 19-year old low-A players, then I would agree.–but the Pirates have some holes to fill, and if trading Liriano nets the ballclub MLB-ready solutions to fill those holes, you consider trading Liriano.

      • Cardinals are exceptional at drafting and developing players. It’s the foundation in which their franchise is built. Additionally, they have gone outside the organization from time to time to fill in holes (Holiday, Beltran) when the situation calls for it. But they never, ever, trade away effective SP for prospects. Leave that tactic to theRays and their ZERO World Championships to do.

        • Took the words out of my mouth.

          The Cards FEAR Liriano. Bucs don’t have another lefty ready to take Liriano’s place. The importance of a dominating LH starter in the NLC cannot be underestimated.

          And as long as we’re talking Cards, seems they didn’t trade a pending FA – Beltran – for youth.

          Jose Fernandez might get you Profar. Liriano won’t.

          You are absolutely correct in stating that WWTBD should immediately be replaced by WWStLD.

        • Playoffs are random, using World Series victories to judge an organization’s strategies/tactics is flawed. As for the Cardinals drafting and developing pitchers, this is the in vogue narrative, however is a relatively recent phenomenon. And while intuitive I would love to have that narrative put under stricter scrutiny, I do not think it would hold up.

        • “Leave that tactic to theRays and their ZERO World Championships to do.”

          My least favorite argument ever. The Rays have zero World Series titles. But since 1994, only one team has won the World Series with a payroll in the bottom half of the league. That was Florida in 2003, and they were a special circumstance, since they blew up their previous World Series team and landed a ton of top young players who led them to World Series #2.

          The Rays have been one of the most successful teams the last few years when it comes to wins, and they win on a smaller budget than most teams. They are the model for the Pirates.

  • Liriano for J. Profar especially if Garza leaves and they miss on Price! Re-sign AJ to a 1 year deal and go after Josh Johnson. They can bridge the gap until Taillon, Kingham, Glasnow, Cumpton, and McPherson are ready. And you have you star SS of the future ready and you can move Hanson to 2nd base!

  • You either believe that the Searage turnaround method is the secret sauce….or you don’t.

    If you do, then you can’t really argue that Searage can do it with some new guy, but you also think that Liriano is a risk for reversion. How would you view it as LESS risky to assume Searage fixes a new reclamation project vs. tweaking a Liriano who is already under the umbrella?

    Liriano went through the “method”, and would still be pitching within the same system and method in 2014. if you buy the Searage angle, then you can’t be focusing your concerns on Liriano’s ‘track record’ prior to coming under Searage’s tutelage.

    IOW, it’s a little illogical to use both premises to justify the argument to trade Liriano – that Searage turned him around and can do it with others, but that Liriano is somehow now at risk of failing in 2014…..while still working under Searage.

    Obviously, anyone can revert, it’s just that the premise of the argument in favor of a Liriano-replacement over Liriano-himself doesn’t necessarily make sense, and the clearer risk is obviously that the next guy – whoever that is – does NOT have a year like Frankie’s 2013, or project to have one like his 2014 projects to be (at least at this early stage).

    I guess AJ’s a good example – bad in 2011, comes here and is better in 2012. And is better in 2013. If we had stayed in the running in 2012, I certainly would not have wanted to have traded AJ using the same logic and not had his 2013. Not sure why the exact same risk-evaluation wouldn’t be applied to Liriano.

    Once you stop worrying so much about his risk of failure (based on his ‘track record’), even though he remains under Searage’s umbrella, which you think can fix most things, then you lose the justification for trading him.

    I’m a Rays-believer as well, but this isn’t the below-Pirates-payroll Rays dumping the soon-to-be-making $15 million David Price, with the 7 digits playing a bigger role in their thinking there. This is the Pirates keeping an arguably elite pitcher for half that, in a year where the starting rotation remains unstable, in transition and trying to stay in contention.

    Good to put everything on the table, but trading Liriano is the first thing I take off the table, if it hasn’t been already.

    • JG, some good logic in your argument, but this line is a little misleading:

      “Once you stop worrying so much about his risk of failure (based on his ‘track record’), even though he remains under Searage’s umbrella, which you think can fix most things, then you lose the justification for trading him.”

      Why not still trade him thinking the next reclamation project could come close to what Frankie did and you still get a top level prospect or 2? The justification is getting good prospects for someone they’re going to lose to free agency. Of course you have to weigh the good prospects against the compensation pick they’ll get when he walks + the (hopefully) good year they’ll get from him in 2014.

      • I hear ya, but as Tim points out, this is a 50/50 kind of proposition at best, built on a bunch of positives and negative, upsides and downsides, that you have to factor in.

        One big part of the Liriano-downside argument – one big thing that makes you more comfortable that you can risk letting him go – is this feeling that he’s at risk of a big regression in 2014.

        It’s fine if you think that’s possible – it is – but you can’t also believe that Searage is capable of grabbing anyone off the scrap-heap and turn it into a Comeback Player/near-Cy-Young season, while believing that he CAN’T somehow more easily prevent Liriano from simply sliding backwards.

        I totally get the one-shot to sell ultra-high for prospects – I’m a Rays aficionado, too – you just can’t use the Searge argument in one scenario and not the other, that’s all.

        If you just wanna sell-high, then just call it that – but don’t let yourself get clouded by an assumption that the guy you saw pitch this year, the guy with a 3.02 ERA BUT ALSO the 2.92 FIP and 3.12 xFIP, is somehow making you translate that into 2014 failure.

        And, remember, you have a team that now needs to stay in contention in 2014, and you better be pretty confident that some unknown reclamation puts up near-Cy numbers to keep you in the same conversations. It’s just a safer bet that Liriano does that in 2014, IMO.

        • I think you are correct pointing out the multifactorial nature of this trade, (or any proposed trade.) The sole argument for the trade is sell high on a player who the team does not control long term. The accompany reasons are weak; you highlight the illogic of regressing back to replacement level and as far as injury risk, I do not think Liriano is at a significantly higher risk for injury compared to baseline injury rates.

          The lack of control limits Liriano’s value, also resigning Burnett to substitute for a traded Liriano, comes with a opportunity cost of $6 million, a free agent market win. (This assumes Burnett’s salary is at QO level.) In addition there is the QO for Liriano in 2014. (Assumes he is worth an offer and Pirates offer it.)

          As Tim addressed the Pirates have depth at starting pitching and a Liriano trade may be a way to address other roster concerns. However, I think the associated costs mean the Pirates will need to find a GM who will overpay for pitching and with really short time horizons.

    • I don’t know if this comment was to me, or others above who worried about Liriano’s risk.

      My worry with Liriano is more about his track record with injuries. I think the Pirates system will allow him to be a good pitcher if they keep him and he stays healthy.

  • Seems we already know that if AJ doesn’t retire, he’ll be back next year per yesterday’s interview with 93.7

    As mentioned above, my personal belief is that it’s riskier to keep Liriano and assume he’ll repeat last year’s performance. Undoubtedly, other teams will have the same concern, but that didn’t stop the Blue Jays from giving up a haul for Dickey under similar circumstances.

    My ideal scenario is to obtain Profar and lock down SS for the next 6 years. Most definitely a long shot, but I can envision the Rangers becoming desperate if Garza leaves, they miss out on Price, and other chips fall in our favor.

    Using the Shields and Dickey trades as a baseline, it doesn’t seem that far stretched. Hell, if we need to throw in a B- prospect and/or a bullpen arm, I’d still be all for it.

    At this point, pitchers on the rebound WANT to come to Pittsburgh due to the magic of Searage & Co. If we resign AJ and then someone like Josh Johnson and Roberto Hernandez, then there will be plenty of arms…no different than entering training camp last year.

    It comes down to what a team like the Rays would do. And they’d definitely trade Liriano at his peak value.

  • Re: Trading Liriano…the guy hasn’t put two back to back seasons together, so there’s that.

    HOWEVER, if you DO trade him, the return better be good. If it is a Bay-like return, it could doom the goodwill NH has built up.

    If ONLY we had a crystal ball…lol

  • As pointed out there are so many factors but to deal Liriano in the offseason would require the Pirates get great deal. The rotation is so unsettled at this time I dont see how Huntington could consider such a trade until he gets some answers. No way we can count on Locke, Rodriguez. Hopefully we will know about AJ real soon. Also, Pirates could consider extending Liriano if he pitches well at the beginning of the season. Especially since if AJ pitches it will likely be his last.
    Its going to be an interesting offseason but I do think generally the Pirates need to follow the Rays approach but this team core deserves another chance to make a run next season.

  • The Pirates willingness to deal Liriano would seem to undermine his value. If a contender is looking to trade a pitcher that is signed to a very reasonable contract, then wouldn’t that raise a red flag?

    He doesn’t have the consistent track record of guys like Shields, Price, or even Dickey. So trade him if you doubt he can come close to repeating his success this season, but don’t expect a return of anything like what the Rays or Mets got.

    In fact, I think Morton might bring a bigger return for the same reasons we want to keep him…(tomorrow’s column?)

    • Dickey posted ONE good year – Liriano has been more consistent than that

      • What? Dickey was consistently very good from 2010-2012. For example, his ERA’s were 2.84, 3.28, and 2.73 in those three years, with bWAR’s of 3.6, 3.6, and 5.8 (Liriano had a 3.0 bWAR this year). He also pitched more than 200 innings in each of those years (in 2010 60 of those innings came in the minors). And his success tracked with the development of his knuckleball so there was reason to expect he could maintain his success even given his age.

    • You definitely predicted the topic of tomorrow’s (tonight’s) First Pitch. It’s about Morton.

  • I’m in the same boat as jamminjoe. I think the pirates need to take a look at many factors before jumping to the deal. If Burnett resigns, I think pirates become more open minded about trading Frankie. If they are able to sign josh Johnson, I say go for it. We would have Burnett, cole, Morton, Locke. Even though his success may not carry out, Cumpton looked good in AAA and in the majors, Gomez pitched well for a 5. If pirates can get a top 25-50 prospect I say go for it but it needs to be an infielder. Preferable short or 1st. I wouldn’t even mind seeing a top 3rd base prospect and moving alvarez although that is unlikely to happen.

  • While it would not be a final determining factor for me I think a move like that could hurt a little in the long term when it comes to bringing in free agents. The Pirates are not a team that can overpay so much of the time they’ll be tie-breaking factors for free agents. Guys sign a two year deal and know if they perform they’re just getting traded next off-season.

    Signing free agents is not how the Pirates are going to maintain a winning team but as we have seen mid level free agents willing to do two or three year deals will probably always be needed to fill gaps. If you gain that perception it may hurt you down the road. I have a feeling it has hurt Miami a great deal.

    • This hasn’t hurt the Rays – these are professional baseball players we’re talking about. They understand it’s a business.

    • Interesting point Hunter, one I hadn’t considered before. But Russell Martin isn’t getting traded this off season. It’s not like every FA that does well will be traded. And if the Bucs make this kind of deal, they’ll need fewer FAs because they’ll have more prospect depth. I think the reward outweighs the risk of possibly getting a reputation for churning and burning.

  • I think there is MORE risk in keeping Liriano than there is in trading him. Based on track record. The people who don’t like this idea are gambling that Liriano has a terrific season in 2014 and leads the staff back to the playoffs. That’s a huge gamble. The safe bet is to trade him for corner powerbat or SS package, then find a few reclamation projects and assume at least one of them pans out. The odds are much better for the latter rather than the former and you would likely have control of the players received longer than the single year that Liriano is still in Pittsburgh. What a waste of an opportunity to keep him on the roster if there is a wil myers, or Shields type offer to be had. Its a no brainer to do it. Not just for now but for the long term.

    • What SS package do you suppose is out there to be had for one year of Liriano? What corner power bat for that matter? More than likely what we’re disagreeing about here is what kind of package we can actually get for a guy who is at risk of dropping off a cliff. The narrative surrounding Price is, “here’s a star pitcher and a cheap team woman’s afford his escalating salary and wants to salvage something while they can.” Many of you seem to be expecting to generate the same reaction by putting Liriano on the market. But in my opinion we won’t. Instead the narrative will be, “heh, Pirates trying to cash in their lottery ticket after catching lightning in a bottle before he goes belly-up again.”

  • 1. Sign AJ for 1 year
    2. Sign Johnson for 2 years
    3. Trade Frankie for Trumbo
    4. Move Wilson to rotation

    • Trumbo? No way!

    • They can get Trumbo for a lot less than Frankie. But you’re on the right track – the Angels need pitching and are willing to give up hitters to get it.

      • I don’t think they could, actually. Trumbo’s controlled for 3 more years of arb, with a likely surplus value over that time of about $15 mil.

        Liriano is only controlled for next year, with a surplus value of whatever you think he will put up in WAR (maybe 3 like this year, about $15 mil in total value) LESS his salary of $6 to $8 mil, pending incentives.

        So Trumbo should actually cost more than Liriano; at best they might give up Trumbo’s surplus value and go straight up because of the specific needs you stated.

  • AlvarezRiverBall
    October 22, 2013 8:14 am

    Liriano, Garret Jones and Vin Mazzaro to the Tigers for Nick Castellanos and Drew Smyly.

    • ARB : what would ever make you think the Tigers would give up a hitting prospect like Castellanos for a return like that ?

      • See RA Dickey trade for a top 25 hitting prospect and top 50 pitching prospect – Castellanos is a fringe top 50 prospect at this point – that’s why.

      • Yea I’m fairly certain they’d take that in a heartbeat (but there’s no reason for Jones to be in that trade).

    • They have to much pitching as it is. And why would they want Jones when they cut boesch last year.

    • The Tigers’ need for starting pitching, I.e. slim/none, probably doesn’t equate to ditching their #1 prospect, which makes this a non-starter.

      What the Tigers need is REAL bullpen help – not Mazzaro, think, like, Melancon/Grilli/Wilson/Watson

  • Obvious candidates for a possible fleecing are the Astros, Mariners and Twins – all have incredibly deep farm systems and pitching needs. But maybe a better target would be the Orioles and Henry Urrutia.

    • If you come up with a way to fleece Jeff Luhnow for prospects let me know. Those are all rebuilding clubs, whom would be unlikely to make a deal for Liriano. The only rebuilding clubs possibly susceptible to that would be Miami and whatever you consider KC and Toronto to be.

      • I agree with you. I don’t see a team in the process of rebuilding trading for a guy with a one year deal. It would have to be a team that sees itself as being one starting pitcher short of a contender. So good trading partners would probably be one of the top-10 teams in baseball with a logjam somewhere in the infield (including pitchers). They’ll have the desire to make a deal and the short-sighted approach that leads to dealing prospects away.

  • Definitely tempting to trade him. I’d just want to be sure guys like McPherson, Irwin, etc were ready to be the 6th/7th guys and that they could sign a guy like Josh Johnson or that Justin Wilson could start or that Burnett doesnt retire or that a good ML ready SP comes back in a trade of Liriano.

    I like the idea. I’d just want to make sure there was already enough depth to afford losing Burnett and Liriano. Plus seeing if Locke continues the suckage. Too many question marks right now. but by december or so, i could be right on board.

    • Plus, i’d say the Royals did pretty well in the Shields trade. They just made it a year too early.

      • It was a year too early? So it was a wasted trade then, right? After next year, the Royals won’t have Shields and the Rays will still have Myers. I take that deal all day if I’m Tampa. No wonder the Royals have sucked for so long.

  • Why are people convinced that Liriano has the ability to be the pitcher he was this year again? Not just next year, but to assume that Liriano would want to stay after 2014, if he did put up similar numbers is insanity. If he comes back next year to put up an ERA around 3.00, he’ll want to cash in, simply because of age. He would be an idiot to turn down more money somewhere else, especially after playing for a discount this year and next. Then when you factor in his career record of; cy young candidate, #4 starter, cy young candidate, replacement level player, is it worthwhile to risk that? I think it would be silly not to field offers. There are 29 other teams, I’m sure one of them is desperate enough and has the right prospects.


    • WTBWD is likely NOT trade a pitcher whose value is $15-$20 million a year (3-4 WAR IN 2014, full season) while paying him $6-$8 million for that one more year. I don’t think, anyway.

      What the Rays DID do was sell-high on the much more sellable commodity of James Shields (6 prior yrs avergaing 3.5 WAR/yr) with 2 years left where they would have to pay him $9 and $12 million.

      And what they’re about to do is sell-high to a rabid David Price (4 prior yrs averaging 4.5 WAR/yr) market, while HE has two years of arb left, and before they have to pay him $15 and then $20 million in those two years.

      Those dollar amounts, those remaining terms, and those two particular commodities don’t really have much to do with what folks may be thinking is the return on trading Liriano right now. Not saying we wouldn’t get something interesting, but we need to not talk about it in the same context of WWTBD.

      • But that’s the point. If he pitches as well next year, he provides an immense amount of value. It’s less of a risk because of the contract and more upside. If he were being paid more, there would be more risk assumed by the team trading for him. I think this would make him much more attractive on the trade market. How many other pitchers will be available this offseason with his upside and small paycheck?

  • The reclamation reputation has legs but is not infallible. If it were, they would have reclaimed JMac and Jonathan Sanchez.

    Maybe Karstens?

    • JMac isn’t really a reclamation project. He was a guy who had good numbers, then saw things fall apart. That could have been due to his injury, or it could have been other reasons. Either way, he doesn’t fit the profile, since he’s a fly ball pitcher.

      Sanchez is a perfect example of how this can go wrong. His issue is that he wasn’t open to coaching or adjusting his game. That’s step two in the plan, and it worked for Liriano and Burnett. Although they weren’t really relying on Sanchez for the rotation. Over the off-season, the plan was to have Burnett, Wandy, JMac, Locke, and eventually Liriano and Morton. Sanchez, and Karstens, were signed for depth.

      That’s the big difference. There is risk with the system, but those guys don’t represent that risk. JMac was already on the team, and not a guy signed specifically with the system in mind. Sanchez and Karstens were signed to small deals for depth. Combined they made about $4 M, and neither was expected to play a major role in the rotation. On the other hand, Burnett and Liriano were added on bigger deals the previous two years, and were brought in specifically to be a main starter in the rotation.

  • Too many unsettled issues to make a decision on this. Our Top 3 beginning 2013 were AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and the hope that Francisco Liriano would make a strong comeback. Locke was a gamble, Morton was a gamble that would not be ready until June or later, Cole was iffy at best, JMAC was a hope, etc. If we sign AJ Burnett, then the table is set for almost anything. I hope for improvement in 2014 from Morton, Cole, and Locke, and a hope that Wandy can come back strong. That means we could have a set Rotation with Jameson Taillon a strong possibility in June 2014.

    It is not often the other GM’s will want to know where NH is staying or who he is having lunch with, but you can bet that by the Meetings in December, NH will be a very popular individual – let’s hear what others think about Liriano – if the offer is good enough, he is expendable, but not available for the looky-loo’s who just want to kick the tires. Who is the 1B we would want?

    • I feel like they’re already in the same situation this year. Cole and Morton are the new Burnett and Wandy. They could add a new Liriano. Locke is the new JMac. Then there would be plenty of options for the fifth spot if Wandy isn’t healthy. And if Burnett returns, that makes it even better.

      People didn’t like the rotation last off-season. I liked it then, and I think the rotation could be fine if they went with the “trade Liriano and look for the next Liriano” route.

      • Hey the rays figure it out why can’t nh. I say go for it.

      • Tim, I have great faith in the Pirates’ ability to identify, sign, and develop reclamation projects, misfit toys, etc. But if each season Huntington can just go out and sign (or acquire for nothing) the next Liriano, then the Pirates don’t need to make any trades. Ever. They will have solved the pitching problem. Here’s an alternative: Keep Liriano, sign Liriano II, sign Liriano III, and follow them in the rotation with Cole and Morton/ Taillon : the Bucs can walk away with the division.

        • Pretty solid point actually- if we are that good to scout and sign those players, then we keep Liriano since he isn’t making that much, let Burnett go, and sign two more Liriano’s in his place. In this scenario, we have no need to take the risk at all. Unfortunately our scouting with position players as reclamations is downright disasterous. I can’t recall a single success story there as I don’t see Russell Martin fitting into that category since offensively he was the same and defensively although he was way better, he was never struggling at before

      • This idea that the Pirates can just resuscitate the career of any pitcher is preposterous. They’ve done well with this, but Jonathan Sanchez, Erik Bedard, and Scott Olsen prove that it isn’t a slam dunk. It is ok to fill in the back of a rotation this way. But if you are pencilling in rehab projects to be front of the rotation pitchers you can’t really call yourself a contender.

  • I would keep Liriano. We really need a left-handed starter (especially against the Reds) and who knows if Wandy will be healthy or if Locke will return to the All Star form he showed earlier in the year.

    We can always trade him at the deadline if we are out of contention.

    • Trading him at the deadline would be folly, since you would unlikely get back much more than the value of the compensation pick you were already promised by keeping him, unless some team is dumb enough to give a Garza load again

  • It would be extremely unpopular to make such a move. But then again, NH has never shied away from such a move. It would definitely depend on the return as well as correlating moves. If this sort of move were to be made, I would love to see a corner power bat as well as a power arm or two.

  • The rays would do it. David Price. Let’s do it sell high. I mean love Franky but I wouldn’t be upset with the returns the rays got last year and will get. Plus Garza this year

    • Gotta remember on the Rays comparison – what Price will cost the Rays next year in arb is twice what Liriano will cost the Bucs (for what looked like better performance than Price in 2013).

      And what Price will bring back to the Rays in a trade will be exponentially more than Liriano would bring the Pirates – that’s just how enamored the market is of David Price, at 28, with two years of arbitration left. That market won’t get nearly as excited, trust me, over 1 year of Liriano at 30, right or wrong.

      It’s the COMBINATION of those two realities that have the Rays shopping Price – but it’s nowhere near an apples-to-apples comparison with the Bucs shopping Liriano.

  • With his track record it is definitely something to ponder. But the rotation isn’t as deep as people think. No idea with Aj, wandy health, Frankie consistency, Locke is nothing more than a fifth starter and Charlie can go either way. Not sure if you can trade your best pitcher from the previous season especially with the circumstances in Pittsburgh even if it may be better in the long run.

    • It’s not an upsetting article. It’s worth thinking through. But I’m not persuaded. If the Bucs trade him over the winter, they don’t have much of a chance to make the playoffs in 2014— unless they get a major league ready, stud pitcher in return. That would take some damn good scouting on the Pirates’ part. Is Liriano likely to regress? The Bucs seem to think that he has figured something out—as you say Tim, it isn’t luck. If Liriano repeats 2013 in 2014, the Pirates have a shot at the playoffs. If he does pitch well in 2014, is he really likely to leave? If the Pirates are going to be competitive over the next five years, they will need lots of front line pitching. Here’s a number two sitting in Neal Huntington’s lap: surely Neal will make a competitive offer. Will Liriano be open to such an offer? What makes you think that he wants to pitch somewhere else? Friendly park, friendly league, friendly management.

  • This is a quality thought, Tim. How much would I like to see a guy like Addison Russell or Corey Seager along with another solid piece come into the system.