First Pitch: Decision Day For Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano has a decision to make. He can reject his qualifying offer, enter the open market and try to get a three or four-year deal with a lot more guaranteed money, but risk his draft pick compensation hurting his market. Or, he can accept his qualifying offer, receive $15.3 M for one year, hope that his 2015 season goes just as well as the 2013 and 2014 seasons, and try again next year for a big contract.

I’ve said that I think he would be wise to reject the offer and go for a multi-year deal. The risk against this is that he could be seen as inconsistent, and even more expensive than he should be due to the draft pick compensation. However, that didn’t stop Ubaldo Jimenez from receiving a four-year, $50 M deal last year, despite the fact that he has also been inconsistent, was coming off his first good year in five seasons, and also had the qualifying offer attached. Matt Garza and Ricky Nolasco didn’t have draft pick compensation to worry about, but Nolasco has been inconsistent, and Garza has been injury prone. Both receive four-year deals in the $48-50 M range.

I don’t know if Liriano would receive four years, due to his injury history. But I think he could receive three years. FanGraphs has him at three years and $36 M in their crowdsourcing project, which is about what I’d expect him to receive as an average annual value on a multi-year deal.

Here’s where the situation gets complicated. The market has some good pitchers, with Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields all available. That doesn’t mean there won’t be money or a team for Liriano. But it might mean that Liriano has to wait until those guys have set the market before he can sign. That’s what Brandon McCarthy appears to be doing, according to Jon Heyman.

There are benefits to waiting. If a team misses out on one of those three pitchers, then that could raise the price for the second tier guys, and Liriano would be a prime member of that group. But there are also a lot of second tier guys, with McCarthy being one of them. So there’s no guarantee that a big payday would be there for Liriano.

I think the payday should be there. Over the last two seasons, Liriano has ranked 22nd in xFIP out of 136 pitchers with 200+ innings. He ranked ahead of Jon Lester and James Shields, and slightly behind Brandon McCarthy and Max Scherzer. The difference is that the big three each pitched over 430 innings in those two years. Liriano pitched 323 innings, and McCarthy was at 335. Liriano is great when he’s healthy, but health hasn’t been guaranteed.

The decision for Liriano is a choice between a guaranteed amount and potentially leaving money on the table, or taking on the unknown in an attempt to get the most guaranteed money, with the risk that the market doesn’t work out in his favor. I think he’d be better off with the multi-year deal, although I could see either path working for him. If he takes the one-year deal, and has another good season in 2015, then he’s sure to get a big offer next year, when he would be coming off three good years in a row. In that scenario, he’d be getting a lot more guaranteed money taking that risk than he could make this year.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the pitching market plays out this off-season, especially with Liriano. The first step is today’s decision over the qualifying offer.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2015 Prospect Guide

**Russell Martin Will Reject His Qualifying Offer

**Francisco Liriano Still Deciding Whether to Accept Pirates Qualifying Offer

**Winter Leagues: Stolmy Pimentel Gets Hit Around in the Dominican

**AFL: Joely Rodriguez Continues Impressive Fall Campaign

**Pirates Claim Infielder Jake Elmore

**Russell Martin Meets With the Cubs, Talking to Four Teams

**Gomez, Axford, and d’Arnaud Headline the List of Pirates 2014 Minor League Free Agents

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Somebody will sign him, I think he would be crazy to accept the QO.


Any realistic chance he goes for door 3 and signs multi year in pittsburgh?


I wouldn’t be surprised Josh. Remember, he hasn’t made a ton of money in his career. Two years ago he signed a relative mercy contract with the Pirates after his career had floundered for years. If he took the QO he would be overpaid IMHO but he wouldn’t have any security in case he was injured or regressed. I think he might stay in Pgh, where he has had his greatest success, for $32M/3years. If he does I sign him in a minute, if not, no regrets, adios.


Wouldn’t you say Liriano had his “greatest success” in Minnesota? As in, his absurdly good 2006 or his outstanding 2010 as a Twin? Liriano posted a 2.38 xFIP with 10.71 strikeouts per 9 innings and very few walks or HR in 121 innings in 2006… that amounts to being essentially unhittable. In 2010, Liriano posted 5.8 WAR with a 2.95 xFIP as a Twin. I don’t see anything he has done in Pittsburgh that even approaches that level of awesomeness. Liriano only posted 1.6 WAR in 2014, which is pretty good but far from great.
If Liriano wants to return to the place where he had the most success, then Minneapolis would be that place. Wouldn’t it?


good points but I don/’t agree. 06 was his rookie year with 120 innings and by far his best peripheral numbers but since then he’s mixed 3 seasons with ERAs over 5 and he pitched 76 innings between 07 and 08. Before signing here he had two years of absolutely awful stuff. Nope, 2013 -2014 is, by FAR the best stretch of his career.


It would have to be for a slight discount because the Pirates would be throwing away the comp pick.

If it comes down to two pitchers who are both pretty good… say… Liriano and McCarthy… the pirates would be better off going with McCarthy because they’d get the draft pick if they let liriano go.

I could see it happening if attractive options go off the market and he is still unsigned. It just wouldn’t be operating at max efficiency, which isn’t a very Huntington thing to do.


Agreed. The Bucs should stay away from Liriano at least until next spring. If they sign him, they will lose a first round pick (well, a draft pick between the 1st and 2nd rounds). The Bucs could sign Masterson, McCarthy or Brett Anderson and get roughly equivalent value without losing a high-end draft pick. If Liriano is still on the market in June, the Bucs could sign him then.

S Brooks

Just want to make sure there’s no confusion here – the Pirates do not lose a pick by re-signing Liriano. The only way they lose a pick is by signing another team’s QO pitcher.

What hey would lose is the opportunity to receive an extra pick should another team sign Frankie.


I don’t know what waiting till June would accomplish. I just think that they’d be wise to wait until every other pitcher who they actually want is gone before going into long term negotiations with Liriano. Not getting the comp pick isn’t the end of the world, but it should be avoided for as long as possible.


Will be interesting to see what happens.

Of course, there is a downside for these guys to waiting. Sometimes, if you wait too long trying to see what the market is, it can become like musical chairs where the music stops playing, and you’re left without a team!

Especially for guys with QO’s attached.

I’m most interested to see if Lester gets a better deal/more interest strictly by not having a QO hanging around his neck.

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