The Pittsburgh Pirates made the right moves today. They not only extended a qualifying offer to Russell Martin, but also made the same offer to Francisco Liriano. Both players will have a week to accept or decline their offers. If they decline and sign elsewhere, then the Pirates would get two draft picks as compensation. If they both accept, the Pirates would see their current payroll expand by $30.6 M.
I think there’s zero chance that Martin accepts. He’s looking at a multi-year deal that will probably end up around $15 M per season. There would be no reason for him to accept a one year deal at the same rate. As for Liriano, I think he will decline the offer as well. But that doesn’t seem to be the consensus opinion. The narrative today was that Liriano was one of three players who could accept an offer, with the other two being David Robertson of the Yankees and Michael Cuddyer of the Rockies.
In Liriano’s case, the argument is that he would make more per year with the qualifying offer, and that his inconsistent play might prevent him from getting a multi-year deal on the open market, especially when a draft pick is attached. I disagree with both angles. Liriano might get more per year with a qualifying offer, but it’s all about guaranteed money. If he can get $35-40 M guaranteed over three years, then I think he’ll take that. This is where the inconsistent play enters the equation. There is no guarantee that Liriano gets another big offer next year. This might be his one shot at a long-term payday. And based on what pitchers received last year, I don’t think the qualifying offer will prevent Liriano from getting paid.
But let’s play along with this and think about what would happen to the Pirates if Liriano accepts the offer. Martin isn’t going to be accepting his offer, which means the Pirates are left with two scenarios.
What Happens If the Pirates Bring Back Martin?
I don’t think Liriano accepting a qualifying offer would prevent the Pirates from pursuing Martin. If they actually could sign him, I think it would cost around $15 M per year. This means that Liriano and Martin would take the current payroll projection to around $95 M, although I’d expect $4-5 M to come off that figure if the team trades one of Pedro Alvarez or Ike Davis. I don’t know what the overall budget would be, but the Pirates would almost certainly need one more pitcher. They might have to be limited to a cheap reclamation project with a high upside in this case.
What Happens if Martin Signs Elsewhere?
Travis Sawchik had an interesting idea if Martin signs elsewhere: go with all defense behind the plate and use the extra money to upgrade the offense at first base. If Liriano accepted the qualifying offer, that would put the projected payroll around $80 M. A second defensive catcher to pair with Chris Stewart (Travis suggests David Ross) would probably cost $1 M. If the Pirates upgraded at first base, they could probably part with Pedro Alvarez, Ike Davis, and Gaby Sanchez. That would reduce the payroll by a projected $12.6 M, taking it down to about $68.5 M.
This gives plenty of room to not only add a free agent first baseman like Adam LaRoche, but also to add a quality starting pitcher or a top reclamation project to pair with Liriano and fill the final opening in the rotation.
My Preferred Scenario
I think the Pirates would be better off if Liriano declined the offer and signed elsewhere. They’ve shown a good ability to find quality starting pitching for well below market rate, and Liriano is just one example of that. If Liriano declines, then they’ve got a lot of money to go after Martin, plus money to add a few reclamation starters and a first baseman.
I’m assuming Martin still costs $15 M here, which puts the payroll at $80 M. Then you’d subtract the $12.6 M for the current first base options, and add $10 M for someone like LaRoche. That puts the payroll at around $77.5 M. This would give them plenty of room to add two quality reclamation projects, such as Justin Masterson and Brandon Morrow.
In other words, for the price of Liriano, they could potentially have the next two Liriano’s.
We’re a week away from finding out what will happen with Liriano and Martin. MLB free agency began at midnight, but things won’t really kick off until the qualifying offer situations are determined.
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