A lot has been made about the Pittsburgh Pirates signing long-time Twins starter Francisco Liriano to a two-year, $12.75 million deal. Over at WHYGAVS, our own Pat Lackey thinks the deal is a gamble, but one worth taking with a potential huge payoff. The Pirates are also in the midst of trading closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox as part of a six player deal that would net them four players, though only two (Stolmy Pimental and Jerry Sands) are currently known, with the potential movement of Mark Melancon also up in the air.
Of course, we can't really analyze the Hanrahan deal until all the names are known. But after re-signing Jason Grilli to a two-year, $6.75 million deal, there wasn't any need for the Pirates to keep Hanrahan and pay him that much just for 2013. It's not as if Hanrahan is some sort of stud closer (which you'd assume based on his All-Star berths and high save total). Last year, he struck out 67 and walked 36 in 59 2/3 innings while allowing eight homers. He's 31, a free agent in a year, and is coming off of a year where his walk rate was over five, his strand rate was a hair under 90%, he allowed just a .225 BABIP, and his groundball rate was under 40%. He's not worth the $6.9 million or so he'd be due in arbitration, and for a budget-conscious club like the Pirates, they shouldn't be paying a closer that sort of money for one season.
While the initial return for Hanrahan seems underwhelming, Melancon (assuming he's in the deal) still has one year of pre-arbitration control left, anc actually did a pretty good job over the rest of the 2012 season in Boston after a disastrous April (as Pat eloquently explained at WHYGAVS). Pimental's stock may have taken a hit over the last two years, but he'll be just 23 for the 2013 season, and you can't totally punt on him after his improvements in 2012 with a full season at AA. As for Sands, he's nothing special. But then again, neither was Garrett Jones, and he's been productive in Pittsburgh for the last three seasons. I'm not saying that Sands to Jones is a fair comparison at all, but Sands has legit power that could eventually click in the majors. Or maybe not, but hey, it's not as if he's a sure thing.
Now, the Liriano signing. He's getting $12.75 million over two years. Kevin Correia, who was a Pirate in 2012, got $10 million over two years. Liriano struck out 78 more batters and walked 41 more than Correia in 14 1/3 fewer innings, while also throwing a fastball that sat nearly three miles per hour faster than Correia's. Liriano also will be pitching half of his home games in a park that heavily supresses homers for the first time in the past couple of seasons in PNC Park.
The Pirates have changed their mindset towards pitching over the last two saesons, going with more high risk/high reward type of pitchers as opposed to the lower ceiling/safer bet type of players. AJ Burnett was an unquestioned success (for just $13 million total over 2012 and 2013) after the Pirates acquired him from the Yankees last winter, and Erik Bedard started the season off well before hitting a brick wall in June and getting released before September. It's a huge departure from recent seasons, when Pittsburgh trotted out players like Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Correia, Ian Snell, and Jeff Karstens in their rotation.
Pittsburgh's rotation for the 2013 season will look something like Burnett-Wandy Rodriguez-Liriano-James McDonald, with one of a rotating cast of others filling the fifth spot. While that's not an elite staff, it's not nearly as awful as what the team has been putting on the field in recent seasons. And really, Burnett, Liriano, and Rodriguez are reallyh just serving as placeholders until the Pirates young pitching (highlighted by Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Luis Heredia) is major league ready. The team clearly has a plan in place, and instead of just punting on Andrew McCutchen's prime years and waiting for the prospects to be ready, they're actually trying to field a competitive team over the next couple of seasons. I can't fault them for that, especially when the extent of their crazy spending is a total of $37 million over the next two seasons for a closer, a catcher, and a starting pitcher. Things could be much worse for this organization right now, and while the Pirates might not be contenders next season, they're not exactly a 90 loss team either.