Heyman: Liriano is the best free agent pickup of 2013

Nice article here by Jon Heyman on CBS Sports, ranking the 33 best free agent acquisitions of last offseason.

mlb best free agents

A few familiar names are included in Heyman’s work, with the Bucs’ southpaw Francisco Liriano taking the top spot. Here are the Buccos that made the list:

1. Liriano

[quote_simple]Heyman: “With the exception of a couple rare bad outings, Liriano has been as good as almost any starter in the NL, going 16-7 with a 2.92 and showing the great promise showed early in his Twins career. One of many smart moves by Pirates GM Neal Huntington.”[/quote_simple]

Obviously, with a little bit of Bucco bias, I absolutley agree with this. Liriano has tremendously exceeded many expectations and is a huge reason why the Pirates are in contention right now. Who knows where they’d be if Frank the Tank posted an ERA around 5.00 like in years past. Furthermore, Neal Huntington and the front office deserves a ton of credit here. Not just with Liriano, but also a couple other guys they locked up…

13. Russell Martin

[quote_simple]Heyman: “It’s still a mystery why the Yankees didn’t take him back, but the Pirates were happy to capitalize. Never mind the offense, which isn’t bad for a catcher, he leads the N.L. in fielding percentage (two errors), leads also with 28 caught stealing and is third in catcher ERA (3.15).”[/quote_simple]

Martin is one of those guys, and the Bucs got him on a nice two-year deal. Some fans have labeled him as the MVP of the team – a pretty bizarre comment considering there’s a league MVP candidate sitting across the clubhouse. However, the improvement the team made from having a terrible catcher to a great catcher has indeed been very, very valuable.

14. Jason Grilli

[quote_simple]Heyman: “Grilli was brilliant in the first half, saving 30 of 31 chances before an arm injury sidelined him. He’s back to help the Pirates’ stunningly good pen. A testament to why it’s better to have a professional agent, as Grilli’s two-year, $6.75-million deal, negotiated by former teammate Gary Sheffield, might be in line for a set-up man but did not account at all for the excellent closer he was to start the year.”[/quote_simple]

Grilli’s remarkable story is one of the best in baseball, and besides sitting out for over a month due to an arm injury, he’s been a key leader in the Shark Tank. If he hadn’t gotten hurt, it would’ve been cool to see how many saves Grilli could’ve racked up.

As I previously mentioned, Huntington & Co. deserve a ton of credit here. Management has been bashed for years, but they took some great gambles this winter. A lot of Pirates fans including myself were skeptical of all three of these moves. Liriano, coming off a bad year and nearly not signing due to the injury saga, seemed like a hit-or-miss pickup. After spending the beginning of his career in Los Angeles and then in New York, the fact that Martin quickly chose Pittsburgh seemed too good to be true. Finally, Grilli was becoming a fan-favorite here in the setup role, but the thought of trading Joel Hanrahan and letting 36-year-old and first-time closer Grilled Cheese anchor the bullpen seemed questionable. But NH followed through and shipped Hanny to Boston, bringing in another huge addition to this team’s bullpen, Mark Melancon. Excellent work by a management team that seemed to be on the hot seat after last year’s collapse.

Anyway, here are a few other players of interest on Heyman’s list:

10. Marlon Byrd, Mets

[quote_simple]Heyman: “His career appeared over until he went to the Mexican League and starred, giving him one final chance. Made the most of it with a breakout year out of nowhere at age 35. His .515 slugging percentage is a career best, by far.”[/quote_simple]

Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson deserves credit for this one, bringing Byrd to New York over the winter. Of course the right fielder is a Pirate now after being flipped two solid prospects: Dilson Herrera and Vic Black. The Mets did pretty well for themselves.

19. Lyle Overbay, Yankees

[quote_simple]Heyman: “He was an afterthought for the Yankees who only made the team when they decided after a three-day tryout that he’d be safer at first base than outfielder Juan Rivera. An amazingly pleasant surprise with the bat, though.”[/quote_simple]

Overbay, who hit .227 with a .649 OPS in 103 games for the Bucs in 2011, has been decent for injury-ridden Yankees team this year.

20. Nate McLouth, Orioles

[quote_simple]Heyman: “He’s become a vital part of the Orioles after struggling in Atlanta and then again in his second go-round with Pittsburgh. Well worth that price.”[/quote_simple]

Nate came back to Pittsburgh to start the 2012 season, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out. Good to see him find some success in Baltimore.

32. Jose Veras, Astros

[quote_simple]Heyman: “He provided solid closing work for the last-place Astros before doing the same in the middle for the Tigers.”[/quote_simple]

The final former Buc on the list is reliever Jose Veras. We remember him as a bullpen arm with lots of ups and downs (hence the Good Veras/Bad Veras jokes on Twitter). He’s done well for both Houston and Detroit in 2013.

Is Gaby Sanchez on the trade market?

A quiet bit of speculation fled the internet on Friday afternoon when Joel Sherman of the New York Post wondered if the Pirates and Yankees had the appropriate pieces to make a trade. Sherman made it clear that, “This is totally my speculation. In other words, I am not hearing this from anyone.” He went on to say that Garrett Jones or Gaby Sanchez would be “a good fit for the Yankees,” since they lost Mark Teixeira to a wrist injury.

Jon Heyman followed with this tweet late Friday:

All of this could be pure speculation, but it makes limited sense from the Pirates standpoint. Gaby has hit well in spring ball (.294/.375/.706 including 4 HR) and looks poised to bounce back from a rough 2012. He appears to be healthy, and could be a good bargain at $1.75 million. Garrett Jones may not be a Pirate beyond this season, whereas Sanchez still has years of control.

Jerry Sands and Clint Robinson were optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis, and the club doesn’t have much other help beyond Sanchez at first base. G.I. Jones still struggles against left-handed pitching; just two of his 27 home runs were off southpaws in 2012. Some sort of platoon seems reasonable, and either player provides a strong bat for late-game pinch-hitting. The Bucs could have a pretty solid duo between Jones and Sanchez.

Pitching is a possible reason why the Bucs could be shopping him. Francisco Liriano and Jeff Karstens are battling health issues, and the bullpen is still up in the air as well. A healthy Sanchez could be intriguing to a team like the Yankees. Sherman suggested a hurler such as David Aardsma to give the Pirates some experience. Aardsma, 31, is a seven-year MLB veteran who has posted a 4.22 ERA and a solid 9.1 K/9 in his career.

Sanchez could be valuable to the team this year (as we stated here and here). If we were the Bucs, we wouldn’t part ways with Sanchez. However, that is not for us to decide; if there is a move that improves this ballclub, Neal Huntington should probably pull the trigger.

Pirates searching for catching help


Peter Gammons mentioned on Twitter yesterday that the Bucs are among the teams looking for experienced catchers; Jon Heyman added this morning that they could be interested in Ramon Hernandez.

The Bucs seem to be set with Russell Martin and Michael McKenry behind the plate this season. Hernandez, who turns 37 in May and will earn $3.2 million this season, doesn’t seem like a necessary acquisition. The key word in Heyman’s tweet is “could” be interested; it was probably more of a follow-up to Gammons’ tweet, and Hernandez is an experienced catcher that is available.

The club could be looking for some minor league catching depth, although Tony Sanchez should be getting plenty of playing time for Indianapolis. A.J. Burnett and others have been pleased with Sanchez’s play this spring.

Tom Singer praised minor league catcher Carlos Paulino again on Saturday, mentioning that he could pass McKenry on the depth chart. That’s a pretty ridiculous statement considering Paulino is 23, hasn’t played above Single-A, and hasn’t hit much in the minors. Singer noted a few days ago that the Pirates like Paulino’s arm, going on to say that he could be the “top midseason callup candidate.” We don’t believe that just yet; we wrote a bit about this yesterday.

With just two weeks left in spring training, final cuts will be made around the league and the Bucs could snag a catcher off waivers or via trade. It’ll be interesting to see what other moves the Pirates make between now and Opening Day.

Photo: Keith Allison/Creative Commons

Pirates agree to terms with Francisco Liriano

The Pirates finally addressed their anemic starting rotation by signing lefty Francisco Liriano to a two-year deal. It was first reported to be a $14 million contract, although Jon Heyman suggests it’s around $13 million. Liriano joins A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and James McDonald in the starting rotation. The fifth spot is still up for grabs.

In his career, he is 53-54 with a 4.40 ERA. He possessed a 5.34 ERA in 34 games with the Twins and White Sox last season. The 29 year old Dominican Republic native is fairly inconsistent and struggles with his control at times. However, Liriano threw a no-hitter in 2011 and struck out 15 batters in one game in 2012, so he definitely has potential for bright spots.

Although it’s a bit expensive for a risky, back-of-the-rotation starter, we think this signing is a good gamble to take. Liriano should benefit as a lefty with the spacious left field at PNC, plus he still has some upside at age 29.

ESPN breaks down the deal:

Here are some links pertaining to the Francisco Liriano signing:

– Dave Cameron of FanGraphs looks at Liriano and the “slow death of ERA.”

Bucs Dugout‘s Charlie Wilmoth discusses how this deal speaks well of Neal Huntington.

– Rich from This is Getting Old thinks the money should have been spent elsewhere.

– Rumbunter weighs in on the situation.

– Twins blog Puckett’s Pond thinks the signing is worth the risk for the Pirates since they have a few strong pitchers coming up through the system.

Go Bucs