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.

Bucs Bits: Pirates News and Notes 11/7/12

Bob Nutting (right) announced yesterday that the front office will stay intact despite recent criticism. Click HERE to see a video interview with him from WTAE (they disabled embedding of the video so it cannot be placed here).

– The Pirates signed outfielder Darren Ford and infielder Jared Goedert to minor league deals. Ford, 27, has hit .268 in 771 minor league games. Goedert, also 27 years of age, hit .311 for the Double-A Akron Aeros and Triple-A Columbus Clippers last season.

– Michael McKenry will be at the PNC Park Team Store tomorrow from 4:00 to 5:00 pm for a “Social Media Meet & Greet.” The first 50 guests will receive PirateFest tickets!

– Jeremy Guthrie, one of the Pirates’ starting pitching targets, is apparently seeking a 3 year, $34 million contract.

– Willie Stargell’s commemorative stamp (below) was a top-seller.