Friday, February 8, 2013

Liriano In The Fold Finally

Well, it took a couple of months, but lefty Francisco Liriano, 29, finally inked a deal with the Pirates. The timing is about right; we figured he would take his physical sometime around the pitcher's reporting date, which is Monday. The deal will require a corresponding move on the 40-man roster, which was full. (EDIT - Kristy Robinson reported that Vin Mazzaro was outrighted to Indy.)

The Bucs had a lot of young guys penciled in to battle for the last spot or two, but with The Cisco Kid, Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Karstens all recently in the fold, it'll make for an interesting spring. A little depth is a good thing, and this is about as deep as the Pirate starting staff has been, even if question marks abound.

As for Liriano, from what we've heard, his contract is still for two years, but with performance markers he has to reach this season to protect the Pirates if his arm ends up being a major issue. (EDIT - the Bucs announced that it's a one-year deal that includes a vesting option for 2014. $1M is guaranteed, but the entire $12.75M can be reached).  He's still a big if until he's mended and ready to fire.

His signing gives the Bucs a lot of options. Assuming he'll not be ready to go at the opening bell, the FO could stick to Plan A, with JK holding down the four spot and Jeff Locke duking it out with Kyle McPherson for the fifth spot.

But they can go a couple of directions:  Karstens could get bumped to the pen (and that's not etched in stone; Vin Mazzaro is a mini-Karstens). Then Locke, McPherson, and Sanchez can go after two open slots (with the caveat that all three can be safely sent to Indy in 2013) along with Jeanmar Gomez, who is out of options, as a darkhorse.

And whatever configuration breaks camp will likely be temporary - both Liriano and Charlie Morton will be back sometime during the season, and it's widely believed that this is the year Gerrit Cole joins in the PNC fun.

The jam will filter through the upper levels - Cole, Justin Wilson (if he doesn't become the bullpen's second lefty, which we think is unlikely), Andy Oliver and Phil Irwin will be starting at Indy with whoever loses out in Bradenton, with some nice young arms behind them at Altoona, led by Jameson Taillon. The Buc position youngsters may be a few steps away, but the pitching prospects are in the MLB pipeline.

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