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

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Help Wanted: Pirates Catcher

Since they declined Rod Barajas’ $3.5 million option for 2013, the Pirates are now in need of a catcher to go along with Michael McKenry. Rob Biertempfel of the Trib wrote about how the Bucs are in the market for both a catcher and starting pitcher. The five catchers listed as possible targets are Gerald Laird, A.J. Pierzynski, Yorvit Torrealba, Kelly Shoppach, and Humberto Quintero; here are their resumes:

A few of these players are listed on Yahoo’s Ultimate Free-Agent Tracker. It notes that “Pierzynski is not going to hit 27 home runs again, and he’ll go back to what he was: a low-on-base guy whose propensity not to walk borders on historic. In Pierzynski’s 12 seasons with at least 400 plate appearances, not once has he exceeded 30 walks.Shoppachcalls a decent game” and “can hit home runs.” All it says for Laird is “this is where it starts to get bad” which signals a significant drop off in talented catchers.

Pierzynski’s inability to get on base is a red flag, and he certainly isn’t getting any younger. He’ll probably get a pretty decent salary despite his age. MLB Trade Rumors predicted that A.J. will go to the Texas Rangers.

Shoppach is an interesting case. He only hit .233 in 2012 but can put up some decent power. A major problem for the Pirates last season was throwing out runners; Shoppach threw out 33% in 2012 (compared to Barajas’ 6%). Plus he’s never made more than $3 million in his career and could come on the cheap at age 33. Mets blog Rising Apple points out that Shoppach is “the one free-agent that has a good chance at returning to Flushing in 2013.” Mets GM Sandy Alderson will seek outside help at catcher but could re-sign Shoppach if he can’t find an upgrade.

According to Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski, Gerald Laird is looking for more playing time and more salary than the Tigers can offer. Laird wasn’t tremendous at throwing out runners, as he caught just 10 of 52 (19%). For comparison, Michael McKenry threw out 13 of 74 (18%). He doesn’t hit for much power and is a career .244 hitter.

Torrealba’s 2012 season seems very similar to Barajas’ 2011 before he came to the Pirates:
Barajas 2011 – age 35, $3.25 million salary, .230 avg, .717 OPS, 25% CS
Torrealba 2012 – age 33, $3.25 million salary, .227 avg, .623 OPS, 22% CS
…so he seems like Rod Barajas 2.0

Quintero is pretty much the same deal at .232 avg and an abysmal .523 OPS, along with 35% CS (17 out of 49), so he’s not a very attractive candidate either.

It seems that Neal Huntington may be open to dealing Joel Hanrahan for a major league-ready catcher. Hammer may not be affordable at this point, and the market for closers is ridiculous. Many believe that closer is an overrated position and that they can be easily replaced. With that logic, it makes sense to deal Hanrahan, as long as the Pirates can get a solid return.

The market for catchers, both free agency and trade, is really slim, but the Bucs are in need of an upgrade. Tony Sanchez doesn’t seem quite ready at Triple-A and the rest of the farm system is lacking. These free agent targets aren’t intriguing, but Neal Huntington & Co. need to make something happen. It will be interesting to see how they approach the catching situation this offseason.

Three months later

Shortly after Drew Sutton lifted the Bucs to an exhilarating victory over the Astros, Dejan Kovacevic wrote how “these aren’t Jerry Meals’ Pirates.” The date was July 3rd, and the Buccos were flying high. The 8-7 win pushed them to eight games over .500 for the first time in 20 years. Kovacevic wrote, “This team is touching peaks not seen in two decades, touching hearts that long ago gave up on baseball in these parts. It doesn’t deserve the digging up of negatives. It’s been too good, too resilient.”

Three months have come and gone since that special July night, as we sit here on October 3rd. The Pirates season is over; another disappointing summer in the books. A 20th consecutive losing season became official on Sunday afternoon as the Bucs squandered a late lead; a recurring theme in the second half. Much has changed over the last three months. They’ve been too bad; it’s time to dig up some negatives.

DK started right off the bat by saying, “This team is about James McDonald‘s cool, not another Jerry Meals collapse.” That’s the same James McDonald who showed zero cool in the second half, and saw his ERA climb from 2.37 to 4.21. J-Mac was so awful that he deserved a demotion to the bullpen. He made just one appearance out of the ‘pen, in which he allowed three runs without recording an out. He was a vital piece to yet another Jerry Meals collapse, as the Pirates dropped 37 of their final 54 games.

Next, “It’s about Drew Sutton, a minor-league journeyman twice disposed this year alone, crushing a hanging slider to walk off a hero. His eyes would well up later when he described “one of those baseball moments” that makes all the 14-hour bus rides worth it.” Sutton was disposed yet again, just weeks after his dramatic home run. Side note (totally unrelated to baseball talent) - Sutton was notorious for searching his own name on Twitter and oddly responding to fans:

He also enjoyed deleting such tweets, and eventually deleted his Twitter as a whole. Anyway, Sutton was canned after showing just a flash of success (much like his other two MLB stints of 2012). He went back to his 14-hour bus rides, before an injury ended his season.

Also, Dejan mentions, “It’s about the pitching, the sharpest and deepest we’ve seen since Doug Drabek,  John Smiley, Zane Smith, Randy Tomlin and Bob Walk in 1991. All to Neal  Huntington’s credit.” The pitching declined at the end of the year, just as it did in 2011. The sharp and deep staff – both the rotation and bullpen – took a serious hit in the second half, which caused major problems. The rotation was anchored by A.J. Burnett (more on him in a bit) and James McDonald (see above) during the first half, as well as lights out bullpen work from Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli. The ‘pen, which was one of the best in the league early on, saw some struggles during the latter portion of the year; even Grilli and Hanrahan had frustrating times on the hill. In addition, Neal Huntington – who was credited for piecing together a fine staff – is now unpopular among many fans. However, his job is seen as safe.

Kovacevic states, “It’s about A.J. Burnett, the pitcher and the person. If not for that 12-run  beating he absorbed May 2 to help spare the bullpen, his ERA would be 2.46, even  with this hiccup.” To Huntington’s credit, the A.J. Burnett trade was a steal of a deal. Still, Burnett couldn’t be perfect all year. He won just three games in 12 starts since the beginning of August. Although wins aren’t the best measure of a pitcher’s performance, A.J. wasn’t quite as dominant as he was in the first half.

Furthermore, “It’s about Clint Hurdle’s gem of a quote before the game about why Burnett has  taken to Pittsburgh: “He’s loved now. Norm used to like it when he walked into  Cheers, too.” Later, Dejan pens, “It’s about their boss. It’s Hurdle casually saying stuff like, “Our goal is to  re-bond this team with this city.” And meaning it.” Hurdle, who appeared to be the answer for the franchise, isn’t loved quite as much anymore. A man who was focused on re-bonding a city with their baseball team has failed at doing so (thus far). He wanted nothing more than his team to “finish” this season, but they’ve been far from it. From bunts to misusing his bullpen to all-around mis-managing, Hurdle infuriated the fan base on multiple occasions. What it boils down to is that he’s led the team to two straight collapses. While not all blame can be placed on one person – and it certainly shouldn’t be all on Hurdle – he’s certainly a focal point. He can provide gems of quotes, but is he still the man for the job? To put it in perspective, Hurdle has managed 10 MLB seasons; nine of those have been of the losing variety.

DK writes, “It’s about Andrew McCutchen, the team’s MVP and, as of those three hits  Tuesday, the National League leader with a .360 average… Those chants don’t seem far-fetched.” Cutch’s average peaked at .374, but slipped, slipped, and slipped some more with an abysmal August. He finished the month with a .252/.347/.346 triple-slash and just six extra-base hits. McCutchen’s power came back in September, but his average still in the .260′s for the month.  Don’t take it the wrong way - a .327 avg with 31 HR and 96 RBI is still an unreal season. But the team went as Cutch went; a pretty solid start, a phenomenal stretch, a disappointing finish. Those MVP chants soon died down.

Finally, the article describes,

 “…this 2012 season might end up having pivoted off a single pitch. You know which one. Eight days ago in Philadelphia. Brad Lincoln vs. Jim  Thome. The Pirates’ big lead was down to 8-7 in the seventh, two men on, two  outs, 0-2 count. The Same Old Pirates crumble there, sadly, meekly. But Lincoln reared back  and rifled 95-mph heat through Thome’s huge cut. It’s about that pitch. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” Lincoln said Tuesday. “But I know it was a big  moment. That’s why I got really emotional.”Yeah, there was that, too. Lincoln gestured slightly into a flexing pose  toward Thome, one he still insists “wasn’t aimed at him.” The two had a brief  staredown.”You know, we should really be past that,” Lincoln said. “Look at us. We  pitch, we play defense, we’re hitting now. We’re here, man. We’re not going  away.” Not this time.”

You know the script. Brad Lincoln, the pitcher who pivoted the season with one pitch, was dealt just weeks later. Yinzers believe it’s the worst trade in history because Lincoln’s having a good year and Snider is unproven. Sabermetricians and stat geeks think it’s a potential high-reward situation for the Pirates.

Regardless, it WAS the same old Pirates that prevailed. We pitch? 4.50+ ERA down the stretch. We hit? .229 team batting average in September. We field? Hmm… remember the seven errors in ONE GAME against the Cubs? Yikes. It’s crazy to reflect on the changes that occurred over the past three months. Down the stretch, it seemed like a completely different team than the one that stood waiting at home plate for Drew Sutton on July 3rd.

“‘We’re not going away.’ Not this time.” Well, they went away. They didn’t step up when it mattered most. Another embarrassing display of Pittsburgh baseball. Sad, really. And now they’re going away for real. The season’s over; no more Pirates baseball in 2012. PNC Park will sit still for six months. The stress and agony of being a Bucs fans can be pushed aside for a while. Hopefully next year will be different – less Jerry Meals talk, no 19 inning games – and maybe even a winning season (oh, please, don’t let the streak hit 21). But until then, it’s going to be a looong winter.

HOKA HEY – 179 days until Opening Day.

Pirates will not make personnel changes

According to Dejan Kovacevic, the Pirates will not make any changes to their baseball operations staff. In the midst of another second half collapse and a fight towards a 20th consecutive losing season, front office jobs appear to be safe. This includes general manager Neal Huntington and assistant general managers Kyle Stark and Greg Smith.

Here’s the full text of team president Frank Coonelly’s statement regarding the matter:

For the second consecutive year, we put ourselves in an excellent position to meet our objective of winning our division but did not play nearly well enough during the last two months of the season to accomplish it.  Our fans are understandably disappointed and frustrated, as is every individual in the organization.

As soon as we finish this season as well as we possibly can, we will turn our full and total attention to evaluating why were unable to finish the job and what we must do differently to take the next step to becoming a championship team.  There will unquestionably be changes made to the way in which we operate as a result of this thorough critical self-evaluation, but we will not be making personnel changes at the very top of our baseball operations department.   Neal, Kyle, Greg and Clint are dedicated and intelligent baseball men in whom I have great confidence.

Confidence in and support of Neal, Kyle and Greg should not be misunderstood with acceptance of another poor finish at the Major League level.  We must understand why the quality of our execution and play deteriorated so markedly in August.  Finishing was the focus from spring training but it certainly was not achieved.

In a word: unbelievable. Huntington seemed to be as good as gone with the team’s current slide, but apparently that’s not the case. It’s been five years of failed signings and questionable draft picks for NH. Stark was thrown into the spotlight last week when his unusual training methods were publicized (HOKA HEY!), but he’ll be sticking around, too.

This organization is a mess. Bottom line is that the team is still losing, and these guys at the top of the organization aren’t doing much to prove they can assemble a championship-caliber team. As long as Huntington & Co. stick around, how can the fans have faith in the franchise? If the Pirates are winning in July again next season, will anyone have confidence that they can finish? Speaking of “finish”, wasn’t that their motto for this season? Yikes.

Fifth trade deadline for Huntington will be an important one

With the MLB trade deadline just 15 days away, plenty of rumors are flying around about what the Pirates will do. Starting pitching and a corner outfielder are looking like the most realistic targets at the moment. This season will mark the fifth trade deadline for Neal Huntington as general manager of the Bucs. Here’s a look at the moves from his first four trade deadlines:

2008 – Mode: Sellers

7/26/08 – Acquired Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Ross Ohlendorf, and Jose Tabata from the Yankees in exchange for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.

7/31/08 – (Three-team deal) Acquired Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris from the Los Angeles Dodgers; Acquired Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss from the Boston Red Sox; Sent Jason Bay to the Boston Red Sox.

2009 – Mode: Sellers

7/22/09 – Sent Adam LaRoche to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland.

7/29/09 – Traded Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to Seattle for Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Aaron Pribanic, Brett Lorin, and Nathan Adcock.

7/30/09 – Sent Freddy Sanchez to San Francisco in exchange for Tim Alderson… Acquired Jose Ascanio, Kevin Hart, and Josh Harrison from the Chicago Cubs for John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny.

2010 – Mode: Sellers

7/31/10 – Traded Bobby Crosby, Ryan Church, and D.J. Carrasco to Arizona for Chris Snyder, Pedro Ciriaco, and cash… Acquired James McDonald and Andrew Lambo from Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Octavio Dotel… Sent Javier Lopez to the Giants for John Bowker and Joe Martinez.

2011 – Mode: Buyers

7/31/11 – Acquired Derrek Lee from Baltimore in exchange for Aaron Baker… Acquired Ryan Ludwick from San Diego for a player to be named later.

2012 – Mode: Buyers

???

Huntington has done his share of selling in his time as GM, but he’s quickly transformed the team into buyers. He made some moves of fan-favorites, including Jason Bay, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, and Nate McLouth (in June of 2009). He improved the club with some trades, but few players have remained from these deadline deals. The notable players to make contributions for the 2012 team are James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Josh Harrison, and Jose Tabata. The McDonald-for-Dotel trade has been a huge steal for the Pirates; J-Mac is enjoying a breakout season while Dotel, now with the Tigers, pitched just 18.2 innings in LA.

Last season was the first season since 1997 that the Pirates entered the deadline as buyers. Former GM Cam Bonifay acquired shortstop Shawon Dunston for a PTBNL to bolster the “Freak Show” team of ’97. The 2011 deadline didn’t help much at all for the Bucs. Derrek Lee hit .337 with seven home runs in 28 games, but had no interest in Pittsburgh and didn’t want to come back for 2012. Ryan Ludwick provided nearly nothing, as he batted just .232 with two homers in 38 games. Despite the brutal second half and 19th consecutive losing season, it was refreshing to see the Pirates buying at the deadline after selling for so many years.

There are tons of rumors out there right now and no one knows what Huntington and his staff will do. It’s clear that they aren’t willing to part with Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon, but those are the two prospects that all teams are interested in. Starling Marte is the next best prospect, and could be a piece of a deal; the Justin Upton trade rumor was centered around him. Furthermore, Marte sat out of Indy’s game on Sunday, and there was a ton of speculation that a deal was in the works.

Whether it’s a pitcher or hitter, many people are expecting a big time move that will help them push towards the postseason. It could be a crazy and stressful two weeks for Pirates fans, so buckle up.

Go Bucs