The Pirates have reportedly agreed to sign starting pitcher Francisco Liriano to a two-year, $14 million deal.
The Bucs needed to do something about their rotation, with only A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald more-or-less certain to win jobs. The Pirates could have addressed that problem by, say, trading Joel Hanrahan for Chris Capuano (a move they might still make) or signing someone like Joe Blanton (who ended up getting a similar contract). They also could have kept Jeff Karstens, who's injury-prone but would have been cheaper. Those kinds of moves would have represented the path of least resistance for general manager Neal Huntington, who's on the hot seat after the Pirates' spectacular collapse last season. That he went another direction speaks well of him.
It's not usually easy for the Pirates to acquire someone with Liriano's upside on the free-agent market. Liriano is only 29; he was six wins above replacement in 2010; and he has (intermittently) excellent stuff for a lefty. Lyle Overbay, he is not.
Unfortunately, Liriano also has serious problems with his control, walking five-plus batters per nine innings in each of the last two seasons. His velocity comes and goes, and he's incredibly inconsistent. It's easy to imagine scenarios in which he plays a big role in Neal Huntington being fired. If Liriano starts the year like he did 2012 (in which he made six poor starts, then got booted from that rotation), and the rest of the Pirates don't charge hard out of the gate, the calls for Huntington's head will go from loud to downright deafening.
Huntington, to his credit, has never seemed to care much about that sort of thing. This is the right kind of move for the Pirates, a move that, if it works, could turn a 78-win team into an 82-win team. If it doesn't work, the Bucs will hopefully be able to turn to Kyle McPherson and Gerrit Cole at midseason. Pitchers with Liriano's upside don't grow on trees, and Huntington and the Pirates did well to take a risk on him and hope for genuine improvement.