Liriano close to joining Pirates rotation

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The Pirates are poised to add a veteran pitcher to their rotation as the team and left-hander Francisco Liriano are close to agreement on a two-year contract, according to sources.

The deal, first reported by LaVelle Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is shy of $13 million and likely will not become official until after Christmas as most of the league is on vacation for the holiday. Liriano has to pass a physical before any deal is finalized.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Liriano, 29, spent most of his career with the Minnesota Twins, where he was an All-Star and finished third in rookie of the year voting in 2006. He adds depth to a rotation that includes A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald.

The Pirates were in search of a veteran pitcher since three pitchers who started the 2011 season in the rotation -- Erik Bedard, Kevin Correia and Jeff Karstens -- are no longer with the team. The Pirates released Bedard in August, let Correia leave in free agency -- he signed with the Twins -- and non-tendered Karstens, though general manager Neal Huntington has expressed a desire to bring Karstens back.

Liriano is 53-54 in his career with a 4.40 ERA. A strikeout pitcher, he possesses a potent fastball and a nasty slider.

When he is locating his pitches, he is a dominant pitcher, but he has struggled with his command in recent years. His strikeout-to-walk ratio decreased from 3.47 in 2010 to 1.49 in 2011 and 1.92 in 2012. He finished with an ERA above 5.00 in three of the past four seasons.

He received Cy Young votes in 2010, when he went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA with the Twins.

Liriano allowed an average of five walks or more per nine innings the past two seasons.

But his strikeout rate has held steady and his potential made him a popular free agent among teams in search of left-handed pitching. After trading him in July, the Twins sought to bring him back.

And some advance metrics -- which seek to isolate a pitcher's performance from defensive problems -- suggest he is a better pitcher than raw numbers indicate.

Before facing Liriano, then with Minnesota, in June, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, "he's fighting his way back. He has the history of being an elite pitcher in the league."

He spent part the 2012 season in the bullpen before rejoining the Twins' rotation. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox midway through the season. He went 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA between the two teams.

Once they officially add Liriano, the Pirates will have one spot left in the 2013 rotation, which could be filled by Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Andrew Oliver or Zach Stewart. The Pirates also could add another starter by trade or free agency.

The pending move also gives the Pirates flexibility as they shop for a trade partner for closer Joel Hanrahan. That deal likely would address needs at other positions.

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino.


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