Ranking the best free agent pitching targets

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2. Francisco Liriano

Aug 25, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher

Francisco Liriano

(47) delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Francisco Liriano is a textbook risk/reward option. The pitcher with a career 4.07 ERA terrifies me with the depths he can sink to… but enthralls me with his upside. In nine big league seasons, the 30-year old starter has finished four of them with an ERA over five. After exploding onto the scene in 2006 with the Twins as a 23-year old posting an incredible 2.00 ERA to go with a 1.00 WHIP and a superhuman 144 strikeouts in 121 innings, sadly the young prodigy saw his season derailed by the dreaded (and now all too common) Tommy John surgery. He would miss the entire 2007 season rehabbing.

He returned in 2008 but was a different player and after scuffling through a rough first month he was demoted to continue his return to form in the Minors. He was recalled in August to dominant results; the following year, however, in his first full season since his TJ surgery his ERA ballooned to 5.80. The next five years became a roller coaster ride, going up and down (his ERA mostly went up), until he was given a chance by the Pirates last year. Finally, Liriano resembled the ace he was as a 23-year old, and his elbow woes seemed to finally have been put behind him.

Over the last two seasons, he has coped with injuries, but they have not slowed him down. He has almost certainly pitched his way out of the Pirates pay grade, and will seek a more expansive payroll this winter. If he pitches like this, I like him as much as Lester or Scherzer, but I can’t see him getting more than a few years. He uses four pitches, which is good enough versatility for a front line starter, the best among them is a strikeout slider with lethal efficacy. If it were not for a few lingering durability concerns, he would be my choice of an ace to acquire and although it is a pipe dream, I still hold out hope the Red Sox can find room for both Liriano and the final name on my list.