The Pittsburgh Pirates signed plenty of veteran players to minor league deals this past off-season. A couple of those are really working out.
Every off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the rest of Major League Baseball sign players to Minor League contracts. Often the deals are followed up with “World Series here we come!” or “that’s the missing piece!”. While those quotes often are humorous and meant satirically – those signings usually do not turn into anything – the Bucs have found two of their most valuable pieces this year through minor league deals.
One of the veterans the Pittsburgh Pirates signed on a minor league deal is Francisco Liriano. Liriano has quietly been one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball this season. Before the season, many did not know what to expect with the former starting pitcher. After a rough Spring Training, one that saw a lot of walks and in general command issues from Liriano, he looks like he’s back to his former nasty self.
So far, Liriano has thrown in 21 games as has accumulated 22.1 innings pitched. allowing only two runs, which is good for a 0.81 ERA. Also, he has struck out a lot of batters, sitting down 28 batters giving him 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Liriano’s command still has remained somewhat suspect, 4.0 walks per nine innings, but his peripherals are good as well, with 2.55 FIP and a 46.2 percent groundball rate.
The other player that is having a lot of success on a minor league contract is Melky Cabrera. The journeyman Cabrera has always been a solid hitter in this league, but with him starting to get older, slow down, and be below average in the field, not many teams thought he would still be a productive player.
The switch-hitting outfielder has gotten plenty of playing time due to all the injuries the Bucs have had this season. He has really produced in his opportunities and currently leads the team in batting average. The 2012 National League Batting Champion is batting a team-high .341 along with an on-base percentage of .380. He also has a 129 wRC+ and has only struck out 11 percent of the time.
While minor league deals are often overlooked in Spring Training, they often can help a team build solid depth. The Bucs often get criticized for their moves during the off-season due to them being cheap, as they should. However, Neal Huntington and the organization should be given props for having two of the best minor league signings of the off season.