Francisco Liriano Injury Jeopardizes the Pittsburgh Pirates' 2013 Rotation

Andrew Kaufman@akaufman23Senior Analyst IJanuary 9, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 7:  Starting pitcher Francisco Liriano #58 of the Chicago White Sox walks up the mound during the sixth inning against the Kansas City Royals at U.S. Cellular Field on September 7, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

News today involving a potential injury to Francisco Liriano, which could result in the Pittsburgh Pirates deciding not to finalize his contract offer, represents a potentially large setback for the Bucs.

Not only would an injury to Liriano negate one of the Pirates' key offseason acquisitions, but the timing of the injury gives the Bucs limited strategic flexibility.

When the Pirates agreed to terms with Liriano, several pitchers remained available who would command a similar salary. Liriano arguably possessed the highest upside among pitchers remaining on the market, and it seems like the Pirates focused on him pretty early on in free agency.

Yet they no longer have the option of going back and pursuing those players who have now signed with other teams, even if they have Liriano's money to spend all over again.

Indeed, the Pirates also cannot ask for Joel Hanrahan back from the Red Sox. There is a clear case to be made for the Bucs making the trade even without the salary savings gained from dealing Hanrahan, but using that saved money to sign Liriano was an additional coup that may now never be realized.

Of course, given the lack of details surrounding Liriano's injury, there is still a decent chance he will be in Pittsburgh next year. All we really know is that the injury primarily affects his non-throwing arm, which in and of itself is a good fact. It also appears that the Pirates have not ruled out signing Liriano despite the injury.

So it is a bit early to identify potential "Liriano replacements," though it's worth noting that the longer this situation drags on, the less options there will be available to the Bucs if they choose to go in another direction.

It is not comforting to hear Neal Huntington talk about how happy the Pirates are with their internal rotation options when discussing Liriano.

Liriano may still end up in Pittsburgh, and this incident may very well be forgotten altogether. But the Pirates appeared to enter the offseason with a pretty specific strategy, and at the moment, a large wrench has been thrown into their plans.