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PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pirates wanted to keep Francisco Liriano at the top end of their rotation so badly they offered the left-handed pitcher the most lucrative free agent contract in team history.
General manager Neal Huntington thinks the fact Liriano agreed to a $39 million, three-year deal so quickly serves as proof that the Pirates have established themselves as a legitimate threat in the NL Central.
"It speaks to the culture we've created," Huntington said. "It speaks to the man in Francisco. He enjoyed being a Pirate. He's comfortable. He wants to compete and win. I think it speaks volumes about (manager) Clint Hurdle, (pitching coach) Ray Searage, our strength and medical staff and his teammates, the guys we've put around him."
The finalized the agreement Friday, three days after reaching the deal at the winter meetings. Liriano went 23-18 with a 3.20 ERA for Pittsburgh in 2013 and 2014, helping the franchise reach consecutive playoff berths for the first time in over 20 years.
Liriano declined a $15.3 million qualifying offer last month, and the Pirates would have received a compensatory draft pick if Liriano had signed elsewhere. While Huntington allowed it was a good idea to protect the team, he doesn't think the pick scared off would-be suitors.
"We did not get any indication that the qualifying offer was impacting his market or impacting his interest," Huntington said. "We valued it in the process but we valued Francisco more."
Liriano will work at the top end of a rotation that includes Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett, who re-signed with Pittsburgh last month after spending 2014 in Philadelphia. Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton and Vance Worley will also be in the mix at some point for a starting spot. The Pirates do not appear to be serious suitors for Edinson Volquez, who went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA in Pittsburgh last year.
"It's one of those things we'll never stop looking, but if the season were to start today, we have more than five guys we feel comfortable starting games," Huntington said.
Particularly if Liriano continues his career revival. Signed as a flier two years ago, Liriano has found a home in Pittsburgh. He was vital to the team's run to a wild card berth in 2014, shaking off a strained oblique to go 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA in September.
"He was lights out," Huntington said.
Pittsburgh also agreed to a one-year contract with 31-year-old right-hander Radhames Liz, who was 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA in 12 starts for Toronto's Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo this year and is 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA in five starts with Estrellas de Oriente in the Dominican Winter League. To clear a roster spot, right-hander Josh Lindblom was designated for assignment.
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