Francisco Liriano had a handful of offers during free agency that were basically the same. Teams wanted him to come to spring training on a minor league contract.
Realizing he was not getting a major league deal, he returned to the team where he had his best run during his 13-year career. The 35-year-old left-hander agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Feb. 4, one week before spring training.
In a three seasons between 2013 and 2015, Liriano was a combined 35-25 with a 3.26 ERA in 86 starts. He was the winning pitcher in the 2013 NL wild-card game — the Pirates’ first postseason appearance since 1992 — when he limited Cincinnati to one run in seven innings.
“To be honest, that’s one of the best games I remember,” Liriano said before pitchers and catchers worked out Friday. “I have a lot of good memories in Pittsburgh. Hopefully, it will continue this year, too. Hopefully, we can make the playoffs. You never know. You’ve got to go out there and play and give it everything you have.”
Liriano didn’t have much to offer the Detroit Tigers last season, going 5-12 with a 4.58 ERA in 27 games, all but one a start. He believes reuniting with manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage can help get him back on track.
“The coaches here know me and saw me when I was at my best,” Liriano said.
Liriano might have a different role if he makes the team. The Pirates need left-handed relief help, and he profiles as a potential bullpen option.
Liriano can still handle left-handed batters, limiting them to a .170 batting average and .516 OPS in 98 plate appearances last season. Opponents also batted just .221 with a .635 OPS against Liriano the first time through the order.
The Pirates haven’t ruled out Liriano as a starter. But four of the five spots are already accounted for and there are already three others who will compete for the No. 5 job — lefty Steven Brault and right-handers Nick Kingham and Jordan Lyles.
If added to the 40-man roster, Liriano would have a $1.8 million salary while in the major leagues and $150,000 while in the minors. He could earn up to $1.5 million in performance bonuses based on a points system in which he would get one point for an appearance of less than two innings or an appearance without a game finished, two for an appearance of at least two innings or a game finished and three for an appearance of three points for an appearance of four innings or more, two for an appearance of at least four innings.
He would get $125,000 each for 30 and 35 points, $150,000 apiece for 40, 45, 50, 55, 60 and 65, and $175,000 each for 70 and 75.
“I think I can do both starting and relieving, as far as spring training,” Liriano said. “We’ll see how they want me to pitch and talk to them. I’m willing to do both. Whatever it takes.”
The Pirates traded Liriano to the Toronto Blue Jays during the 2016 season after he struggled to a 6-11 record and 5.41 ERA in 21 starts. Now Pittsburgh might beckon again.
“Baseball is crazy,” he said. “You never know.”