Washington Nationals: Francisco Liriano a worthwhile risk

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Francisco Liriano
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Francisco Liriano /

The Washington Nationals have a need for a fifth starting pitcher and a long reliever. Free agent Francisco Liriano is capable of filling either role.

As things currently stand, the Washington Nationals boast one of the league’s best pitching staffs. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg lead the way in the rotation, while Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler highlight the relieving corps.

However, the Nats’ pitching depth is a bit lackluster at the moment. They do not have a bonafide long reliever in the bullpen, and the fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs. While neither of these necessarily need to be addressed this off-season, it would be nice to address at least one of the two.

In order to do so, the Nats should consider signing Francisco Liriano. The 34-year-old left-hander is coming off of a bit of a down year, but there is reason to believe he could return to form in 2018.

Liriano began 2017 with the Toronto Blue Jays, but was traded to the Houston Astros at the mid-season trade deadline. He was better with the Astros, but his season as a whole was unspectacular. In 38 games (18 starts), he pitched to a 5.66 ERA.

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While an ERA above five never looks good, Liriano was hurt by poor defense, especially in Toronto. According to FanGraphs, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) was 4.64, over a point lower than his ERA.

Liriano also finished the season strong, pitching to a 1.59 ERA in September and a 3.86 ERA throughout the postseason. He even recorded two scoreless appearances in the World Series, baseball’s biggest stage.

If Liriano signed with the Nats, his versatility could prove to be an enormous asset. The Nats did not have a bonafide long reliever in 2017, so Matt Grace was forced to fill the role at times. Grace did an admirable job, but he is not cut out to be a long reliever, which caused him to fatigue and struggle at times. The Nats still do not have a long reliever, so Liriano could fill the role in 2018.

Liriano could also fill the fifth spot in the rotation. While the Nats could let A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde, and Tommy Milone compete for the role in Spring Training, Liriano could be thrown into the mix as well.

While Liriano could fill either role, he is better suited for the long reliever role. He was much more successful out of the bullpen in 2017, and the Nats have a bigger need for a long reliever. However, he could join the rotation in case of an injury, which is bound to happen at some point throughout the season.

Finally, there is reason to believe that Liriano could return to form in 2018. 2017 was not his best season, but he has followed poor seasons with great seasons in the past. In fact, he has won the Comeback Player of the Year Award twice.

The Nats’ pitching staff is mostly set, but there is a little work to be done to put the finishing touches on it. The most notable needs are a fifth starter and a long reliever, and Liriano could fill either role.

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Signing Liriano would be a bit of a risk, but he is worth it.