The Pirates have announced that left-hander Francisco Liriano and outfielder Melky Cabrera will be on the team’s 25-man roster for Opening Day. (MLB.com’s Adam Berry was among those to report the news.) Since both players are in camp on minor league contracts, the Bucs will still need to make some room on their 40-man roster. Only one more spot will need to be created, as Edgar Santana is already headed for the 60-day injured list after undergoing Tommy John surgery last September.
The news means that Liriano will officially make his return to the Pirates, after previously pitching for the club from 2013-16. Liriano will become the primary left-handed option in the Pittsburgh bullpen, with closer Felipe Vazquez currently the only other southpaw projected by Roster Resource for the 25-man roster. Steven Brault is the only other lefty on the 40-man roster, so Liriano clearly had opportunity to win himself a job.
Liriano has primarily worked as a starter throughout his 13 years in the big leagues, and it’s possible he could still be some action as an emergency starter or long man for Pittsburgh this year. At the moment, however, the 35-year-old looks to be primarily used against left-handed hitters, as Lirano has continued to excel against same-sided hitters in recent years even as his effectiveness against right-handed batters has declined. In 2017, Liriano worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the Astros after a deadline trade from the Blue Jays, and Liriano served as a solid bullpen piece down the stretch and during Houston’s World Series run.
With Gregory Polanco sidelined for the first part of the season, the Bucs were in need of extra outfield depth beyond starting center fielder Starling Marte and left fielder Corey Dickerson. The switch-hitting Cabrera will balance out the left-handed hitting Lonnie Chisenhall in right field, and Cabrera could also spell Dickerson against some southpaws. Cabrera isn’t far removed from a .296/.345/.455 performance over 646 PA with the White Sox in 2016, though the 34-year-old has been roughly a league-average hitter in 2015 and 2017-18.
As per the terms of the two minor league contracts, Liriano will earn $1.8MM in guaranteed money for making the Pirates’ roster, while Cabrera will earn $1.15MM. Both players also have more available in incentive bonuses.