Francisco Liriano strikes out 13 in latest gem

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The Pirates made the best free agent signing of last winter when they inked Francisco Liriano to a two-year contract, though it nearly fell apart because of an injury to Liriano’s non-throwing arm.

That injury caused the deal to be knocked down to $12.75 million from its original $14 million and it resulted in Liriano spending the first 40 days of the season on the DL, but he’s been lights out since returning, allowing one or no runs in 13 of his 19 starts, including five of his last six (though he did give up 10 runs in 2 1/3 innings in the other).

Liriano’s latest gem Monday saw him strike out 13 batters over seven scoreless innings in a defeat of the Padres. It was the second highest strikeout total of his career (he fanned 15 against the A’s last July). He improved to 14-5 with a 2.53 ERA on the season.

The Twins have to be shaking their heads to see Liriano experiencing such success. He went 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA for Minnesota and the White Sox last year. Though the Twins practically gave him away in a deadline deal, they weighed re-signing him last winter. Still, they weren’t going to offer him more than a one-year deal. The Pirates went two years and are thrilled that they did, considering that Liriano might be this winter’s No. 2 free agent starter behind Matt Garza (another ex-Twin) if he were back on the market. Despite the late start, Liriano has 126 strikeouts in 121 innings this season. The Twins’ strikeout leader is Kevin Correia with 80 in 140 2/3 IP.

Sign-stealing penalties could be ‘unlike anything seen in the sport’s recent history’

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Early this morning we learned that Major League Baseball was planning to talk to former Astros Carlos Beltrán and Alex Cora as part of the sign-stealing investigation. Late this morning Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that the investigation is, actually, going to go much wider than that.

Passan reports that Major League Baseball will not limit its focus to the 2017 Astros, who were the subject of the report in The Athletic on Tuesday. Rather, it will also include members of the 2019 Astros and will extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentions the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Oh, it also includes recently-fired Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, who the league plans to interview but who, Passan says, has hired a lawyer. Which is sort of interesting in its own right, but let’s stay on topic.

Passan:

The league is attempting to cull tangible evidence from the widespread paranoia of front offices and teams around the game about others cheating and has indicated it will consider levying long suspensions against interviewees who are found to have lied, sources said . . . The penalties for illegal activity are determined by commissioner Rob Manfred, though if the league can prove wrongdoing, the severity could be unlike anything seen in the sport’s recent history, sources said.

The Cardinals were fined $2 million when an employee, Chris Correa, hacked the Astros computer system. Correa, of course, was permanently banned from baseball and served prison time. Former Braves GM John Coppolella was likewise given a permanent ban for lying about the team’s circumvention of international signing rules. If Passan’s source is right and the league is going to level heavy penalties here, that’s where you have to start, I imagine.

To me, the stuff about Coppolella’s lying and the bit about interviewees lying mentioned in the block quote is key.

Will anyone have the hammer brought down upon them for being responsible for stealing signs? Hard to say. But they likely will if they are not forthcoming with league investigators. Which is actually a pretty decent way to handle things when one is conducting an internal investigation. Maybe you don’t give amnesty to wrongdoers in the name of information-gathering, but you do signal to them that cooperation is incentivized and lack of cooperation will be punished.

It’s an approach, by the way, that Major League Baseball notably did not take in the course of its PED investigations a decade ago. That led to a final report that had massive gaps in information and caused the league to focus on and publicize only the lowest-hanging fruit. As I argued at the time, if information-gathering, as opposed to P.R. considerations was its true aim, MLB would’ve handled it differently.

In the early stages here, in contrast, it does sound like baseball is taking this seriously. That’s a good thing.