In a report by Joe Christensen of the Minnesota Star Tribune, it appears the Twins are willing to move the 27 year old lefty, though no timetable has been set. Here’s the story:
With six pitchers vying for five spots in the Twins starting rotation, one possible solution is trading Francisco Liriano. Speaking to team officials recently, I’ve been surprised how open they are to this possibility, but the logic makes sense.
Liriano, 27, can become a free agent after the 2012 season. Coming off a resurgent year, he might never have a higher trade value.
One thing is clear: The Twins don’t plan to sign him long term. Last weekend, they avoided arbitration with a one-year, $4.3 million deal. From what I’ve heard, their long-term talks went nowhere, with Liriano’s camp hinting it wanted a three-year, $39 million contract.
First let’s examine Liriano as a pitcher, then we’ll look at whether the two sides are a match. He has only made 30 starts once in his 5 full seasons in the bigs, and that was last year. Much of that was due to having Tommy John surgery in 2007, and the elbow issues that led to the procedure. He also had a very long road back from the procedure, both in terms of health and effectiveness. He struggled in 2008 and 2009 with both his stuff and control, which isn’t uncommon among TJ patients, as Yankee fans have seen with prospect Andrew Brackman. He also had some arm injuries in the minors. But last year Liriano was all the way back, striking out more than a batter per inning (9.44) with a good walk rate (2.74). When he’s on, he’s one of the best lefties in the game. He features a devastating slider that he fell in love with as a young pitcher, which most likely led to his elbow issues. The 95 MPH fastball we saw as a rookie was all the way back to pre-injury levels last year (94.2 MPH) after being down in 2008 (90.0 MPH) and 2009 (91.5 MPH). He also features a good change up, but the other worldly slider is clearly his best pitch and he relies upon it heavily (threw it 34% last year). He was #2 in all of baseball last year in xFIP, behind only Roy Halladay. When healthy, there’s nothing not to like. He destroys lefties when he’s on, and putting him in Yankee Stadium for his prime years could make him even better.
Before Yankee fans start salivating over trade proposals, remember that Bill Smith is the GM of the Twins. The same GM who demanded a more expensive package from the Yankees for Johan Santana than he wound up getting from the Mets. The Santana deal was a fiasco for the Twins, they wound up trading their best pitcher for virtually nothing. They would have been better off holding on to him and taking the draft picks from a baseball standpoint. Deolis Guerra flamed out in the upper levels of the minors, Carlos Gomez proved he can’t hit and was traded to the Brewers, Philip Humber was mediocre in the upper levels of the minors and horrible in the majors and was released after the 2009 season, and Kevin Mulvey was traded to the D-Backs as a PTBNL in the Rauch deal. All totaled, they got very little value back for one of the best pitchers in baseball. Will Bill Smith be more open to dealing with the Yanks after the Santana experience? Perhaps. But he’s already shown a preference for trading his top pitchers out of the league, and the two situations are also very different in terms of affordability. The Yankees, Mets and Red Sox were the only realistic bidders for Santana, who was making 13 mil with the Twins and looking for a huge extension. Liriano will earn just 4.3 mil this year, has two years of team control left and was only seeking a 3 year, 39 mil extension from the Twins. That will expand the universe of teams who will be bidding for his services dramatically. If there are comparable offers from the Yanks and a NL team, history shows Smith will take the NL package. The Yanks will need to overbid to land Liriano.
That leads us to the next item, do the Yanks and Twins match up? The Yanks are loaded with catchers, but the Twins have Joe Mauer. Many scouts feel Montero’s best position would be 1B, but the Twins have Morneau there. The Yanks are also loaded with pitching, but the impetus for trading Liriano is the fact that the Twins are already 6 deep in starters, with top prospect Kyle Gibson on the way. Smith is known to love speedy outfielders, so Brett Gardner would be an obvious match to platoon with or replace the overpaid and under performing Michael Cuddyer and/or Jason Kubel. The Twins could certainly use some bullpen arms after losing Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier and Ron Mahay to free agency. The Yanks have a stacked bullpen at the MLB level, and some scouts feel one or all of the Killer Bs will end up as relievers. They may want a 2B as an insurance policy for newly signed Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, having lost Orlando Hudson to free agency. The Yanks have a few interesting candidates (Adams, Nunez) that could possibly fit there. But a Yankee-Twins deal would seem to require peeling players off the MLB roster, which would obviously create holes for the Yanks to fill. Would a 3 team deal do the trick? Maybe. One thing is for sure, early returns show that Twins fans don’t like the idea of trading Liriano, and things like that can impact how a team operates. That will make it harder to do a deal with the universally hated Yankees.