Late last night, Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the Twins are exploring the possibility of trading Francisco Liriano before the 2011 season. On the surface, this may be nothing more than exploratory talks but the question remains: Why would a team expected to contend in the AL Central suddenly put its No. 1 one starter up for sale?
According to Christensen, the logic actually makes sense. Citing him as an injury risk along with the Twins’ unwillingness to sign him to a long-term deal, his trade value could be at its highest point. Despite his prior elbow surgery and the previous seasons lost to rehab and ineffectiveness, Liriano did return last season to show that 2006 was no fluke. In 191 innings he registered an ERA of 3.62 coupled with an excellent FIP of 2.66 while posting a strikeout-per-nine (K/9) ratio of 9.44 along with a walk-per-nine (BB/9) of 2.72.
The Twins have the good fortune of playing in the AL Central, but does a rotation consisting of Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn have enough to overpower some of the other favorites in the American League?
During a long 162-game season, if health and defense permit they should do well enough to be contenders but the problems facing them in the playoffs (lack of quality power pitching, etc.) will be amplified.
If the Twins do dealLiriano, what can they expect in return?
Recent trades involving Zack Greinke and Matt Garza have been mentioned as possible models since both pitchers come in below market value and have two or three years remaining before they can qualify for free agency.
Since the Yankees still look a few starters short, Joe Pawlikowski at River Avenue Blues has weighed in about Liriano’s prior health and durability. He also raises the point that too much risk would be involved for the Yanks to part with Jesus Montero and others, since the Twins’ true motivations seem to be unknown.
As the Twins GM, Bill Smith has a bit of an up and down record on trades. He came out of the gate with two very high profile trades. The first was the Garza and Jason Bartlett deal with Tampa Bay for Delmon Young and a few months later he settled on trading Johan Santana to the Mets for spare parts. Today, both trades are seen as being advantageous for the other side, but smaller trades to acquire Pavano and Jon Rauch seemed to have worked well for the Twins.
If the Twins are serious about trading Liriano, we’ll see if Smith and others in the front office have learned their lessons from the Santana trade fiasco before the 2008 season. Yankees and Red Sox fans will remember their teams being pitted against each other for stakes so high it eventually turned everyone away.
Most teams in baseball could use a starter with Liriano’s skills, but even with his below market contract ($4.3 million this upcoming season) the obvious risks involved will be too much for fellow GMs to ignore.
At this stage, expectations may have to be tempered.