Francisco Liriano, the Twins, and the Towel

You are running a team that is coming off a divisional championship, thanks in large part to a Cy Young Level performance by a pitcher finally “all the way back” from injury. He’s still under team control through 2012, and your team is still considered a contender for the division. What do you? Consider trading him, of course! According to the linked report, that might be the situation with the Twins and Francisco Liriano. But can they contend in 2011 without him?

The Twins’ (reported) perspective isn’t ridiculous. There’s no doubting that Liriano put on a dominating performance in just about every respect in 2010, and, indeed, would have been a worthy Cy Young choice. However, the Twins may have legitimate concerns about his health given his past injuries and his heavy reliance on his slider, which some think puts more strain on his arm. I’m not going to pretend to know enough about Liriano’s health or pitching injuries in general to comment on that issue, but it at least puts perspective on why the Twins would be cautious about locking him up long-term. That doesn’t mean they have to trade him now, of course, as he’s under their control through 2012. Still, they may be a bit worried of putting themselves into a Johan Santana situation all over again and not getting the return they would like for a tremendous pitching talent. That does not quite explain why they’ve chosen already named Carl Pavano their Opening Day starter (why some teams are already naming Opening Day starters is beyond me), but that also shows that the team isn’t all that high on Liriano. As Aaron Gleeman has written, it makes one wonder if they realize just how good Liriano is.

Again, I’m not going to argue about whether or not Liriano should be traded. However, I do think that if the Twins do decide to trade him, they are (consciously or not) making it unlikely that they will contend in 2011. Both Chicago and Detroit have their flaws, but they have improved in the offseason, and with Liriano, the Twins look like they will be in a three-way race. However, without him (and without crunching all the necessary league-wide numbers), the hill they would have to climb becomes that much steeper. One doesn’t need to think Liriano is a true alent six-win pitcher to understand this. Even a conservative number of innings pitched like 165 and a FIP around 3.5 still puts Liriano in the 3.5-4 win range, which would still make him at least win better than the Twins next best starters: Pavano and Scott Baker. Both are useful mid-rotation starters, of course, but they aren’t on the level of, say, Justin Verlander (probably the best pitcher in the division now that Zack Greinke is in the National League) and Max Scherzer. Moreover, with Liriano gone, that puts even more pressure on Brian Duensing to repeat his 2010 performance as a starter and, worse, puts Nick Blackburn (a fine sixth starter) back in the rotation. And that is all without considering the injury problems that Baker and Kevin Slowey experienced last season.

The Twins are a bit of a lopsided team, talent-wise: Liriano’s superiority to the other members of the rotation is mirrored by the superiority of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau over the other position players. Morneau, of course, is himself a question mark coming off a concussion that prematurely ended his 2010 season. If Liriano isn’t on the team and Morneau can’t come back for a while at the beginning of the season (or has trouble getting going when he does), that makes it hard to see the Twins seriously competing in the American League Central without a greater dose of “Gardy magic” than usual.

I’m personally a big fan of Liriano’s pitching abilities, and any team in the league would be (or at least shoudl be) thrilled to have him. However, it might be the case that a Liriano trade is in the best long-term interest of the Minnesota Twins. Nonetheless such a trade could very well be the equivalent of throwing in the towel for their playoff chances in 2011.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


64 Responses to “Francisco Liriano, the Twins, and the Towel”

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  1. BigG says:

    Come to SEAttle!!!!!!!!!!!1

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  2. adohaj says:

    Trading him makes no sense to me why go into “rebuild” mode now?

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    • 2ndHalf says:

      Trading Liriano doesn’t necessarily indicate a ‘rebuild’ mode. It’s just a ‘get better at baseball’ mode. If they offer up Morneau, Kubel, Young, Baker and Nathan, okay.

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    • Spartanzee4 says:

      The Twins reported that Liriano didn’t do “all of” his off-season arm exercises this year…then felt a twinge a few days ago. Is your ace a guy who doesn’t take care of himself? Not on serious teams, and the Twins are serious. The trade idea makes sense in this context.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Okay, but this is also the same pitcher that got his crap together, on his own, playing international ball … and his rediscovered slider dominance paid off great for the Twins. If a MIN coach was working with him over this time, directing his workouts and progress, then I retract that statement.

        I would not, AT ALL, be surprised to hear rumors of Liriano not doing what a professional pitcher should do (or so the teams say) as a way of buffering themselves from fan feedback if he is traded.

        I see the Twins as a different team than FG does. I think they are the 3rd best team in the division (and that’s a division that includes the Indians and Royals, so you’re basically 3rd by default).

        This is not the same type of “contention year” as 2009 and 2010.

        There would be no better opportunity to trade Liriano if that scenario is the one that presents itself:
        [1] his performance last year (he’ll regress in 2011, perhaps heavily),
        [2] his previous injury history and being a slider thrower (It’s not if, but when)
        [3] MIN is not the front-runner in the division.
        [4] I don’t recall so many top teams having holes in their starting rotation.

        If smart, this could be a “Mulder for Haren” type of trade situation. But, I’m not a Twins fan. If they keep him and in 2011 or 2012 his elbow falls off again, then that’s good for the White Sox.

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  3. tdotsports1 says:

    Another minor concern along with injury is how much his home park supressed the HR this season. His HR/FB has been all over the map in his career. Just a thought, buyer beware. He is probably one of the highest risk/reward guys in the majors coming off an amazing season, home park be damned.

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  4. Matt Defalco says:

    He would be a welcome addition to Toronto’s rotation.

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  5. mike wants wins says:

    long term, long term, long term….according to Santana and Hunter, that long term never comes….if you don’t want Liriano on your roster while Mauer and Morneau are in their primes, when do you want an ace on your roster? I’ll be really annoyed if Liriano is dealt this year.*

    *unless someone makes a ridiculous offer, of course. But it better be SUPER ridiculous.

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    • Teenwolf says:

      I find it funny that people continue to bring up the failed Johan Santana trade and neglect to mention the Pierzynski for Liriano, Nathan, and Bonser one.

      Maybe trading Liriano ends up closer to the Pierzynski deal than the Santana one.

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  6. phoenix2042 says:

    trade him to the yanks for a boatload of prospects midseason. if aj is as terrible as he was last year and they arent getting a miraculous performance out of the rag tag group of 4th/5th starters, you can bet the yankees will be desperate, especially if the red sox are lighting it up like everyone expects them to. they can make a killing if liriano has a hot start (likely) and the yankees rotation falls apart (even more likely).

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  7. VodkaDave says:

    They aren’t trading him.

    They interviewed the Assitant GM the other day and he said they have had ZERO discussions in doing so. Talk about all smoke and no fire…

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  8. Chuck says:

    “why some teams are already naming Opening Day starters is beyond me”

    They do it to set up their pitchers schedule for spring training. Each pitcher has a specific number of innings they want to get in and a certain number of days off before the season starts, so it’s helpful to plan it all out now and follow the schedule.

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    • Bryz says:

      But why announce it? Why not just schedule them how you want and then make the announcement later?

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      • Davor says:

        In most cases teams schedule their starters so that they pitch every 5 days up to their first ML start. With all the off days, they are one or two pitchers who may pitch opening day using regular spring-training schedule, based on first-week rotation. It’s better to announce opening-day starter immediately, than to have whole month of questions “will player1 or player2 start opening day?”

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    • MikeS says:

      I don’t see why anybody cares who the opening day starter is. It’s sort of like caring about batting order only over the course of a season it will matter even less.

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      • Wes says:

        It is about respect, IMO.

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      • Bill Blatzheim says:

        The same thing happened when Brad Radke was given the opening day nod after Johan Santana won the Cy Young. Pavano is the veteran, the leader of the pitching staff. It is indeed about respect, and Pavano’s earned it.

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      • knucka11 says:

        It could also be a way of protecting Liriano from himself. He tends to get overexcited against the best pitchers in the league and Pavano has demonstrated that poise most days (e.g. Jun 20/26 vs Halladay and Santana, combined 18 IP, 1 ER).

        I remember hearing someone a while back say that one year he was given the Opening Day start not because he was the best pitcher, but because he was the elder statesman of the rotation and had the poise to handle facing the aces and give the team a fighting chance, which would allow the team to match up the other pitchers against potentially inferior opposing pitchers.

        Obviously this is a moot point after May 1 at the latest, but it can get Liriano off to a better start which builds his confidence, whereas it will not matter as much for Pavano.

        Consider, would you take Lirano vs Sabathia or Liriano vs Burnett, Liriano vs Price or Liriano vs Shields?

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      • Jason B says:

        “It is indeed about respect, and Pavano’s earned it.”

        What exactly has Pavano done to “earn” this coveted respect that Liriano hasn’t, exactly? Been on the planet earth longer?

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      • fredsbank says:

        pavano tied for the league lead in both shutouts and CGs in 2010, what did liriano do?

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  9. Maija says:

    The “trading Liriano” thing was a rumor whipped up by the media.

    Twinkie Town did and interview with the Twins assistant GM which debunked the idea that they were looking to trade him:
    http://www.twinkietown.com/2011/2/22/2008348/twinkie-town-q-a-with-twins-assistant-gm-rob-antony-2011

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  10. cuban bee says:

    I dont know about that answer the assistant gm gave, sure didnt seem to really “debunk” anything to me. I mean, his answer started off with unsure laughter, and at the end he said they’re not taking any offers “for right now” or something like that.

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  11. Preston says:

    It makes no sense to deal Liriano now. But at mid-season if you’re in 3rd place or even a distant 2nd and behind in the wild card, I’d trade him. He’s made it clear he wants more money than a team like the Twins should be willing to gamble on someone with his injury history. His trade value will never be higher than it will be at the trade dead line this year.

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  12. Tim E. says:

    While the Twins may not realize just how good Liriano was last year, I can’t help but wonder if they are banking on him getting hurt again and trying to deal him before his value is significantly reduced.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Agreed.

      His stock will never be as high as it is right now.

      He’s due for significant regression … and possibly injury.

      Slider-relaint pitchers are like that. Dominant-injured-dominant-injured.

      Some of the more dominant (big spending teams) have some of the weakest rotations they’ve had in years.

      It might just be too good of a situation to pass up.

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  13. Barkey Walker says:

    Another option would be to let him throw 120 pitches per start. This way he could show he is durable and have a true CY year if he pitches his 2010 FIP. If that happens, he would probably be worth what he was asking.

    BTW, there is some serious cognitive dissonance in saying that Liriano is a valid 2010 CY award winner, but not the best or even second best pitcher in the division.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      What if the 120 pitches per start show that he’s NOT durable?

      That would seem much more likely to me than the other.

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      • fredsbank says:

        this is possible, but assuming 2010 is more an indicator of liriano’s true talent than not, unlikely; in 16 of 31 starts he threw 100+ pitches, only 3 of which saw him not advance past the 6th inning, and 9 saw him (yes, and the defense behind him, blah blah blah) not allow more than 1 earned run. and of those 16, only in 1 did he give up more than 3 runs. over those 16 starts he struck out 125 batters over ~120 innings.

        i’m not someone who really drinks the fangraphs-provided liriano coolaid, but especially looking at his starts for this post here i’m very intrigued for his performance this season, and i think he’d be a great fit on the yankees, especially given their need for a starter, their cash, and minnesota’s need for a DH (montero) following this season.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        He throws a lot of sliders. More pitches just get him to Injuryville safter.

        Really, I am a “pitch em if ya got em” type of guy. Bringing pitchers along slowly really doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in terms of injury prevention. Conditioning, preparation, and just good ol genetics seem to be the most important.

        My thinking was that [1] showing that he’s ultra durable is not going to increase his trade value that much, given his outstanding 2010 … but [2] extending him and getting him injured, faster, is going to diminish his value greatly.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        If you are a non-Saber team (like the Twins), then contrast him with Pavano in 2010. Pavano had a 0.1 higher ERA, but 40 more innings. Not sure which one has the better injury history at this point. And the Twins pay about $8 mil./year for Pavano. If Liriano wants much more than that as a Twins player, he needs one of those two stats to change pretty drastically in 2011 or 2012.

        I agree with CircleChange11 that he risks injury if he throws as many sliders as he does now at 120 pitches… but why does he need to do that? Decrease the sliders, increase the pitches… put it over the plate. the K rate will go down, but if he remains a GB pitcher and keeps the Twins infield behind him, he will be fine.

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  14. CubsFan says:

    Voting for individual awards is greatly swayed by team performance. Liriano was considered a legit 2010 Cy candidate because of the Twin’s success, not because he’s better than Verlander.

    And yes, I was thinking about Felix winning the Cy while playing for the Mariners while I typed the previous paragraph but I typed it anyway.

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  15. Jesse says:

    According to an interview with Twins Assistant GM Rob Antony, the Liriano rumor started off pure speculation on behalf of the author of the source. The Twins organization does control him through 2012 so there really isn’t any measurable pressure at this point. Also, they literally never discuss negotiations in public.

    Here’s a link to that article: http://www.twinkietown.com/2011/2/22/2008348/twinkie-town-q-a-with-twins-assistant-gm-rob-antony-2011

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  16. Ian says:

    I think the fact that Liriano started game 1 over Pavano indicates the Twins know who the better pitcher is. Liriano ticked off the Twins by not doing the exercises he was supposed to do and came to camp unprepared. The Twins have him for two more years at reasonable cost. They won’t trade him now.

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  17. zerg says:

    This is all a bunch of nonsense so the supposedly more intelligent baseball blog writers can get their undies in a bunch. I’ll expect a retraction when Liriano leads the team to a division title. Of course they aren’t trading him, but it’s fun speculation to point and laugh, saying “the Twins are stupid for even thinking of trading him.”

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    • Will says:

      Completely agree … bunched undies. The Twins’ front office never negotiates through the media. Joe Christensen at the Strib — a good reporter — basically decided to turn a non-denial into a thing.

      The Twins’ trade karma seems to have leveled off recently after they punked the Giants by unloading Pierzynski to get Liriano in the first place (along with Nathan, and Boof). But that said, and at serious risk of constricting my nether-regions, I would like to see them dangle Slowey and Perkins — and all their whining — plus a prospect for a Jaime Garcia or a Jeff Niemann. There’s enough pressure from Triple-A on the rotation to take some risks.

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  18. nolan says:

    Personally, I think the Twins should trade for Liriano. They need a number one starter, and he’s under team control for two more years. With Mauer and Morneau in their primes, I’d have to think that Minnesota at least will wonder what the asking price is.

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  19. Eric says:

    Everyone said after they traded Santana that they’d be in rebuilding mode as well, and that team got to a tiebreaker game. They can still contend with or without him. Everyone thinks Chicago and Detroit are great or something. They’re not.

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    • Will says:

      And Santana was out the door anyway, so getting four good prospects was worth it. No one could have predicted Carlos Gomez’s crippling fear of getting on base or Phil Humber’s love of the waiver wire.

      I agree with you that Detroit isn’t much — who’s protecting Cabrera? — but I disagree about Chicago. They have a good combination of starting depth and big bats. The Twins will likely need Liriano to buckle Dunn’s knees a few times with the slider.

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  21. superhans says:

    Selling high.

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  22. joe says:

    Liriano had yet to top 140major league innings until last year, where his innings jumped up by ~58.

    While I think the 30inning jump (Verducci effect) is a bit conservative and unproven, you have to wonder whether Liriano’s jump in innings will catch up to him in either performance or injury. If he gets off to a slow start his value will drop rapidly as people will wonder about whether he can handle the workload. If he gets off to a great start is his value going to get that much better than it is now?

    While trading him will be a tough sell to the fanbase, it’s probably easier to do it before the season starts, then at midseason if they are in or near first place. It seems like the potential downside waiting to midseason or next offseason is much bigger than the upside – so if they are going to trade him, now would seem to be the time to do it.

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    • Mike says:

      Liriano pitched a ton of minor league innings a couple years ago when he fell off at the end of the year and was complaining about dead arm. They were talking about the Verducci effect at the start of 2010 too, but it didn’t hurt him.

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      • joe says:

        he only threw ~140innings in 2009… why would 2010 be impacted? Why would folks be talking about the Verducci effect the year after he threw 140innings?

        The high inning count in 2008 would impact 2009…. and if you look at his ’09 #’s they are not as good (though that could still be lingering TJ after effects?)

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      • Ari Collins says:

        The Verducci Effect is about INCREASES in innings from year to year, not a high overall number of innings. The theory is that, at a young age, increasing innings by more than 30 from one year to the next is dangerous.

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  23. hamandcheese says:

    Don’t forget that Lirano threw almost 200 innings between the majors and minors in 2008.

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  24. Jacob says:

    Trade him to the Rangers for Michael Young? Come on you know you want to…

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  25. pft says:

    If the Twins are serious about trading Liriano and his 4.3 million salary, I suspect they think that twinge is a sign of something bad to come, which could impact performance sooner rather.than later.

    He was not very good his last 10 starts last year, having a 4.7 ERA. This may or may not be a sign of trouble in 2011, but coupled with the shoulder pain, any team trading for Liriano needs to do a through medical exam before giving up too much.

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  26. Barkey Walker says:

    Morneau may not play in 2011 and Gardenhire’s appears to want to play a AAAA guy at first base in that case. Having a first baseman that can’t bat is a huge hole in a team’s offense.

    What if the Twins are in contention at the deadline and the Cards decide they can’t close with Pujols? … just say’n.

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  27. Jim says:

    Instead of looking at this from the angle of whether Liriano is an injury risk or has reached his peak value, I see things a bit differently.

    If Kyle Gibson had made his MLB debut already and was showing himself to be a capable TOR starter(or at least a #3), then maybe it would be OK, but given the relative lack of other TOR options–I know, I know…Pavano–in the rotation, one has to question the merits of trading Liriano now when Mauer and Morneau are at or near their peaks(injuries aside). Baker is maybe a decent #2/#3 SP on a good day, and the concerns over Slowey, Blackburn, and Duensing have been vetted in previous comments.

    I am hoping to see Gibson debut this year and throw at least 80-100 innings at the big league level, and from there, expectations for 2012 and beyond can be adjusted. A Liriano trade with 1 year of team control next offseason wouldn’t net as great of a return package, clearly, but would still return something of value while also allowing for his likely replacement, Kyle Gibson, to adapt himself to MLB at a reasonable pace.

    (Perhaps the Twins will even be able to move Blackburn and the contract the Twins mistakenly gave him sometime next offseason. That might mean signing Pavano yet again to mentor the younger pitchers for 2012 and beyond, but Pavano, Gibson, Baker, Slowey and one of Duensing or one of the many other young promising pitchers currently in AA/AAA doesn’t look so bad in 2012.)

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