White Sox Acquire Liriano For Stretch Run

Kenny Williams reportedly worked his tail off to land Zack Greinke from the Brewers this week. The American League Central is up for grabs and the White Sox and Tigers have gone back and forth for the division lead in recent weeks.

Greinke would have solidified the White Sox hold on the division by giving them another top starter to go along with Chris Sale and Jake Peavy.

Williams was so entrenched in Greinke trade talks that he even searched for a third team to get involved after it became clear that his farm system wouldn’t get the job done. No deal was struck and Greinke was dealt to the Angels. The White Sox weren’t done shopping and turned their attention to a starter they have seen quite a bit over the past several seasons: Francisco Liriano. Williams acquired the 28-year-old on Saturday from the division-rival Minnesota Twins for prospects Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez. The White Sox didn’t deal away all that much, so even if Liriano is nothing more than a two-month rental, the move was well worth it based on what he could provide the rest of the season.

Liriano is a free-agent after the season and has modest salary requirements the rest of the way. He also won’t net the White Sox any compensation picks, given the rules set forth in the new collective bargaining agreement.

But he does upgrade the White Sox rotation, especially in the context of injuries: Gavin Floyd has battled tendinitis and John Danks remains on the disabled list. And if Liriano continues to pitch the way he has after getting put back into the rotation, this could look like even more of a deadline steal.

Liriano’s season can be broken down into different segments, as he pitched atrociously in the rotation to start the season, was relegated to bullpen duty from May 14 to May 25, and re-joined the rotation on May 30. While the breakdown below could certainly be viewed as fun with arbitrary endpoints, Liriano has pitched very well in the past two months. Still, he was so bad at the season’s beginning that his overall statistical line still causes concern.

4/7 – 5/7: 6 GS, 26.2 IP, 9.45 ERA, 19 BB, 21 K
5/14 – 5/25: 6 GP, 7.1 IP, 4.91 ERA, 7 BB, 9 K
5/30 – 7/23: 11 GS, 66.0 IP, 3.68 ERA, 29 BB, 79 K

Liriano allowed seven runs over 2.2 innings in his most recent start against the White Sox, but prior to that outing, Liriano had a 2.84 ERA and a 77/28 K/BB ratio across 10 starts since rejoining the rotation. He has simply been a different pitcher lately. He produced 1.2 WAR in June and July, compared to his -0.2 tally from April and May. ZiPS is still heavily influenced by his terrible start to the season — and perhaps rightfully so — but Liriano’s terrific improvement over the past two months shouldn’t be ignored.

While the kneejerk reaction is to assume that pitching coach Don Cooper will fix Liriano like he has so many other starters, it’s quite possible that he doesn’t need much fixing. Based on his recent performance, Liriano seems to have corrected his early problems — and he’s well on his way toward reducing the erratic aspects of his starts while sustaining a higher strikeout rate.

The White Sox rotation will now feature Sale, Peavy, Liriano, Jose Quintana and Floyd. When Danks returns, Quintana is probably the odd man out, and he has pitched well over his first 13 appearances. Acquiring Liriano helps in many ways, in part because his acquisition bolsters depth when everyone is healthy and could potentially allow the White Sox to shop other pitchers at the trade or waiver deadlines.

But based solely on swapping two essential non-prospects for a high-strikeout lefty who has thrown much better recently, this deal has the potential to provide the White Sox with a great deal of value.

Greinke would have basically guaranteed that the White Sox got an ace-level performance over the rest of the season. Liriano could pitch to a very similar level if his June-July improvement is legitimate, and he costs a great deal less. He carries far more risk than Greinke, but Liriano isn’t a bad consolation prize. The White Sox just got better in an area of need and the team gave up next to nothing to make it happen.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


48 Responses to “White Sox Acquire Liriano For Stretch Run”

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  1. Josh says:

    Gavin Floyd, as of this morning, is still a member of the White Sox. He is a key cog in the rotation.

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  2. Muzz says:

    He got roughed up by the White Sox in his last start, not the Red Sox. And ironically enough, that start may have lowered his trade value for the Twins allowing the White Sox to get him for pennies on the dollar.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      I don’t know about that — the Twins weren’t going to get much for him anyway. The CBA’s treatment of rentals w/r/t compensation picks effectively meant the Twins were going to get pennies on the dollar for him already. Though this return still feels light even after taking that into account.

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  3. Muzz says:

    Yeah, I’m not saying that it had much of an overall impact, you’re absolutely right about the Twins not being able to get much with the new CBA, but I think the start was enough to make some suitors for Liriano very nervous because that performance was a lot like some of his starts early in the year.

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  4. PR says:

    i always make fun of kenny williams but the Youk deal and this were probably the most lopsided deals this year.

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  5. Stinky says:

    Twins should have rolled dice on getting draft picks by holding on to Liriano already since they got relatively little for him now.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      To get picks, they would have had to make him a qualifying offer for next year, and he would have had to reject it. My guess is they weighed that option and decided against having him accept it.

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      • Paul says:

        And the value of that offer would be around $12.5m. Seems unlikely his open market offers would lead him to reject that, so they’d have to really, really, really, really believe he’d be worth it. Massive gamble, so this deal simply had to be made. Not so for Greinke.

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    • I Agree Guy says:

      Isn’t it just draft “pick,” singular?

      Signing team forfeits their pick, it just disappears, old team receives one supplemental round selection.

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    • La Flama Blanca says:

      The Twins hate him – he’s not a white guy with an 84 MPH fastball and a K/9 of 5.5.

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      • chuckb says:

        As a Cards’ fan, I hope that doesn’t cause them to give Span to the Reds for next to nothing.

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      • I Agree Guy says:

        Span has a big smile though, the Twins love big smiles.

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      • drewcorb says:

        I’m not sure sure that’s the only reason the Twins hate him. 5+ ERA over the past 2 years and 4+ in all the advanced metrics. I think this move was a signal that the Twins are going for it this year. If they can get the White Sox to bite on Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla now, I bet the Twins would catch the Sox.

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      • jirish says:

        That would be kind of funny if there wasn’t some truth to it.

        Liriano just seems like he was never comfortable with the Twins we don’t want to strike anyone out, just throw strikes and put the ball in play kind of pitching. He did once belong to the Giants and their just do what you need to do to put up a zero pitching, yes, strike outs!

        For the Sox, I like it because Cooper has had great success with all kinds of pitchers-young and old, former washouts and never was, ground ball and fly ball pitchers, strike out and contact pitchers, and injury recovered pitchers. I suspect if there is something there, we’ll see it.

        For the Twins, anything back is a plus since there was no way they were going to keep him around.

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  6. John says:

    He was on the DL. He started against Minnesota this past Monday. He is also STARTING TODAY!

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  7. Baltar says:

    Nice brief analysis, Eric, and I like the way you are responding to comments. However, I think you are placing too much emphasis on a good 2 months.

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  8. MikeS says:

    So Humber is out of the rotation? I agree that’s the best choice but would he be the first guy to throw a perfect game and lose his rotation spot the same year?

    It may be more likely that he or Floyd (or even that they sell high on Quintana) gets traded by Tuesday.

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    • amoc21 says:

      Highly doubtful, but I’d love for the Sox to flip one of their major leaguers (Humber, Floyd) and whatever else it’d take to get King Felix in black. Like I said though, highly doubtful.

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    • Otter says:

      No way. The Sox are going to have to give Sale a good amount of rest the last two months to ensure he’s ready for October. Danks is probably done for the year… so they have six starters at the moment. Even if Danks does come back, have three (four) lefties who can start is about the best baseball problem one can have.

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    • Yinka Double Dare says:

      Sale is going to be pushed back or skipped. His velo was way off on Friday (sitting upper 80s and maxing at 91) and they’re talking about dead arm or fatigue.

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  9. Paul says:

    I don’t think it’s quite right to call Escobar a non-prospect. He was on Hulbert’s pre-season lists in both 2010 and 2011. Yeah, he can’t hit, but the reports are that he’s a plus defender at SS, which is a need for the Twins. He’s the anti-Segura, which means nobody doubts that he can stick at SS, but he really can’t hit at all. Sounds like the new Alexi Casilla. Don’t know that Dozier can stick at SS, but if they can turn Casilla loose, plug in Escobar to play plus defense at SS and move Dozier to 2B, overall that could be an upgrade.

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    • chuckb says:

      If there’s one thing the Twins need to turn this ship around, it’s more Alexi Casillas.

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    • Visnovsky says:

      Any value Escobar gives a team defense he takes away with his bat. When used properly (note: not likely to how the Twins will use him), he is a utility infielder at best. I honestly believe the Twins front office thinks they are getting a player with actual value here, instead of realizing they just traded for a replacement level player.

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      • drewcorb says:

        Yeah but they got two players, so the hope is that at least one of them pans out. They are rebuilding; they need to play the numbers game (by that I mean obtain large numbers of minor leaguers). Do you think any team was willing to give up legitimate prospects for Liriano?

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      • Visnovsky says:

        I don’t think they could have gotten a great prospect for him. But, I would rather they had gotten lower level players with the upside to be an average MLB regular along with a lower floor instead of 2 guys with ceilings of replacement level. The guys they got are prototypical “Twins”. They got exactly what they value in scouting: a strike throwing pitcher with very limited upside and a no-bat defensive middle infielder. They think they got the best deal they could, because their evaluation system is fundamentally flawed. I guarantee this was not the actual best deal available, just what they think was the best deal available.

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  10. Robbie G. says:

    I love Kenny Williams’ two big trades this season. Kevin Youkilis has been one of the five or so best 3B in MLB over the past month or so, and they gave up basically nothing to get him. Francisco Liriano is a bizarre pitcher insofar that he has prolonged stretches of brilliance followed by prolonged stretches of true awfulness, but he appears to be in one of the former stretches over the past couple of months, and, again, they gave up nothing of value for him.

    The White Sox could use an upgrade at the following positions, if they choose to trade Philip Humber or Jose Quintana for such an upgrade: 2B, LF. Some of the names suggested below could be obtained without needing to cough up either Humber or Quintana, though, in which case both could be used to significantly bolster the team’s bullpen.

    Seemingly fairly easily obtained 2B targets: Jeff Keppinger (Rays), Jamey Carroll (Twins).

    Seemingly fairly easily obtained LF targets: Josh Willingham (Twins), Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks), Alfonso Soriano (Cubs), Michael Cuddyer (Rockies), Johnny Damon (Indians), Juan Pierre (Phillies).

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    • Otter says:

      If those are the Sox options, rolling the dice with Beckham and Tank seems worth it from a financial and even baseball perspective.

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      • Robbie G. says:

        I tend to agree that neither Keppinger nor Carroll are necessarily upgrades over Gordon Beckham but surely Willingham, Kubel, and Soriano represent upgrades in LF and would bolster the lineup considerably. Soriano is clearly the most easily obtainable of the three, the Cubs are willing to eat a large portion of his remaining monies owed, and it’s not like the Cubs are wanting top prospects in return here.

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      • Cole says:

        ^But is he really that much of an upgrade over Viciedo that they want to bench a younger player who can still develop? At best, Viciedo would platoon against left handers, so he just wouldn’t play that much. As is the case with Beckham, I just don’t think it is worth it to go for marginal midseason upgrades and give up on younger players. What are you going to do with them if you get someone else? And I also don’t think it makes any sense to expect a front office to do that.

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  11. Dave Dombrowski says:

    A big thank you to Kenny Williams for helping our team’s chances to win the division!

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    • sox2727 says:

      DD you do still realize you have one of the worst defenses in recent memory right?

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    • Otter says:

      Considering that 24 hours ago Pedro Hernandez was probably going to be the guy that spot started for Sale, I’m not so sure Dave.

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  12. zipperz says:

    … and now it is being announced that Sale is being shut down indefinitely with a dead arm. Liriano is starting Tuesday in Peavy’s spot, with Peavy being pushed back to Wednesday.

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  13. Visnovsky says:

    This is a freaking BS trade. The Twins got nothing in this trade. What is the freaking point? They would have been better off spending the 5 extra million on the $12.5 million offer to Liriano and hoping for a draft pick or the good Liriano in 2013. If they got the good Liriano, he would then have a year long track record of good to dominant pitching. If he declines the offer, they get better value than what they just got in the compensatory draft pick. The difference in his market value and $12.5 million just prevents these idiots in the front office from spending that money on the next Jason Marquis, Syndey Ponson, Matt Capps, Ramon Ortiz, Livan Hernandez, Proven Closer with crappy stats, ect. ect.

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  14. CJ says:

    Over the last five years, he’s posted:

    2008: 76 IP, 3.91 ERA. Injuries, I assume.

    2009: 136 IP, 5.80 ERA. 12.5 HR/FB, however; but his BB/9 was 4.28 anyway and nearly nobody strikes enough guys out for that to be okay.

    2010: 191 IP, 3.62 ERA, but 9.44 K/9, 2.72 BB/9 are offset by .331 BAbip. But he also posted LOB% rates ~6% above his average. You’d really have to think he was this guy to want to offer him a big contract.

    2011: 134 IP, 5.09 ERA, 5.02 BB/9; 1.5 K/BB.

    2012: (to date) 100 IP, 5.31 ERA, 4.98 BB/9.

    If you weight each season at 70% of the last one, you get a predicted 8.7 K/9, 4.3 BB/9.

    You could make the argument that Liriano is essentially a worse Erik Bedard.

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  15. Brian says:

    Maybe Kenny Williams NEEDS to run a team with no good prospects. Then he’s limited to what he can give away. It’s the same logic that I use when I tell my kids they can bring money to the store, but only $5.

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    • Cole says:

      Brandon McCarthy and Gio Gonzalez are the only two players he’s traded who have really amounted to much, and they’re both at least five years removed from that initial trade. McCarthy got back Danks, who has been much more valuable so far, and Gonzalez got back Swisher, who should have been good, and was then flipped in an admittedly horrible trade to the Yankees. Considering that the team’s strength over the past five years has been pitching, that’s not a huge deal anyway.

      The other prospects he’s given up have been the likes of Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Fautino de los Santos… basically no one.

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  16. maxjusttyped says:

    If Alex Anthopoulos acquired Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers, and Francisco Liriano for what Kenny Williams had given up, the comment section of this article would be flooded with people referring to AA as a “ninja.” Appears to me there’s a bit of a double standard here.

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    • Cole says:

      If you don’t hoard prospects, you must be a horrible GM.

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      • maxjusttyped says:

        I never said Anthopoulos was a horrible GM, it goes without saying he’s one of the best in the game. But whenever the Jays make a move, people start falling over themselves to compliment him, and tell us how he’s discovered the new market inefficiency.

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      • Cole says:

        I know, I was just agreeing with you by making a snarky comment

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    • Tim says:

      Anthopoulos gets more credit because he’s making good trades against quality competition. Much credit to Kenny for recognizing when a giveaway is available and taking action, though. Picking low-hanging fruit is an important skill even if it’s less flashy.

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