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.
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.