Ever since his demotion to the bullpen, Francisco Liriano has been back to his new-old self.
In 37.1 innings, Liriano has posted a much improved 2.41 ERA, limited hitters to a .157 average against and has struck out 40 while walking just 14 thanks to rekindling his relationship with his dirty, dirty slider
Nevertheless, even with the improvement, the Twins front office has to be considering moving the enigmatic starter at the upcoming trade deadline because of the current state of the organization and the $12 million price tag required to offer him in arbitration in order to secure a compensatory draft pick. If the Twins are committed to rebuilding and strengthening the organization for several years instead of just next year, trading the rejuvenated Liriano makes complete sense.
The question is what sort of return could the Twins expect at the deadline?
FoxSports.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted
yesterday that his club sources told him that officials expect “robust” interest in Liriano based on his recent performance. With the added Wild Card berth granted this year, clearly more teams will consider themselves buyers rather than sellers and the deadline. And, if what Morosi said is accurate, Liriano’s value is elevated by a number of clubs competing for his service and the Twins return should be expectedly more substantial.
Of course, it is not quite that cut-and-dry. For starters, Liriano’s impending free agency undoubtedly drives his return down. After all, we’re not talking a Cliff Lee/CC Sabathia-type track record that would merit a team unloading multiple prospects for the half-season rental. Liriano has just six consecutive starts in which he’s pitched well. Furthermore, even though he has not shown it this season, he remains an injury concern.
Since 2001, there seems to be just a few trades that occurred at the non-waiver deadline that are comparable to the Twins if they choose to move Liriano by himself (if they add players to the trade, all bets are off).
On July 28th
, 2010, the 56-44 Chicago White Sox were clinging to a one-game lead over the Twins and looking to further distance themselves by adding some starting pitching. Sox GM Kenny Williams targeted the Arizona Diamondbacks’ hard-throwing right-handed, 26-year-old Edwin Jackson.
Jackson, who had worked 397.1 innings with a 27-20 record along with a 3.99 ERA the previous two seasons, was not finding the National League nearly as accommodating as Tampa Bay or Detroit. In 21 starts with the Arizona club in 2010, he went 6-10 with a 5.16 ERA while walking four batters per nine innings – his highest rate since 2007. Despite that performance, Chicago’s lust for a winner and Jackson’s recent success combined with a 94 mile per hour fastball incited Williams to pull the trigger by sending their third and eighth highest ranking prospects according to Baseball America in right-handed starter Dan Hudson and lefty David Holmberg.
Hudson has been extremely valuable in Arizona, going 26-14 in 52 starts with a very nice 3.47 ERA while striking out 273 and walking just 78 in 345.1 innings pitched. Holmberg, meanwhile, has turned 20 years old this year but is a fast-moving prospect in the Dback’s system. In his stop at high-A Visalia he struck out 86 batters in 78.1 innings and was bumped to AA Mobile.
What’s the likelihood of this scenario playing out for the Twins? I wouldn’t hold my breath. Unlike Liriano, Jackson was under contract at the time and due to make a reasonable sum of $8.35 million in 2011 and he had also never showed much injury potential making his acquisition seemingly less risky than Liriano. Still, never underestimate a GM who reeks of desperation for a winner, as Williams proved, who was willing to flip a productive and club-controlled pitcher for one they felt could contribute immediately.
If the Jackson-for-Hudson trade is at one end of the potential spectrum (the “hey, wouldn’t it be great if…” end of the spectrum) at the other end is the Kyle Lohse-to-Philly trade in 2007 (the “hey, this feels about right” end).
That year, the Phillies, who had finished second in the NL East for three consecutive seasons and were denied playoff berths, wanted to improve their starting rotation. Curiously enough, they tapped into Cincinnati’s Lohse who had been traded from Minnesota to the Reds one year ago to the day.
In Lohse, the Phillies were receiving a 28-year-old right-hander who had seen a steady decline in his performance since his solid 2003 season – although his record while in Cincinnati was more reflective of his lack of run support, receiving below average offense in his time with the Reds. In exchange, Philadelphia shipped a left-handed pitcher who was tearing up the lower ranks of their system: 23-year-old Matt Maloney.
Although Lohse is nothing like Liriano in terms of style – Liriano’s ceiling and floor is wildly different than Lohse’s had been up to that point - their situations share similarities. For instance, when traded, Lohse would be paid a prorated share of his $4.2 million salary, not all too different from Liriano’s $5.5 million. Both were reasonable contracts to assume but potential trade partners likely recognize that the current teams (the Reds and Twins respectively) were not planning on retaining either pitcher.
As Twins fans know by now, Maloney never quite panned out but back in 2007, he was an interesting commodity for Cincinnati. As Baseball America pointed out, Maloney had just come off a season in the South Atlantic League in which he was named Pitcher of the Year thanks to leading the league in wins (16), innings (169) and strikeouts (180) and finishing a close second in ERA (2.03). Since they were going to lose Lohse to free agency likely anyways, landing an intriguing arm in exchange seemed like a fair compensation.
Obviously, it is hard to predict what the market with do for Liriano with a month remaining to the deadline. If he continues his current output, it is easy to see more teams jumping into the fray (such as the Toronto Blue Jays who Nick Nelson wrote about today
) and perhaps push offers up towards the Daniel Hudson level. However, if he falters a bit, his stock likely drops to the Maloney-prospect-gamble range.