The Interesting Case of Francisco Liriano: Twins Look to Move a Starter by the Trade Deadline

Thursday July 26th, 2012

Bryan Sheehan (MLB Writer): There is no doubt that the Minnesota Twins are going to be sellers this year at the trade deadline. At 18 games under .500, they have the worst record in the American League, and with a team ERA of an even 5.00, they find themselves only ahead of the Colorado Rockies at the bottom in terms of pitching. According to Jayson Stark , the Twins are willing to move “just about anybody” on their roster, and all signs point to starter Francisco Liriano’s departure. The troubled starter ranks 93 out of 101 qualified pitchers in ERA (5.31) and is just one loss off a league worst 11. Liriano’s $5.5 million salary is fifth highest among Twins players, and it goes without saying that his performances are well below what he’s being paid. But does that mean he has no trade value?

Of course Liriano is of some value to a team looking to add another pitcher at the deadline. His strikeout numbers are far above average at 109 in just 100 innings (sixth best in the MLB for K/9), and his stats are skewed because of a rough start to the 2012 season. For example: since May 1, opponents are batting just .210 against him, while he was teed of on in the first month of the season (.368 BAA in April). His ERA of 5.31 would be just 4.25 if his rough start is excluded, and his 1.44 WHIP would drop to 1.26. And even with a shaky April, Liriano has allowed the lowest contact rate in all of baseball. While these numbers are not elite, they do show the true value of Liriano’s pitching.

So where would the 28-year-old left-hander fit? Considering he is in the final year of his contract, teams who are looking to buy low and hope for a high return could be interested in Liriano’s services. The Orioles, Red Sox, Angels, Blue Jays and Yankees have all been linked to Liriano in rumors, as any of these teams could benefit from a strikeout pitcher late in the year.

The O’s have had trouble at the bottom of their rotation, and replacing Liriano for the struggling Tommy Hunter (4-5, 5.57) may give them the edge in the American League wild card. Just a game and a half back, they could take the risk by acquiring Liriano for their rotation. If he doesn’t perform, they swap him back into the bullpen for Hunter and continue the hunt for October.

The Sox, and Angels are also in the race for the wild card. While the Angels would gain the most by replacing Ervin Santana, who carries a 6.00 ERA in 2012, Boston could use another starter to help a rotation missing John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Both teams play in large enough markets that they could easily take on what’s left of Liriano’s five million dollar salary, and maybe make a run at resigning him after the season if he performs well.

As for the Toronto Blue Jays, making a run at Liriano could be the spark they need. Sitting four games out of the wild card, they rank 27th in the league in ERA  with a team total of 4.60. They have already acquired J.A. Happ from the Houston Astros, but starters Brett Cecil and Henderson Alvarez could both move to the bullpen if their struggles continue. While their biggest woe is Ricky Romero‘s 5.75 ERA, I don’t see them moving the ace to the ‘pen anytime soon. He might take a little breather in the minors, but the rotation is where he is expected to be for the rest of this season. The bottom of their rotation, Aaron Laffey and Carlos Villanueva, both have ERAs under 2.90, and injecting Liriano as the third starter in place of Cecil would make the team much stronger. The only thing stopping them would be the asking price: if it’s too high, the Jays may back off and wait until 2013 when Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek are healthy enough to return to the rotation and make a playoff run.

Despite what the numbers say about Liriano, he does have some ability. He can overpower hitters (as evident by his strikeout numbers and low contact rate), and may be an asset to a team trying to reach the post season. Conversely, his inconsistency and occasional meltdown on the mound would make him a risky addition. That being said, for the right price, acquiring Liriano would be well worth the risk for a contending team.

Today’s feature was prepared by  Baseball Writer, Bryan Sheehan. You can follow Bryan on Twitter (@BaseballHipster), read his interviews with Phillies’ minor league prospects at PhightingOn.com and PhuturePhillies.com, and catch him writing the occasional article for ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com. Tweet him about this article and give him a follow and he will follow you back!

 

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Posted on July 26, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Interesting Case of Francisco Liriano: Twins Look to Move a Starter by the Trade Deadline.

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