Scouting The Trade Market: Francisco Liriano

A departure, but not yet the end, for Jorge
What does it take to get a save in this place?

While speaking to reporters at a charity function yesterday, Brian Cashman said it was too early to know if the best pitching options were available via free agency or trade this offseason. “I haven’t talked to every team and I haven’t talked to every agent yet,” he said. “And I certainly haven’t had any agent tell me what they want financially.” Cashman has put preliminary calls in to the representatives for C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, and Edwin Jackson, but nothing more than that. The trade market, as I wrote last week, can offer more cost effective alternatives.

After a disastrous 63-99 season, the Twins somewhat surprisingly fired GM Bill Smith earlier this week (surprising because it didn’t happen sooner), replacing him with long-time GM Terry Ryan. During his re-introductory press conference, Ryan said the team’s payroll will drop about $15M next season, which could mean that some of his players might be available in trades. One of the guys that could potentially be on the block is a name we’ve discussed quite a bit here in the past, left-hander Francisco Liriano. He’s always kinda been the black sheep in the Twins rotation, not conforming to their “let the hitter put the ball in play and get quick outs” pitching philosophy. Whether or not that makes him any more available, we don’t know. Let’s look at his qualifications…

The Pros

  • When right, the 28-year-old Liriano is a dominant strikeout and ground ball pitcher. He burst onto the scene with a 10.71 K/9 and 55.3% ground ball rate in 2006, then put together a Cy Young caliber season with 9.44 K/9 and 53.6% grounders in 2010. His walk and homerun rates those two years were 2.38 BB/9 with 0.67 HR/9, and 2.72 BB/9 with 0.42 HR/9, respectively. Batters have swung and missed on 12.7% of the swings they’ve taken against Liriano in his career, a ridiculous rate. Utter domination.
  • A true three-pitch guy, Liriano throws his mid-80’s slider and changeup regularly (~20% of the time) in addition to his low-90’s fastball, which he can sink a bit. He destroys left-handed batters, holding them to a .277 wOBA with a 3.12 K/BB ratio with 61% ground ball rate for his career. Only one lefty (former Yankee Juan Miranda) has taken him deep since August of 2009.
  • MLBTR projects a $5.7M salary for Liriano next season, his final trip through arbitration before becoming a free agent next offseason. It’s a reasonable salary and a short-term commitment.

The Cons

  • Pardon me while I get my Tim McCarver on, but as good as Liriano was in 2010, that’s how as bad as he was in 2011. Yes, he did throw a no-hitter against the White Sox, but he only made it to the mound for 134.1 IP and posted career worsts in K/9 (7.50), BB/9 (5.02), and xFIP (4.52). It was the second time in three years he pitched to a 4.00+ BB/9, 5.00+ ERA, and 4.50+ FIP.
  • Liriano has a lengthy injury history, with Tommy John surgery in late-2006 being just being the tip of the iceberg. He missed significant time in the minors with shoulder trouble, which is why he was thrown into the ill-fated Joe Nathan-A.J. Pierzynski swap. Forearm swelling and arm fatigue (requiring a cortisone shot) cost him three weeks in 2009, and more shoulder problems (soreness, inflammation, and then a strain) shelved him for a total of seven weeks in 2011. All arm problems. Yuck.
  • Because of all the injuries, Liriano has never thrown 200 IP in a single season. In fairness, he did top 190 IP in both 2008 and 2010 when you tally up the majors and minors. More than one out of every four pitches he’s thrown over the last three seasons has been a slider, and those are generally believed to wreak havoc on a pitcher’s arm when used so heavily.
  • To make matters worse, Liriano told Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson that he did not do his prescribed shoulder strengthening exercises last winter. It’s not the first time the team has had a problem with the lefty’s work ethic and conditioning, and that’s part of the reason why they never got serious about signing him to a long-term contract.

The Yankees have been connected to Liriano quite a bit over the last year or so, and they reportedly “dangled” the duo of Ivan Nova and Ramiro Pena for the lefty last winter. That would be an overpay now, simply because Nova had a strong rookie season and is under team control for five more years while Liriano had a poor and injury-filled season and is only under contract for one more year. I’m certain Minnesota would be interested in a Nova for Liriano swap, but it doesn’t make sense for the Yankees at this point. They should be looking to add to the rotation around Nova, not replace him.

The healthy version of Liriano is as good as it gets, a homer-suppressing left-hander with swing-and-miss stuff, but you don’t know what guy you’re going to get from year to year or even from start to start. That arm has been through quite a bit despite his relatively young age, and there’s a legitimate chance that any team that trades for him will get zero return. The talent is tantalizing though, and theoretically the price should be dropping given his poor season and one year of team control. There’s a lot of risk involved here but I think the Yankees should at least inquire, just in case the Twins are open to moving him for pennies on the dollar given his poor health and their impending payroll cuts.

A departure, but not yet the end, for Jorge
What does it take to get a save in this place?
  • AJavierkei Pavagawnett


    Going into free agency, Liriano has every reason to come out this year and be at his best. If the Twins are truly rebuilding and he can be had for a second tier prospect, what’s the downside to this guy? If he’s healthy and in form he can have top of the rotation stuff. If he’s lousy he can get “low-leverage” (i.e. crap) middle-inning relief work.

    • Ted Nelson

      The downside is that the “second tier prospect” is better than Liriano. Which is a real possibility depending on what you mean by “second tier.”

  • David, Jr.

    The Twins absolutely are in need of rebuilding. They lost 99 games last year, have a barren farm system and fairly limited financial resources, so the only way that they can rebound would be by making deals like this. However, it would take more than a second tier prospect, because Liriano is good enough to generate some trade interest.

    After stupidly trading Ramos for Matt Capps, and in view of Mauer’s health questions, the Twins are badly in need of a catcher. They also need pitching of all types.

    Perhaps Cervelli and Warren would do it. If something like proved to be the cost, Liriano’s upside might be worth a shot.

    • Ted Nelson

      I would honestly hesitate to deal Warren and Cervelli for Liriano.

      • David, Jr.

        You could be right, Ted. It is a very tough one, because if you got anything near the 2010 Liriano it would be a real coup.

        The trick to it would be trade from excess, meaning what you don’t really need for the Yankees. I just don’t think he is in the category where the Twins will virtually give him away.

        • Ted Nelson

          Yeah, I don’t think that the Twins will give him away. That’s why I probably wouldn’t trade for him. Perhaps as a last-ditch lottery ticket should the season approach with no other acquisition, there be rumors/proof that he’s working hard this off-season, and especially if I’m not high on Warren.

          Between Warren being close to MLB ready himself, Cervelli being a good back-up C, and Liriano taking up a rotation spot which might result in lost games… there is some real downside. (Liriano could be moved to the bullpen, but probably not too quickly and if his attitude is questionable he’s not likely to take it well in a walk-year.)

          It’s also a big question of whether the Yankees want Montero to C. There are some indications that they might not, and if not they’re going to value Cervelli more than you might.

  • Azzmat

    George Kontos for Liriano, its a fair deal.

    • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

      The bust of that post-season underachiever, Babe Ruth, for Francisco Liriano.

  • Mike

    Loriano is a left handed AJ Burnett. im all set. One AJ is enough…….. However if you can get him on the cheap. I’m fine with that.

    • Rainbow Connection

      We also already have a ‘Hughes’ (injury-prone SP with a poor work ethic).

  • Kosmo

    Liriano´s work ethic has been called into question on a number of occasions. He´s got 1 year 4.3 million coming to him for 2012 then he´s a FA. I´d pass.

    • Soriano Is A Liar

      Meh, the money doesn’t both me much, you’d have to spend more and give more years to a similar guy as a free agent. But still, I’d pass too and not pay twice for him, unless the FA market doesn’t work out and he’s a last resort.

      • Kosmo

        Granted the money isn´t an issue . I was thinking in terms of why give up Warren who could actually amount to an OK SP for a pitcher on the last year of his contract ? If Liriano has a good year in 2012 then maybe NY signs him. He has to prove he wants the ball and that he can stay healthy.

        • Ted Nelson

          He cannot possibly prove that in one year, which is the problem. He’s had great seasons before, only to blow-up afterwards. A great 2012 doesn’t mean you want to sign him for 2013, let alone long-term.

          • Kosmo

            or then again you might want to sign him.

  • Johnny O

    i’d give up one of Warren or Phelps but that’s it. Last year at this time I would’ve given up nova and romine. apparently i’m an idiot.

    • vin

      You weren’t an idiot. He was coming off a Cy Young caliber season, and the Yanks had missed out on Cliff Lee (who was their plan A, B, C, and D).

  • UYF1950

    Liriano, really I mean really scares me and not in a good way. Work ethic issues and injury history as recently as this past season. That’s a receipt for disaster. Only if he’s the pitcher of last resort would I bite on him If I’m Cashman and only then like it was mentioned for pennies on the dollar and I’d only be willing to trade Cervelli and Pena. Maybe I could be convinced to resign Brackman and throw him in. Just my opinion and this is probably a bit sarcastic but as far as I’m concerned Liriano is only worth whatever deadweight the Yankees want to get rid of in a trade.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    “The healthy version of Liriano is as good as it gets……with swing and miss stuff but you don’t know what you’re going to get from year to year or even from day to day”. Sounds familiar. Are you describing AJ?

    •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      Not anymore. Even when healthy he’s not “as good as it gets” at this stage.

      • JAG

        Liriano and AJ have very different problems at this time. AJ isn’t a health concern (any more than any random pitcher, anyway) but is horrendously inconsistent, sometimes showing amazing stuff and othertimes showing stuff worse than David Cone could probably give right now. Liriano’s inconsistency seems to be mostly/all health related. When he’s healthy, he’s amazing. When he’s not, he’s awful, and his apparent work ethic has made it so you can’t predict whether he’s going to be healthy from start to start.

        I’d pass on Liriano unless the price was literally too good to pass up (we’re talking Greg Golson and JB Cox or something).

    • Monteroisdinero

      No, because his stuff wasn’t described as “electric”.

      AJ electric with frequent power outages….

  • Ted Nelson

    I doubt the price will be commensurate with his value… maybe the Twins just try to cut his salary by giving him away, but I doubt it. Might depend on free agent compensation in the next CBA and whether they think Liriano will perform in 2012… but they might just pay the $6 mill to hope he comes through and pick up a pick or two when he walks.

    He is the black sheep because he stinks most of the time and reportedly doesn’t work hard. It’s like saying Kei Igawa was the black sheep of the Yankees rotation because he doesn’t conform to their philosophy of pitching well.

    “They should be looking to add to the rotation around Nova, not replace him.”

    I really don’t get this insistence on Nova being “built around.” Players are liquid. If you get better value for him in return, you move him. I don’t think Liriano is at all the guy, and after only one decent season it’s doubtful the Yankees get great value for Nova if they’re high on him. However, if a deal came along that the Yankees felt would improve their team by moving Nova… why not do it?

    •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      He isn’t saying he’s the black sheep because he “stinks most of the time and reportedly doesn’t work hard.” He’s referring to the type of pitcher that he is. More of a strikeout pithcer than the pitch-to-contact guys that the Twins typically have.

      “However, if a deal came along that the Yankees felt would improve their team by moving Nova… why not do it?”

      I’m sure they would. That deal is unlikely and Liriano is not that guy, but if someone happened to come along and want Nova for a front-end starter, then sure they do it.

      • Ted Nelson

        I understand, and hate that narrative. If Liriano were Verlander, I’m sure the Tigers would be ok with it. It’s as likely that they don’t like him because he doesn’t work hard and hurts their team, as it is because he doesn’t fit their philosophy.

        I would imagine that the Yankees would too. Which is why I question Mike’s repeated insistence for weeks now that they HAVE TO build around the great and amazing Ivan Nova.

        • thenamestsam

          I’m not Mike obviously, but I think the point he’s trying to make isn’t that Ivan Nova is amazing and has to be built around. I think what he’s trying to say is that the Yankees need to add to the rotation, and obviously if you trade a starter for a starter you’re not adding in the sense of number of starters. That’s not to say that you wouldn’t trade Nova for another starter if the other starter was better, just that you’d prefer to trade someone who’s not already in the rotation to do that. The Yankees primary goal in these pitching discussions (as I see it) is to lengthen the rotation. Trading Nova+ to upgrade that 2nd spot might make the rotation better but it doesn’t really achieve that goal.

          • Mike Axisa


            • Ted Nelson

              That is not what you’re said at all, though. You keep repeating the same tag line: “don’t trade him, build around him.” If that’s not what you mean, why are you saying it over and over and over?

              Upgrading over Nova and lengthening the rotation are not mutually exclusive by any means.

              • Mike Axisa

                That’s not at all what I said. Read the post and stop putting words in my mouth.

                • Ted Nelson

                  What are you talking about?

                  Get over yourself: “They should be looking to add to the rotation around Nova, not replace him.”

                  That’s what you said. Copied and pasted. There have been several other times where you’ve said something to the effect of build around him, don’t replace him. Semantics aside, you have repeated it over and over.

                  I think you do a great job on this blog, but your superiority complex is annoying. That you do a great job running a forum to present your opinions doesn’t somehow make your opinions superior.

                  I have read the article, and letting your ego get in the way of admitting a flaw in your logic to the point of getting so defensive is disingenuous.

                  • Mike Axisa

                    Yes, that is exactly what I wrote. You interpreted that as me saying Nova was a building block that could not be traded. Sorry you jumped to the wrong conclusion.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      I did not jump to any conclusion. I read what you wrote. And what you’ve written several times now in different threads.

                      “Add to the rotation around Nova” is only marginally different from “build around him.” I am really not, nor was I ever concerned with the difference. I did not think you mistook Nova for Sabathia or anything. “Not replace him” is fairly synonymous with “not trade him” unless you think they intend to cut or demote him or move him to the pen or use him in the field.

                      And I didn’t think it was “could not,” but “should not.” Because you literally said “should be looking.” Not “must” or “have to.” I do read English.
                      This is the real disagreement… because I think they should be looking to get better in any way possible. (Better understanding that they have a budget, and have to balance short-term and long-term success.) If someone wants to talk Nova, he doesn’t have a no-trade clause that I know of… so I imagine Cashman would at least listen.

                      It’s as if I said “the Yankees uniform is white.” You pointed out that they wear blue, white, and grey in their uniforms. Then me saying “sorry you jumped to a conclusion about what I meant by ‘white.'”

                      Really not worth all this time, but you have said it several times now and I wish you would not say it. Especially if you don’t mean it.

                    • Tags

                      And Ted writes “Really not worth all this time” but he continues to agrue! Just my point in my comment below. This is going way overboard on a simple comment.

                • Tags

                  Its always this way with Ted, I dread reading a thread when I see him going on the offensive. As for Mike, I’ve felt he was overly critical of Nova for the most part and didn’t seem to come around to him till the end of the season. And for the most part Mike has written that he still see’s Nova as a 3 or lower, so I don’t think he considers him the “great amazing Nova”, he’s saying he’s a peice of the rotation puzzle, and lets add to it.

        • CMP

          Nova is a solid young starter under control for many years. Why wouldn’t the Yankees want to build around Nova is a better question.

          He certainly isn’t an untouchable but unless the Yankees plan on having a $300 million payroll, they need to sprinkle in some young inexpensive players to the mix to balance out all those bloated salaries from their vets and Nova fits that mold.

          • Ted Nelson

            I’m not at all advocating trading Nova, and I don’t expect they will. I’m reacting to Mike’s insistence that they “build around him, don’t trade him.” He’s said it like 50 times in the past few weeks, and it annoys me. It assumes Nova is someone to build around (hopefully, but it’s been 1 season), and it ignores the possibility that they get a deal returning better value (even if it’s marginal).

            “Why wouldn’t the Yankees want to build around Nova is a better question.”

            If they can get a better value in return for him…

            • thenamestsam

              It seems like the point you’re arguing here is that Mike should have clarified that they should trade Nova if they can get more in return than what they’re giving up, which really seems like an unnecessary nitpick, since it applies to every player.

              It seems to me that Mike’s wording “The Yankees should be looking to” makes it obvious that he’s talking about what their plan should be. He’s saying they should plan to add another starter to Nova not find one to replace him. Sure, you’re right that if they can get great value for Nova they should deal him, but I don’t think it’s necessary to mention that when talking about a plan. You can’t really plan to trade your players for more than they’re worth. If you could that would be a pretty foolproof plan.

              • Ted Nelson

                “which really seems like an unnecessary nitpick, since it applies to every player.”

                Then don’t say it about any player. I don’t think that’s at all a nitpick. It’s not like Nova is Kershaw or Felix, it is possible to get more back. Very possible he could be the guy other teams ask for in return for a front-line starter. I’d try to hold onto him, but if the bidding got hot he might be the guy who gets it done without giving up Montero or 50 prospects.

                “makes it obvious that he’s talking about what their plan should be.”

                Their plan should be to field the best team, considering $ and npv of talent. If that involves trading Nova, so be it. If he replaces Montero value-wise in a deal for a front-end starter the Yankees covet, I’d probably favor trading him.

                “You can’t really plan to trade your players for more than they’re worth.”

                You should plan to look for those trades. Yes. Look for the next Swisher deal. You’re not going to find it often, but sure you look for it.

    • Slugger27

      why do you think the price will be so high to acquire him? the twins arent expecting to contend, are looking to lower payroll, and liriano is a guy theyve quite obviously never been overly enamored with.

      • Ted Nelson

        I don’t think the price will be “so” high… I think that paying much of anything is too high. Certainly there is a price I would pay, I just think the Twins will ask for more than that.

        Their payroll already dropped $32 million through expiring contracts (some of which will be eaten in arb). They’re looking to add payroll at this point.

        I would imagine the Twins do hope to contend. They have a strong (if injury prone) core in their primes in Mauer, Morneau, and Span. Revere is a good looking young player. They have some ok pitching and always seem to piece together a rotation. They just need to fill in the blanks. Tigers falter, and the AL Central is wide-open.

        Granted, that they may want to contend probably makes them more likely to trade Liriano. Get some certain production in return and use his $ to fill another hole. If they’re looking for down-the-line potential, they might get as much in draft compensation as a trade for Liriano at this point (and if not someone overpaid for Liriano IMO).

  • cranky

    Romine+Warren for Liriano.

  • Mike

    These are the types of moves that make me glad we still have Billy Eppler around. Obviously they are going to do the homework and have access to more information (scouting reports, medical evaluations) that we don’t have. But if the risk was low in terms of prospects (David Phelps and Cervelli?) he is a definite buy low, has great stuff and maybe the whole pitching in a contract year will motivate the guy.

  • Matsui

    I took liriano deep in game one 2009 alds. A floater to deep center. Im a lefty beast.

  • Craig Maduro

    On one hand, I’m a fan of this idea. At one point (granted, it was 5-6 years ago), Liriano looked like he was going to be better than Johan Santana – the Santana in his prime, not the one declining with the Mets. I imagine he still has that ability.


    The thing that turned me off the most was his admission that he did not do his prescribed shoulder exercises during the offseason heading into 2011.

    I guess the main question is, can we expect Liriano to change in 2012? I don’t know if he’s the type to be motivated by a trade to the Yankees or by free agency (if there are two things to motivate you for a season, those have to be near the top, right?), but I wouldn’t be upset if they made a trade to find out.

    Buy low now, let him walk after the season and grab two draft picks.

  • S

    I said it last year when the Twins were reportedly dangling him for a trade and I’ll say it again, I don’t trust him to stay healthy and it would be a mistake to give up anything of worth for him.

  • thedudeabides

    Nova would be a better pitcher in the Twins system. Though he had a down year, the Yankees would gain from a Liriano Nova deal.