Scouting The Trade Market: Francisco Liriano

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

In 1991, Jorge made his professional debut with the Oneonta Yankees.

And then there were two.

As the Yankees gear up for an active off-season as the team prepares for the 2012 season, the clock is ticking inexorably forward for the players with whom I’ve grown up. Bernie Williams faded from view in 2006, Andy Pettitte stepped down after the wear and tear of 2010 grew to be too much, and now, it seems, it is Jorge’s turn.

The erstwhile catcher turned part-time DH spoke on Wednesday night at a charity event for his foundation. He hasn’t decided to hang it up yet, and a few Major League teams have come a-knockin’. The Yankees however are not one of them. “I don’t think there’s even a percentage of a chance that I can come back. It’s not going to happen,” Posada said.

I can’t imagine Posada’s emotions as the season ended. Drafted by the Yankees in the 1990 amateur draft when he was all of 19 years old, the Puerto Rican native has spent an eternity with the Yankee organization. In fact, only Mariano Rivera has been with the organization for longer. Over the past 17 years, Posada has earned more than $117 million from the Yanks, and he has put up numbers as a catcher that make him a serious contender for Cooperstown. He hit .273/.374/.474 with 275 home runs and starred in October on four World Series winners.

“I,” Posada said, “will always be a Yankee. The Yankees for me is my second family. It would be tough to put on another uniform for real and learn another set of rules and all that stuff, but that’s one of those things. I have to see if I want to keep playing.”

Posada, who had a tough time coming to grips with a team that no longer needed his full services this year, knows what baseball is all about. After 17 years in the Majors with the same team, Jorge harbors no grudges. “At the end of the day, it’s a business,” he said. “You look back and you wish there was some things that could have gone differently, but they didn’t. There’s nothing I could control. Everything happened for a reason. I’m not bitter at the Yankees. I’m not bitter at Joe Girardi. I’m not bitter at Brian Cashman. It just happened.”

We lived through the Posada drama this year. Mired in a bad slump, he benched himself when he was on the verge of hitting ninth. He ended the year at just .235/.315/.398 in 387 plate appearances, and he saw the future in Jesus Montero emerge in September. He isn’t quite ready to call it a career though, and his .269/.348/.466 line against right-handers has made him a wanted man. Still, Jorge said, questions remain: “Do I want to do it for somebody else? Do I want to leave home? Do I want to do it all over again without knowing anybody? It would be tough. I’ve got great people, great friends and great teammates and it would be tough to learn new people again.”

His wife last night expressed an interest in seeing Jorge play for the Marlins at a new stadium near their home. It would be the final hurrah of a great career, but I selfishly would rather not see him anywhere else. He’s Jorge Posada, Yankee. Even as other Hall of Fame lifers have ended their careers elsewhere, I want to see my favorite players go out on top as proud Yankees. It’s the cheesiness of the emotional impact of the game. Jorge was there through my teen years and well past college. Don’t wind up playing out a perfunctory final season with Tampa Bay or the Marlins just to show the world you can.

Jorge told reporters last night that he doesn’t know what he’s going to do, but he said he’s been talking to Bernie about it all. “Make sure you make the right decision,” Jorge said Bernie told him. “Don’t say or do something that you are going to regret.” Go out on your own terms, go out when you want to, and hopefully after 20 years, go out a Yankee.

Sanchez makes winter ball debut

Gary Sanchez is playing winter ball this year, suiting up for the Leones de Escogido of the Dominican Winter League. His regular season ended in early-August because of a broken finger, so it’s good to see him make up for some lost at-bats this winter. Sanchez, who turns 19 in December, went 1-for-3 with a strikeout and a run scored in his debut yesterday (box score). He served as the DH and singled off short-term Yankee Raul Valdes.

Also, the Yankees have re-signed minor league free agents Reegie Corona and Ronny Marte. Gabriel Tatis was released.

AzFL Phoenix (4-3 win over surprise) Monday’s game
Corban Joseph, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
Rob Segedin, LF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
David Phelps, RHP: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 8-2 GB/FB – 43 of 70 pitches were strikes (61.4%) … that’s four runs, two walks, and ten strikeouts in his last three starts (14 IP)
Preston Claiborne, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-0 GB/FB – nine of 16 pitches were strikes (56.3%)

Tuesday’s AzFL Phoenix game was canceled for some reason. Probably bad weather or something.

 

Open Thread: Humberto Sanchez

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years already, but after the 2006 season the Yankees dumped Gary Sheffield on the Tigers, receiving three minor league pitchers in return. The headliner for the Yankees was the Dominican Republic-born and New York City-raised righty Humberto Sanchez, who Baseball America would rank as the 57th best prospect in the game just a few months later. Unfortunately, he never delivered on that promise.

A few weeks after Baseball America’s rankings came out, Sanchez went down with a torn elbow ligament in Spring Training and had Tommy John surgery. A prolonged rehab kept him on the shelf until the second half of the 2008 season. After 14.2 minor league innings across three levels, Sanchez got his first taste of the big leagues, allowing one run in two innings as a September call-up. The Yankees released Sanchez in April 2009 but quickly re-signed him to a minor league pact. He never resurfaced as a Major Leaguer, and two years ago today, the Yankees officially cut ties with the one affectionately known as Hungry Hungry Humberto. Two years and 364 days after the trade, he’d been released for good.

Unable to land a job with one of the 30 clubs, Sanchez headed to Asia for the 2010 season, signing with the since renamed La New Bears of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. He returned to the States this past season with the independent Camden River Sharks, though he also pitched for a pair of Mexican League teams. Now 28, Humberto gave the Yankees just 50.1 minor league innings and eight big league batters faced following the trade. Prospects eh? They’ll break your heart time and time again.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Rangers are the only local sports team team in action, but I trust that you folks will find ways to occupy yourselves. Talk about anything you like here, the thread is yours.

Yankees eyeing two more Cuban defectors

By now you know all about outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, but he’s not the only Cuban defector on the market. According to Jesse Sanchez and George King, the Yankees also have their eyes on 19-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler and 23-year-old right-hander Armando Rivero.

Soler, a big boy at 6-foot-4 and 225 lbs., is said to be a corner outfielder with “explosive power” and a strong arm according to Baseball America (no subs. req’d). Rivero, who stands 6-foot-3, reportedly features a fastball that touched 98 during the showcase as well as a slider, changeup, and splitter. Neither player was part of Cuba’s team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Both guys strutted their stuff in a showcase at the Yankees’ complex in the Dominican Republic last week.

Cashman talks further about Yanks winter plans

This morning Brian Cashman put in some volunteer work, donating coats and helping out for New York Cares’ winter coat drive. Wherever Cashman goes reporters are bound to follow. Following the event both Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger and Erik Boland of Newsday provided dispatches. Here’s a rundown of what he said, along with the relevant commentary. You can find the original quotes from both Boland’s and Carig’s Twitter feeds.

(On a side note, even if you’re not into the whole Twitter thing, I highly recommend you sign up for an account if only to follow some of the beat writers. They provide quick, interesting information throughout the day. It helps that they’re mostly good guys, too.)

  • Cashman said that teams have already inquired about the Yankees’ catching depth. From Carig’s article: “There would be interest in those guys. I’ve had a lot of teams express, ‘Hey, if you’re ever going to do something there, mark us down,’ that type of things.” The Yankees have not only Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, but also Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy a few rungs below.

    As Mike mentioned during the World Series, the Yankees could learn from the Rangers in this regard. They had three big-time catching prospects, none of whom panned out. The Yankees could opt to deal from that position of strength this winter. Sanchez in particular could be an enticing bit for a team that’s a bit further away from contention. Romine, too, could play a less significant part in a bigger trade.

  • Cashman said that while he’s been in contact with several teams, he’s not yet sure whether the best path to acquiring a starter will be the free agent or trade market. He said that he hasn’t gotten to the point of financials with any player/agent, so we’re probably a long way away from any activity.
  • Boland had an interesting bit about Hector Noesi. Cashman wants him to pitch in winter ball, because he “needs innings.” That makes sense after he threw just 81 innings this year between AAA and the majors. Noesi is in line to compete for a rotation spot next year, though his value is that he can pitch both out of the bullpen and in the rotation.
  • In other homegrown pitching news, Ivan Nova has been cleared and his strained forearm is “fully 100 percent.” There is nothing to worry about heading into the spring, which is relieving news. Any time a pitcher complains of forearm tightness there’s a fear that it might actually be the elbow. Losing Nova for a year to Tommy John surgery would be quite devastating right now.
  • After repeating his line about a set budget for the past two off-seasons, Cashman said that he had the “flexibility to stretch it if needed” (Carig’s words). The Yankees could have between $192 and $198 million committed to the players currently on the roster, so in order to add any pieces, never mind a significant free agent or trade piece, they’d need to go a bit higher than they have in years past.
  • Finally, Cashman says they had no interest in Jonathan Sanchez. Clearly he has no reason to admit it if they did have interest. But it really makes no sense. He’s just not the kind of guy the Yankees need to target right now.

Should the Yankees look at Rich Harden as back-of-the-rotation fodder?

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

On Tuesday Mike took a look at the A’s starters that are still under contract that could theoretically be acquired via trade. Today I wanted to look at a righty who pitched for the A’s last season that could be acquired for just money: free agent Rich Harden.

Before we dive too deeply into this, note that a potential Yankee acquisition of Harden almost certainly wouldn’t occur until January, comes with the assumption that they don’t end up signing either Yu Darvish or C.J. Wilson, and that the team would likely be looking at the oft-injured Harden as the 2012 version of either Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon.

Anyway, it wasn’t too long ago that Harden was one of the best pitchers on the planet. Starting with his inaugural season through the end of 2009, Harden compiled the 9th-best ERA (3.39) in all of MLB among pitchers with 750-plus innings. Among that same group he posted the top K/9 in all of baseball (9.35) and 15th-best FIP (3.58).

Unfortunately, while the soon-to-be 31-year-old Harden has frequently been brilliant, he has of course also frequently been injured. He’s never thrown more than 200 innings in a season, and has only even broken the 150-inning plateau once, back in 2004 (a career-high 189.2 innings and 31 starts). Harden’s litany of professional injuries began in 2005, as he lost more than a month to an oblique strain, and suffered a shoulder injury later in the year. The 2006 and 2007 seasons were almost entirely lost to injury, as he made a combined 13 starts in between recovering from a series of back, elbow and shoulder problems.

Harden got semi-back on track in 2008, turning in a superb 13 starts for the Athletics (2.34 ERA/2.83 FIP) before  being traded to the Cubs and compiling an even better 12 starts for Chicago (1.70 ERA/3.08 FIP) in the stretch run, though he still missed time with another right shoulder injury. The Cubs picked up Harden’s option for 2009, but still another back injury and right arm injury limited his effectiveness, and he turned in the worst full season of his career.

The Rangers ended up signing Harden in December 2009 to what seemed to be an aggressive one-year, $7.5 million deal. I was beating the drum pretty hard for Ben Sheets at the time — whose career rather eerily mirrors Harden’s — as both pitchers looked to be solid high-risk, high-reward signings. Harden wound up being terrible for Texas in yet another injury-plagued year, and was released after the season.

The A’s signed him to a one-year deal last winter, and though he (surprise, surprise) started the year on the DL with yet another shoulder injury, he threw fairly well over his first nine starts of the season, tossing to a 3.91 ERA and a crazy 10.2 K/9, showing that he still had his famous strikeout stuff despite a significant decline in velocity from his peak fastball. Unfortunately for Harden, the Yankees more or less broke him during the three-grand slam game, and he finished the season tossing to a 7.28 ERA over his final six starts.

So what does the enigmatic Harden have to offer potential suitors? I initially created a table breaking down his repertoire and results against righties and lefties over the last few seasons, courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com, but rather than post that monstrosity here I’ll just summarize.

Here’s the good news: all four of Harden’s pitches — the low-90s four-seamer, low-80s slider, low-80s changeup and low-80s splitter, were above-average Whiff% pitches against hitters from both sides of the plate. The changeup in particular wreaked havoc on righties, racking up a 30.8% whiff rate (compared to 12.6% league average). As a point of comparison, James Shields’s Whiff% with the change against righties was 20.5%. Now, Shields of course deployed the changeup quite a bit more frequently than Harden, but it’s still a point in Harden’s favor. Harden’s change has also been a valuable weapon against lefties, with a 20.5% Whiff%.

Here’s the not-so-good news (batted ball data from JoeLefkowitz.com):

While the slider was a strong swing-and-miss offering against righties, they also punished his apparently fairly frequent mistakes, as 2.6% of his sliders left the yard. In fact, Harden gave up a career-high 1.85 home runs per nine in 2011. The remainder of his batted-ball profile is a bit scary as well, with a 22.8% LD% that would’ve put him among the highest in baseball had he enough innings to qualify (though CC Sabathia finished in the top 10, so it’s not as if that’s some automatic death knell), while his GB% would have been among the lowest in the league.

Still, Harden finished the season with a 9.91 K/9, which is bound to draw interest from a number of different parties, even with his myriad injury issues. Even though he hasn’t been an elite pitcher since 2008, I would be surprised if Harden was still on the market by the time the Yankees would theoretically come calling.

That said, if he is still hanging around come January, and the Yankees still have an opening in the rotation, if I’m the Yanks I would absolutely take a flier on Harden, who they were looking at as a potential waiver-wire acquisition in August, and who probably isn’t in line for all that much more than the $1.5 million he picked up with the A’s last season.