If the Twins make Francisco Liriano available…

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

The story, though only a few hours old, has made its rounds. On Wednesday evening The Minnesota Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen wrote that the Twin would consider trading Francisco Liriano, perhaps as early as this spring. Liriano doesn’t factor into the team’s long-term plans, writes Christensen, and with six possible starters on board they could use Liriano to help shore up an area of need, perhaps in their infield.

Even weak rumors of Liriano’s possible availability will certainly pique the interest of Yankees fans. He established himself throughout baseball in 2006 when he appeared in 28 games and made 16 starts, finishing with a 2.16 ERA. He possessed the beneficial combination of strikeouts and ground balls, and all indications were that he fit the bill of a true ace. Then came Tommy John surgery, which cost him a full season and perhaps affected two more. But in 2009 Liriano returned to his high-strikeout, low-walk, high-groundball ways. While his ERA was 3.62, his peripherals suggest that he might have better results in store.

Why, then, would the Twins want to trade him? His health record probably headlines the list. He had injury problems in the minor leagues, which played a part in the Giants’ decision to trade him in a package for A.J. Pierzynski. Then, at the end of his spectacular debut season, he missed the final month and a half with elbow and forearm problems that required Tommy John surgery to correct. That cost him 2007. When he came back in 2008 he wasn’t the same, and things didn’t get better in 2009. What’s even more concerning is that he spent time on the DL that year with what was termed elbow fatigue.

In 2010 Liriano demonstrated a full recovery, striking out more than a batter per inning and allowing just nine home runs all season. Still, he had his issues. He still pitched only 191.2 innings in 31 starts, which isn’t quite ace material. According to Christensen, he also developed a reputation for faltering in tight spots. All of this might motivate the Twins to explore trade situations. I’m not sure they’d consider a move in the spring; having six able starters is a blessing. But maybe if they fall out of the race they’d consider trading him mid-season.

We learned earlier in the winter that the Yankees already inquired on Liriano. There certainly has to be some level of interest. But as in all trade situations, the key lies in the return. Jesus Montero‘s name will likely come up, but I wouldn’t trade him for Liriano. As was the case with Zack Greinke, Liriano has just two years until free agency. That’s not enough cheap control to justify trading Montero. Surely any trade would involve Manny Banuelos, and since the Twins’ infield is in something of a disarray, I assume Eduardo Nunez would also be part of a package.

I’m not sure if that’s enough for the Twins. That will depend on what other teams offer, and whether the Twins are really motivated to move Liriano. Even if they are, I’d be hesitant to deal with them. These aren’t the same Twins that traded Johan Santana for four spare parts. Their 2011 payroll is already over $100 million, and they’re expected to contend in the AL Central. How will it help them to trade the only pitcher who approximates an ace? Even if he doesn’t factor into their long-term plans, he can still fit into their 2011 and 2012 plans.

A name such as Liriano might sound appealing, but if a team is willing to trade a pitcher like that there’s always something else going on. We’ll see the Yankees connected to him for sure, but I would be surprised to see a situation really develop. There’s just too much that doesn’t make sense about the Twins’ reported willingness to trade him.

Yankees call off deal with The Viz

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees “got out” of their minor league contract with reliever Luis Vizcaino after the righty blew out his Achilles in winter ball. Last month we heard that The Viz broke his ankle and would be out three or four months, but apparently the injury was more serious than originally thought. Vizcaino could have earned $750,000 if he made the club, albeit an unlikely scenario, but now he’s probably out for the year. The Yanks have a small army of pitchers in camp on minor league deals, so there’s little, if any, loss of depth here.

Open Thread: Chavez’s contract

Know how old this picture of healthy Chavez is? That's Brad Radke. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The Yankees finalized their minor league contract with Eric Chavez today, and Jerry Crasnick has the details. Chavez will earn a $1.5M base salary if he makes the club, far from a given, and there’s another $4M or so in bonuses tied to time on the active roster and plate appearances. Five million (potential) bucks for a bench player is a ton, but the only way the former Athletic earns all those incentives is if he’s healthy and productive. I’m just surprised the base salary is so high, but then again it’s only three-quarters of a percent of the team payroll. What do I care.

Anyways, here is the open thread for the night. Both the Nets and Knicks are in action, but talk about anything. Just be cool.

Kevin Long sees majority of the lineup improving

We know that a number of Yankees didn’t meet their normal performance levels last year. Is that a sign of age, or is it just a fluke? If you listen to hitting instructor Kevin Long, it’s the latter. Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York got Long on record, and to say he’s confident is an overstatement. Here’s Matthews’s paraphrase:

One thing that stood out, however, is that despite the Yankees scoring an MLB-leading 859 runs (the Boston Red Sox, with 818, were a distant second) and 201 HRs, third-highest in the league, KLong believes seven of the nine regulars in the Yankee lineup can have better seasons in 2011.

The only exceptions are Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. Long thinks that, given the standout nature of their performances, it wouldn’t be easy for them to “duplicate what they did last year.” Then the kicker: “But I expect the rest of them to do better.” Of course he thinks that; they’re his guys. But this is always nice to hear. It’s also a bit surprising in the case of Brett Gardner. If he tops last year we’ll all do a jig down River Avenue.

Frankie Piliere’s Top 100 Prospects

Frankie Piliere of AOL Fanhouse posted his list of the top 100 prospects today, with Jesus Montero coming in at number four behind only Mike Trout, Julio Teheran, and Eric Hosmer. “Will he be a good defensive catcher? No,” said Piliere, “but he has shown enough improvement to be an adequate defender. That combined with a potentially special bat make for an impressive total package.” Piliere has always been one of the few defenders of Montero’s defense, not that he thinks he’ll great behind the plate, but playable.

Manny Banuelos came at number 13 (“picked up a couple ticks on his fastball and lives at 93-95 now”), Gary Sanchez number 34 (“Sanchez’s bat rivals Montero’s at the same age and he looks like he’ll be a better defender”), and Dellin Betances at number 44 (“the towering right-hander has all the components you look for in a frontline starter”). Andrew Brackman makes the back half of the list at number 60. Very nice showing for the Yankees, especially since four of their five guys cracked the top 50.

The RAB Radio Show: February 9, 2011

Some Yanks have showed up at spring training, and so have some beat writers. It’s boring, but we try to make light of it.

From there we talk pitching, mainly Alfredo Aceves. The Yanks did bring in Luis Ayala, but I’d be surprised to see him last past spring training. Still, there’s at least something mildly intriguing about him.

Podcast run time 27:41

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Butting in on Mike Young

The answer, as Ben explained on Sunday night is no. The Yankees will not end up with Michael Young and the $48 million remaining on his contract. There is just no room, even if you like him as a player. The entire Yankees’ infield is under contract for the next three seasons, which leaves Young without a possible position. But that doesn’t mean the Yankees can’t play a role in helping him find a new home.


Interlude

A reader emailed over the weekend with a question that I dismissed out of hand at first, but then reconsidered. It sounded a bit better the second time around, but there are still too many moving parts to make it work. The idea: Trade for Young, then flip Cano for a pitcher. That’s a downgrade at second base, but not an enormous one, and an upgrade on the staff. Would that work in the Yanks’ favor?

I’m inclined to say no. I don’t think they’ll find a pitcher right now who could equal Cano’s value. They’d also have to work this as a three-way trade, since they’d immediately lose leverage in trading Cano if they first acquired Young, and they’d lose leverage in acquiring Young if they traded Cano. That makes the idea a bit too complex for reality. Plus, as I said on FanGraphs yesterday, it’s probably not a good idea to trade a 27-year-old who was your best hitter the previous year.


Today another reader emailed with an interesting take. He basically wondered whether the Yanks might jump into a potential trade and act as a middle man. Young is not worth the $48 million remaining on his contract, and so money is going to have to change hands in any trade, whether that’s Texas kicking in cash or taking on a bad contract. They might be reluctant to do that, since they’d either be taking on expensive players of little use to them, or otherwise paying for Young to play elsewhere. That’s where the Yankees come in.

If the Rangers have a deal with a team, but the matter of money still persists, maybe the Yankees can jump in the middle and help cover the financial difference. Even if he’s forecasted optimistically — that is, an average of 3 WAR per season — Young is overpaid by somewhere around $15 million over the next three years. If the Yankees can use their financial might to help cover some of that difference, probably by taking a contract, maybe they can get something in return that can help the 2011 team.

Of course, this creates an incredibly complex situation. Let’s use the White Sox as an example, even though they’re not on Young’s approved trade list. And let’s say that, even though we know they’re right around their payroll limits, that they’re willing to take on Young if they can shed at least some money from their 2011 ledger. For simplicity’s sake we’ll talk Edwin Jackson. He is owed $8.35 million this year, meaning Chicago probably wants more salary relief. Would the White Sox be willing to send a player the Yanks’ way in order to help cover some more of the cash?

For another instance, let’s look at the Dodgers. With Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Garland, and Vicente Padilla, they have six starting pitchers under contract. The Yankees could use one of them. If the Yankees could help facilitate an exchange of players and money between the Rangers and the Dodgers, how much is that worth to both parties? Enough to send a pitcher the Yanks way? If so, the Yanks have to consider that.

In reality, this is unlikely to work. When three teams get involved deals tend to fall apart. Further complicating matters is the Rangers’ asking price, which involves a pitcher and a major league position player. It’s tough for a team to justify that when trading for Young and his contract, and to give up even more in the name of salary relief probably renders it an unworthy option. But the Yankees’ most valuable resources is its capital. They should explore all ways they can use it to their advantage, even if it facilitates a trade between two other teams. After all, money ain’t free, and the Yanks could get something useful out of the deal.