One of the most common refrains I’ve been seeing in the wake of the recent Liriano rumors among Yankee fans is this. Why would the Twins do it? Here you have one of the top lefties in the game, on a contending team, why trade him if you’re trying to win? I must admit I’ve asked this question myself, and wondered if there’s something the Twins know about Liriano that the rest of us don’t. Of course they do, they know lots of things about their players that fly under the radar. But to understand why the Twins will make a move like this you need to stop thinking like a Yankee fan, and start thinking like a Twins executive. I’ll break this down into 4 parts, as follows:
The Twins aren’t the Yankees-First thing you need to understand is how the Twins operate. They’re not the Yankees, who make winning their primary concern and put finances aside. Like every other team in baseball they have a budget, a fairly strict one, and part of their long term strategy is trading off pieces before they get too expensive. Most think the time to deal someone would be the year before they become FA, but dealing someone a year earlier is becoming more commonplace. Cliff Lee was traded by the Indians with 2 years before he hit FA, as was Jake Peavey (Padres) and Zack Grienke (Royals). Those teams weren’t competitive, but as small market clubs they operate the same way the Twins do. The difference will be the Twins will look for pieces in return that can help them win now, whereas the Indians, Royals and Padres had a longer time horizon with the prospects they were looking for. But the motivation is the same. Given Liriano’s injury history and the fact that he’s relatively cheap and under team control for 2 years, there’s a good argument to be made that his value will never be higher than it is right now.
They have a ready replacement-The Twins will be looking to make room for top prospect Kyle Gibson in their rotation sometime this year. He’s the top pitcher in their system, pitched as high as AAA (3 starts) last year and was recently ranked by BA as the #34 prospect on their top 100 list. Gibson pitched most of last year in AA and performed well, and High-A to AA is considered the biggest jump in the minors. He’s a classic Twins pitcher, polished and doesn’t throw overly hard. By the time the July 31st trade deadline rolls around, he will in all likelihood already be on the 25 man roster, either getting his MLB feet wet in the bullpen or filling in for someone in the rotation.
They have needs to fill-Like the Rays, the Twins pretty much lost their entire bullpen this off season with the defections of Jesse Crain (White Sox) Jon Rauch (Blue Jays) Matt Guerrier (Dodgers) Brian Fuentes (A’s) and Ron Mahay (Dodgers). They also could use an outfielder. Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer were awful last year, totaling 0.7 WAR between the two of them. They’re also both hacks defensively, and that doesn’t sit well with the Twins philosophy of pitching to contact and playing solid defense. With an excess of starters, they can use that fill in their needs elsewhere and its not a step back. It’s a win-now move assuming they get back MLB ready talent in return, which will be key to making a deal from their perspective. Dealing off Liriano could make them more likely, not less, to compete this year and beyond.
They’re not happy with Liriano-Jay Jaffe details this meticulously in a recent piece on Baseball Prospectus (subs req’d). He’s had a history of hiding injuries and not communicating how he feels to the team. He has also been accused not doing his rehab work by the Twins, which is why they felt it took him so long to come back from Tommy John surgery. Further, as recently as this spring it was revealed he wasn’t doing his shoulder strengthening exercises this off season, which resulted in a shoulder strain in early camp. They also think that with his violent delivery and heavy reliance on the slider, he’s a good candidate to break down more as he gets older. Given the way the Twins operate the time to sell would be now, not later. They’d rather sell him a year too early than wait, have him get hurt and be worthless.
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