Dan Menella of MLBTR posed an interesting question on Sunday that I wanted to throw out to our readers. Here it is:
Twins lefty Franciso Liriano is an intriguing potential trade candidate. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s just 27 and under team control through 2012, so he’s still well within his prime years and relatively cheap for another season and a half.
Liriano’s raw stuff is nasty, but the road back from Tommy John surgery in 2006 has been marked by notable highs and lows. He appeared to be fully recovered in 2010, posting a 3.62 ERA (2.62 FIP), 9.44 K/9, 2.72 BB/9 and 53.6% GB percentage. He’s regressed in 2011, however, with his control (4.65 BB/9) being especially problematic.
Between Liriano’s bouncing between dominance and mediocrity, and the Twins’ uphill climb in the AL Central (eight games behind the Indians through today), it’s quite possible that the lefty could be made available on the trade market this month. This came up in last week’s MLBTR Chat with Tim Dierkes, who suggested that the Twins would probably recoup a top-50 prospect in exchange for Liriano, considering his age and contract status. (For reference, here are Keith Law’s, Baseball America’s and Baseball Prospectus’ respective top-100 prospects for 2011).
According to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, the Yankee prospects that fall into the Top 50 category are Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Gary Sanchez and Dellin Betances. I would remind our readers those are pre-season rankings. All four of them have had varying degrees of difficulty this year, which may affect their current ranking. Jesus Montero has had a down year with the bat and made little progress defensively. Manny Banny has struggled with his control this year, walking far too many batters early on, though he has improved in that area of late. Gary Sanchez got off to a horrible start with the bat, had attitude issues, and has allowed an alarming number of passed balls. Dellin Betances has had a solid year, though his walk rate has climbed a bit. If this list was redone he may jump to the top of it, although many questions remain about him long term.
I would like to add Austin Romine to this list. He didn’t make the preseason Top 50 (though he did make BAs Top 100) but with the solid year he’s had with the bat to go along with his already stellar defensive reputation, he’s put himself ahead of Montero in the eyes of some Yankee execs. For purposes of this discussion, let’s assume a midseason ranking would have Romine in the Top 50 as well. So the question is would you be willing to trade a Top 50 prospect to acquire Francisco Liriano?
MLBTR Polling was fairly evenly split on the matter, which tells me it’s a good question. While I’m sure some folks will have strong opinions on the matter, it’s not an obvious choice. A healthy Liriano propels the Yanks to the clear favorite in the AL and gives them a tough lefty to face the Red Sox in the playoffs. An unhealthy Liriano and you may very well be kicking yourself over giving up that prospect for the next 7 years. Or not, they are just prospects after all, so nothing is certain. The Twins are down on Liriano for a reason. He’s been lax in offseason workouts, which resulted in yet another shoulder issue this spring. He took forever to come back from TJS, which is often indicative of not rehabbing all that hard. He throws that arm-taxing slider of his way too much, so you can’t love his long term health prospects. But over the next two seasons that you control him, he could win you a championship (or two), which is what the Yankees are all about. He’s insurance if Colon runs out of gas, and puts you in a stronger position if/when CC opts out.
Final thing to consider, here’s Liriano’s numbers for this year
Year W L W-L% ERA G IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 2011 5 7 .417 4.76 14 79.1 64 44 42 8 41 1 68 83 1.324 7.3 0.9 4.7 7.7
Those season numbers are skewed by his horrendous April (1-4 9.13 ERA 1.901 WHIP) when he was still getting past his ST shoulder issues. Since then, he’s been outstanding and one of the best Lefties in the league, posting an ERA below 3 and a WHIP around 1.1. You could argue the Twins are selling low, or gettin’ out while the gettin’s good. You could bank on the Yankee clubhouse culture keeping on top of him to stay fit, or worry that he’ll be unhappy here. So how far will you go for Liriano? Would you be willing build a package around (any) one of Montero, Banuelos, Betances, Sanchez or Romine?
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