Thursday, March 8, 2012

Contending or not, Liriano could be gone

When every team reports to spring training in Florida or Arizona, there is hope surrounding the beginning of a new season. Each team has a clean slate and only one team can call themselves champions from the previous year. Besides the St. Louis Cardinals, every other team left the field last year with an unfulfilled feeling inside and a bad taste in their mouth. Some of that taste has washed away in the offseason but all of the teams will head on the field for Opening Day with no losses to their record.

The harsh reality is that under the new playoff system only ten teams will make it to postseason play and out of those ten teams only two will get to fight for the World Series crown. This leaves plenty of other teams who will not be in contention for the 2012 season. This is just a part of the game and the Twins became well aware of this aspect during the 2011 campaign. With the organization coming off of a 94-win season, there was plenty to be hopeful for at the beginning of 2011 but the Twins would not be in contention for any part of the season.

As the 2012 season begins for the Twins and their fans, it is hard to know what to expect from a team who floundered on the field in 2011. There is hope that a healthy Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span can improve one of the worst offenses in the American League. But the starting rotation and bullpen are still full of plenty of question marks to get sorted out in the coming weeks.

One of the questions marks that has been talked a lot about in the Twins blogosphere is Francisco Liriano. He is in the last year of being under team control and this means he can test the free agent waters at the end of the 2012 season. The Twins have waited patiently for Liriano to bloom into the pitcher they feel he can be but that player has only shown up sporadically during his career. Now his days could be numbered with the Twins.

There are a few different situations that could take place for the 2012 season and Liriano might be right in the middle of them. As the trading deadline approaches at the end of July, the team might have to make a tough decision in relation to their left-handed starting pitcher. Here is a look at the way the Twins could approach the Liriano conundrum.

Twins in contention >>> Keep Liriano
If the Twins are in contention, there is a good chance that Liriano will stay with the club until the end of the season. When the Twins made the playoffs in 2010, Liriano looked like he was close to becoming the ace of the staff. The team will need Liriano to get close to that level if they are going to find success on the field in 2012. A successful season from Liriano should mean the team is having a better year. In recent years the AL Central has allowed some teams to stay in the race if they are near the .500 mark around the trade deadline. That situation could play out again in '12 and the Twins should be able to be close to that mark.

Twins out of contention >>> Trade Liriano
At the trade deadline last year, the Twins didn't get anything for future free agents like Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Joe Nathan. The team did end up getting draft pick compensation for some of these players but the collective bargaining agreement rules have changed for next offseason. In order for the Twins to get compensation for Liriano, they would have to offer him arbitration and a one-year contract of over $12 million. At this point, the Twins would be silly to offer this much money to Liriano so a trade could be a possibility. In this situation, the best-case scenario might be for Liriano to be pitching well and for the Twins to have fallen out of contention. Other contending clubs might be willing to overpay for a left-handed pitcher who could help them to succeed in the playoffs.
"Wild Card Situation" 
Twins in contention >>> Trade Liriano
This is deemed a wild card situation because it is hard to imagine a contending team trading one of their top pitchers in the middle of a pennant race. But as was stated earlier, the Twins would have to offer Liriano a contract of over $12 million as part of the new arbitration process. That amount wouldn't correspond with the 2011 version of Liriano so the team might be ready to part ways with their starting pitcher by the time July roles around. In order for this to happen, the Twins would need to have a replacement ready to step into the rotation. A younger player like Liam Hendriks could be ready by mid-July to take a permenant spot in the rotation. The Twins would also need to get some more consistency out of Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker for the team to be able to trade another arm.

There are so many variables that could impact a trade for Liriano. His performance on the field, the team's performance on the field, and an injury to Liriano could all play a role in the team deciding whether or not to trade him. It will be an interesting plotline to watch in the summer months of the season especially on a team that doesn't have a lot of starting pitchers under contract for 2013.


JimCrikket said...

I think for that wild card situation to play out where the Twins trade Liriano even though they're in contention, one of two situations would have to exist. Either they're in contention despite mediocre performances by Liriano or they "win" the trade by getting back a player or players that would be seen as improving the Twins' chances in the current season and beyond.

Andrew said...

I think the odds are tipped more in favor of Liriano being traded, rather than finishing the season. It just seems a little more likely to me, right now, that the team will either be out of the race and Liriano will be pitching well, or that Liriano will not be pitching that well, and it will make sense to trade him.

Of course, if the Twins are within striking distance, and Liriano is at least decent, that's a tough trade to sell to a fan base, especially after losing all the free agents this off-season and trimming payroll.