The moment many Twins fans had been waiting for over the course of the last week finally happened during the weekend; Francisco Liriano and his expiring contract were dealt away from the Twins. After seeing other teams walk away with huge halls for rental players like Liriano, the expectations were decently high for the Twins to pick up something of value in a trade. When the news broke late on Saturday, fans were left scratching their heads over the "haul" the organization received back for their hard throwing lefty.
As many have probably already heard, Liriano was sent to the White Sox for IF Eduardo Escobar and LHP Pedro Hernandez. The White Sox have one of the worst minor league systems in baseball and neither one of these players is ranked very high among their up-and-coming players. It is not often that teams will make a deal in the division but Liriano will only make a handful of starts for the White Sox before becoming a free agent. Twins GM Terry Ryan took the best deal that he was offered and unfortunately, it doesn't look like a great deal for the organization.
Escobar has spent most of the time at the big league level this year but he is not much of an offensive threat. He struggles to get on-base at a decent clip but his defense is very good at multiple infield positions. The 23-year old infielder has hit .207/.281/.276 in 36 games with the White Sox this year. In 104 plate appearances as a big leaguer, he has managed five extra-base hits with no home runs. During his time in the minor leagues, he hit .270/.315/.354 over the last six seasons. His defensive skills have been focused on third base at the MLB level but he mostly played shortstop in the minor leagues.
Hernandez is a left-handed pitcher that has split time at Double- and Triple-A this year with one start at the big league level. During his big league debut, he got hit pretty hard by giving up three home runs at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. The 23-year old pitcher tossed four innings and allowed eight runs on 12 hits with two strikeouts. He fits the mold of most Twins pitchers by not throwing very hard and trying to command the strike zone. His numbers at Double-A this season look good, 7-2 record with a 2.75 ERA, but he has only made seven appearances at the Triple-A level. The Twins will give him some time to get more experience in the minor leagues.
Liriano's time with the Twins could be described with many words but frustrating seems to fit the bill. The Twins acquired Liriano along with Boof Bonser and Joe Nathan from the San Francisco Giants for AJ Pierzynski. For the Twins, it was a deal to make room for Joe Mauer to take over the catching duties for the club. It is now seen as one of the most lopsided trades in the history of the organization. Bonser put together a couple of decent seasons with the Twins but Nathan and Liriano became parts of multiple division winners for the club. Nathan became one of the best closers in the game and the team's all-time saves leader before leaving the team in free agency at the end of last year. Liriano looked to be one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball before an elbow injury changed his future.
On September 5, 2005 in front of a crowd that didn't have many of the 15,627 ticket holders left in their seats, Liriano made his much anticipated debut for the Twins in a relief role. He came in during the ninth inning of a game that the Texas Rangers already had in hand by a score of 6-0. From my seat in the upper deck of the Metrodome, I couldn't make out every piece of action on the field but Liriano's fastball looked faster than anything I had seen in person since Randy Johnson. He was hitting speeds on the radar gun that I had never seen before and he seemed like he was going to be able to strike out any batter at will. Gary Matthews Jr gave Liriano his welcome to the majors moment by crushing a fastball to the upper reaches of the home run porch. The ball was absolutely destroyed but this one at-bat would not define Liriano's career.
His rookie season was magical to watch as he looked like the best pitcher in baseball by striking out 144 batters in 121 innings pitched. His ERA was 2.16 and he posted a WHIP of 1.000 over the course of his 28 games and 16 starts. Along with Johan Santana, Liriano looked to be another front end started that the Twins would need to make a deep push into the playoffs. Something happened during his start on August 7 at Detroit that would change his career forever. Liriano only lasted four innings on that day and he wouldn't appear in another game until September. That start in September was a chance for the Twins to see if Liriano had worked his way back from whatever was bothering him. It didn't work and he was forced to go under the knife.
Since coming back from Tommy John surgery, Twins fans had been aching to see the Liriano that took the mound for his rookie season. Santana had been traded away and the team needed a pitcher to step up and be an ace. Liriano's career would be a roller coaster ride for the rest of his time with the Twins. Following his surgery, he would post a win-loss record of 37-47 with a 4.69 ERA in 122 games. There were moments of excellence like his no-hitter versus the White Sox and seasons like 2010 where he seemed to be putting it all together. On the other hand, there were plenty of low points like the multiple times that he was relegated to the bullpen to try and get himself back to pitching the way the Twins thought that Liriano should be able to do.
Years from now, fans of the Twins might look back at Liriano's time with the team and not be frustrated. Maybe they will be able to look back fondly on his rookie season, the 2010 campaign, and his no-hitter in 2011. In the meantime, fans are going to be frustrated with the way Liriano pitched during the last couple seasons and the mediocre return the team got from trading away his rights. Twins Territory will watch closely as Liriano dresses in the colors of the hated White Sox. If he succeeds with that team, fans will be frustrated with the deal that gave him away. If he pitches like the inconsistent Liriano of old, White Sox fans will feel their own frustration. "Frankie" is no longer the Twins headache and that might be a good thing for fans of the Twins.