You’ve probably heard by now that Francisco Liriano is no longer a Twin. He is a White Sock. In return, The Chi Sox sent two 23 year old AAA prospects – Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez – to the Twins.
If you’re like me, your first reaction was to groan and gnash your teeth. Actually, your first reaction was to look up Escobar and Hernandez, because you’ve never heard of them. But the groaning followed soon after when you realize that Escobar cannot get on base and Hernandez is another projected 5th starter who loves to Pitch to Contact. I really wanted to see the Twins land a power pitcher whose name begins with D so that he could join Sam Deduno, Scott Diamond, Brian Duensing, and Cole DeVries in baseball’s first All D rotation, but after some thought, I have to admit that this is probalby the best Terry Ryan could do in the situation.
When you think about it, Liriano was not that attractive a commodity on the trade market. He’s 3-10 this year, and he owns a 5.31 ERA. We’ve heard a lot about the 10 good starts he made this summer, but everyone not connected to the Twins is probably more familiar with the 24 bad ones he made last year, when he was 9-10 with a 5.09 ERA. Even this year, Liriano has been beaten up by the Yankees, Rays, Orioles, and Angels (three times) – exactly the teams an AL contender will need to try to beat at some point. Another contender, the same Chicago team that acquired him yesterday, annihilated him earlier in the week for seven runs, including three homers. Finally, Liriano is a free agent in about two months, and due to the new collective bargaining agreement, his new team gets zero draft compensation if he signs elsewhere. That may not deter a team from paying to acquire a former Cy Young like Zack Greinke, but it doesn’t do anything to drive up the price for a time bomb like Liriano.
Basically, any General Manager who parted with a good prospect to acquire Liriano would have faced a mob of pitchfork-toting fans screaming for blood. Ryan did well to get even these two marginal prospects in return for Liriano. And hey, who knows? One of them might turn out to be a secret star. Hernandez, at least, has some potential. According to this scouting report that was written when Hernandez was traded for Carlos Quentin last year, Hernandez has a pretty good changeup with “legitimate plus potential.” If the change can become an out pitch, he could be more than just a fifth starter. If the Twins’ coaches could somehow help turn his slider into an MLB-caliber pitch, even better.
One thing strikes me as strange about this trade, though. Just two weeks ago, Ryan gave us a glimpse of his trade deadline battle plan, saying “You can go get a marginal Triple-A guy who might be here next year… are you going to be satisfied passing up a high-ceiling guy? I wouldn’t be.” Basically, he said he’d rather go after prospects in the low minors who have some upside than acquire a boring prospect whose close to the Majors. But then he went ahead and grabbed two players who fit the second category. Perhaps Ryan sees more potential in these players than the rest of us do?
Finally, I’d like to address the people who argue that Liriano should not have been traded by stating categorically that Ryan had no choice. The Twins would have gained absolutely nothing by giving Liriano 12 meaningless starts in a wasted season. And he was worth nothing to them in terms of draft compensation, because in order to get compensatory picks, the Twins would have had to offer him a $12 million contract, which Liriano would have accepted (thus voiding the picks), because no other team would be stupid enough to offer him $12 million to play in 2013. According to Fangraphs’ player valuation calculations, there has been only one season (2010) since 2006 in which Liriano was worth more than $12 million. Last year he was worth just $4.6 million.
Some may argue that the Twins should have kept Liriano so they could sign him to a new contract this offseason. Well, to be honest, they still can. If the Twins want Liriano back, they have just as much right to offer him a contract this November as any other team does. If you recall, Minnesota traded Rick Aguilera to the Red Sox in 1995, then quickly reacquired him for the 1996 season.