Should the Twins Offer Liriano a Multi-Year Deal?


As Fetch noted earlier, the Twins recently agreed to a one-year, $4.3 million deal with Francisco Liriano.  He thinks this is a good deal, and I am not going to argue with his logic:

"I think this will end up being a pretty good bargain for the Twins. There are always the health concerns, but he had a 3.06 xFIP last year and put up a 5 WAR season. Marcel has him projected for roughly the same FIP this year as last year (3.48), thoughthey did for Scott Baker for only 167 IP. Still, I think he will get into the 180 range and be somewhere around a 4.5-5 win pitcher. In any event, paying less than 1 million per win is a very good deal for an arbitration eligible pitcher. Nice job by the Twins getting this one done."

However, it seems a bit odd that the Twins, who have been handing out multi-year contracts to their arbitration-eligibles like candy the past couple of years, would choose to go year-to-year with Liriano.   Last year, the front office bought out the remaining arbitration years for both Denard Span and Nick Blackburn, as they did for Scott Baker the year before that.   Locking up the aribitration-eligibles serves a couple of purposes:  it gives the front office a great deal of cost control, which in turn allows them to more effectively plan for the future.   Arbitration is inherently fraught with uncertainty when it comes to payroll costs, since players are paid according to their performance the previous year and not their career numbers.  Marginal players who will likely provide little value to the team going forward can have one All-Star caliber season and earn a substantial raise, so a team can get stuck paying a replacement-level player upwards of $5 million a season.  Multi-year deals often give both sides a great deal of certainty, since the player will receive a guaranteed salary and the front office has a budget it can work with.

Handing out multi-year deals to pitchers is always a risky proposition, though.  Pitchers tend to get hurt a lot, and Liriano already has a history of elbow problems.  While Tommy John surgery has a pretty high success rate, Liriano has only managed to pitch effectively for one season following his operation.  The organization has gotten burned with some of its multi-year contracts to pitchers in the past:  Joe Mays inked a 4-year, $20 million deal and promptly blew out his elbow; Scott Baker has struggled with shoulder and elbow ailments the past couple of years; and Nick Blackburn, whose combination of a mediocre groundball rate and high contact rate is constantly flirting with disaster, probably won’t be worth what he is paid.  Liriano won’t be a free agent until 2013, so there is no reason for the front office to rush to lock him into a long-term deal.