Preferably Not

“Rumor of the day – M’s kicking tires on Francisco Liriano. If there’s one team who Jose Lopez makes sense for, it is Minnesota.” – Dave Cameron (via Twitter).

If you would like some more in-depth information, you can check out Cameron’s blog, U.S.S. Mariner. According to him, trading these two guys would make sense for both teams. The Twins have an excess of starting pitching, are interested in Jarrod Washburn, and want a second baseman, while the Mariners are looking for a starting pitcher (preferably a young pitcher). He adds, “Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, of course, but it has the chance of being the type of move that works for both Seattle and Minnesota.”

At first glance, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with this trade. Liriano should get a raise from his $430,000 salary from 2009, and is arbitration-eligible for the next three seasons. Lopez is entering the final year of his contract (barring the 2011 club option being picked up) which will pay him only $2.3 million, while the option would be for $4.5 million with a $250,000 buyout, so salary wouldn’t really be an issue for the Twins. Both teams would fill a need with this trade. Liriano has been worth 7.3 wins over replacement (WAR) in his career over parts of 4 seasons, while Lopez has been worth 7.1 in parts of 6. Both will be 26 for the entire 2010 season. The Twins need a righthanded bat to complement Span, Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel. Comparing a pitcher with a hitter is a bit tough, so I’ll just skip to my own rough scouting report for each player, complete with incomplete sentences. For Liriano, I will omit his first season in the majors (only 6 appearances, 23 IP) and for Lopez, his first 2 seasons (111 games, 397 AB), mainly because full seasons and more recent seasons will give us a better idea of how these players have/will perform in the future. Therefore, as you read these scouting reports, remember that all of Liriano’s data is from the past 3 seasons and Lopez’s is from the past 4.

Francisco Liriano (26 years old, bats and throws left, pitcher): Good strikeout pitcher (8.98 K/9) but starting to have trouble with walks (BB/9 increased by nearly 2 from 2006 to 2009) and hits (career high .276 opponent’s batting average and 1.55 WHIP in ’09). Change-up and slider are still plus pitches, but fastball was very poor last year. Evolving from groundball pitcher to one that evenly induces grounders and fly balls. Pitches much better against lefties. Can lack confidence while pitching. Still unsure how he will perform post-Tommy John surgery.

Jose Lopez (26 years old, bats and throws right, primarily 2B but has played all 4 infield positions): Pretty good contact hitter but rarely walks (averaged 24 BB and 70 K), generally hits for a slightly above average batting average (.270+). Below average power in terms of ISO (excluding 2009) but should be good for 10+ HR and has shown the ability to hit 40 doubles the past 2 seasons. Marginally better hitter against LHP than RHP. Rates low in baserunning (career high in SB is 6, only 16/27, or 59% in past 4 years; also has had a below average Speed score*). Commits a fair amount of errors, but is slightly above average in range (UZR).

* I used the version from FanGraphs, which is a combination of four factors: stolen base percentage, frequency of stolen base attempts, percentage of triples, and runs scored percentage. Other versions also include frequency of grounded into double plays and/or a value based off the player’s position and range (measured by frequency of putouts and assists). Here is something you can look at if you want more information. The calculation reminds me a bit of QB rating.

Again, if the Twins pulled off this trade and we assume both players remain stationary in terms of performance, this would be a good trade for Minnesota. However, there are a few things that make me wary about this.

1. Performances after the trade, namely Liriano’s: Of all the starting pitching candidates on the team, Liriano has the best chance of being an ace. Yes, we have yet to see this “ace” ever since he had Tommy John surgery. But, his ability to get strikeouts post-surgery is encouraging. If he can fix his control and his confidence, then he could be a very good pitcher once again. There are similar reasons for why I’m not happy to see Boof Bonser traded to the Red Sox. It’s a crapshoot for how either of these pitchers will perform, but at least let the Twins be the team to take the gamble. Lopez hasn’t exactly been a consistent hitter, but it appears that these fluctuations have been merely caused by his BABIP, which has varied from .269 to .312 in his career. Interestingly, although 2009 was a career year for him, he still managed to have a significantly below average BABIP (.274 when the MLB average was .302). It’s scary, thinking a guy has a career year and yet, if he had received some better luck, his career year would have been even better.

2. Don’t count on Duensing or Perkins*: I like Brian Duensing, I really do. But if we assume that he can hold his own in MLB for a second season, we’d just be retreading on the same assumptions we made last year. Coming into 2009, we were so sure that Baker, Liriano, Perkins, Blackburn, and Slowey would be a solid rotation. Now, we see that all of these pitchers can suffer from injuries, bouts of ineffectiveness, etc. which last year led to the additions of Carl Pavano, Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing, and Jeff Manship. Of these four, Duensing was the best, but there’s no way that he could sustain a 2.73 ERA (his starter’s ERA last year, compared to a 5.17 ERA when relieving) due to that reliever’s ERA and his 3.90 starting FIP (which is still pretty good, though). This year, it appears that the rotation will be Baker, Slowey, Pavano, Blackburn, and one of Swarzak, Liriano, Perkins, Manship, or Duensing (barring any roster changes). Duensing had the best performance last year, but Liriano has the most promise for the future. If anyone gets hurt, then you have whoever’s left to call up from Triple-A. Depth is not a bad thing.

* Including Liriano, I think these three have the best chance of being the 5th starter in 2010. The Twins currently have 4 RHP, so I’m sure they’d want at least one LHP in the rotation.

3. Signing Jarrod Washburn (suggested by Dave Cameron): *shudder* Other than being older and having a different skill set than Liriano, you could get a similar performance for a cheaper price out of The Franchise. Despite the largest payroll ever in franchise history, the Twins have already hit their regular “Let’s be cautious about our spending” wall, so unless Washburn gives a large quasi-hometown discount, the Twins probably won’t sign him unless their blinded by his “leadership” and “veteran presence” (which Carl Pavano could already provide).* Plus, going back to what I’ve already said, Liriano has a chance of returning to a good pitcher, and this is much better than the chance that Washburn has (especially if the Twins employ their Young/Span/Cuddyer outfield defense).

* I put these in quotations not because I’m mocking the Twins front office, but because I seriously could see them quoting these two phrases as reasons for signing Washburn.

4. Cameron’s plan for Seattle: Additionally, Cameron mentions that the Mariners are free to sign someone like Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez after completing this trade, due to their newly formed hole at second base. Except…aren’t these guys that the Twins could pursue as well? I doubt they would sign either Hudson or Lopez due to their contract demands, but the Twins could still sign a free agent for a similar amount that Lopez would make over the next two years and hold on to Liriano in the process. Plus, this would help avoid signing Jarrod Washburn.

In the short term, I wouldn’t mind making this trade. But, it’s the long term that I fear. Who says that Jose Lopez will stick with the Twins past 2010/2011 (depending on that club option)? Could Francisco Liriano regain even a portion of his pre-surgery magic? Are the Twins content with never having a pitcher that has the potential of becoming a true ace in the rotation for the next few years? I admit, the Twins have been burned quite a few times by taking a gamble on a player, but wouldn’t it be a gamble to trust whoever is signed to replace Liriano in the rotation if this trade was made? At the very least, he should be placed in the bullpen as a LOOGY to take advantage of his success against lefthanded batters. Maybe that will raise his trade value, increase his confidence, whatever. Besides, the AL Central appears to be very winnable once again, so a team could take a risk here or there and likely still have a chance of making the playoffs. All I want is for the Twins to give him one last chance to prove his worth. They did not do this with Boof Bonser, and I’m already nervous of what may happen with him in the future, especially since he was sent to Boston. I don’t want the same to happen with The Franchise.

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4 Responses to “Preferably Not”

  1. Josh Says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Liriano is too much to give up with viable solutions still available through free agency. People are just too down on Liriano… give his talent a chance, as he looked awfully impressive even as late as 2008.

    • Andrew Says:

      Exactly, 2008 was pretty good for him, especially coming off of surgery. Maybe he only needs 3 months of minor league ball to get on track?

  2. Jack Steal Says:

    Andrew,

    I am hesitant about trading Liriano as well but the Twins need to do something. Trading for Jose Lopez could bring this team to the next level. However, Liriano is under control for the next three years and is cheaper so keeping him might be the smartest move right now. This might not be the move they should make but once again they need to take a chance on someone. I do not believe the Twins will go after Hudson or Lopez because they are too expensive. In the end, follow the money because the Twins will go the cheapest route. I gurantee it!!

    • Andrew Says:

      I agree that they have to take a chance, and my idea was to take a chance on Liriano.

      Hopefully avoiding Hudson and Lopez because they’ll be too expensive will also carry over to Jarrod Washburn.

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