MLB Trade Rumors: Why the Minnesota Twins Should Sell High on Francisco Liriano

Sean ZerilloCorrespondent IIMarch 2, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS - OCTOBER 06: Francisco Liriano #47 of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch in the second inning against the New York Yankees during game one of the ALDS on October 6, 2010 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

There is no doubting that, when healthy, Francisco Liriano is among the best starting pitchers in baseball. 

The 27 year-old left-hander signed with the San Francisco Giants as an international free agent in 2000. He later was dealt to the Minnesota Twins prior to the 2004 season as part of a package that included Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser for catcher A.J. Pierzynski. 

Liriano's first full season in 2006 was cut short by Tommy John surgery.

However, compiling a 12-3 record in just 16 starts and 12 relief appearances, Liriano was able to showcase a mid-90s fastball, wicked slider and an underrated changeup that has had scouts drooling over his potential for years.

He even made the American League All-Star team. 

Among pitchers with at least 10 starts, Liriano had the best strikeouts per nine innings rate (10.71 K/9), the best ERA (2.16) and the best expected fielding independent pitching ERA (xFIP) with a 2.52 mark. 

Teammate Johan Santana, who won the 2006 Cy Young award with a 19-6 record and a 2.77 ERA, had an xFIP of 3.12—second only to Brandon Webb among qualified starters. 

The surgery forced Liriano out of the entire 2007 season. He returned in 2008, but had lost around three miles per hour off his fastball—a dramatic decrease in velocity. 

As a result, Liriano's performance suffered. Although he was still fanning about eight batters per nine innings, his control dipped to around one walk for every two strikeouts—a ratio far below the levels of the elite. 

This trend continued into the 2009 season. After an abysmal year, Liriano returned to his native Dominican Republic to rehab and play in the winter league. While there, Liriano mysteriously regained his strength and came back to the Twins firing on all cylinders in 2010. 

He was voted as the Comeback Player of the Year after returning to his dominant ways with the Twins. His fastball velocity increased back to around 94 miles per hour and his control seemed intact. 

Francisco went just 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA, but his rate stats of 9.44 K/9, 2.72 BB/9 and a 3.47 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB), suggest that he had a slightly unlucky season. xFIP tells us that Liriano deserved an ERA of around 3.06. 

Big things have been projected for Francisco Liriano in 2011. However, he experienced tightness in his throwing shoulder last week and underwent an MRI. 

Another major arm injury and Liriano's career is likely over. As a result, the Twins should be concerned at the earliest signs of trouble.

The Twins have said that there is no problem and that Liriano merely failed to workout his shoulder in the offseason. But the fact that trade rumors have arisen in the past few days suggests that the team might be concerned about Liriano's future.

After all, even just three years removed from Tommy John surgery, it shows a lack of commitment to your craft if you go an entire offseason without exercising your previously surgically repaired shoulder. 

Additionally, how did Liriano suddenly regain his strength and velocity after returning to the Dominican Republic for one offseason?

Sure, it takes two years to recover from Tommy John, but the second half of his 2009 season was abysmal and based on his performance in the Dominican Winter League, Francisco seemingly returned to form overnight. 

Liriano is only under contract for this season. It appears as though the Twins aren't willing to make a long term commitment to an injury-plagued arm. 

The Twins have five other reliable starting pitchers in Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing and Scott Baker.

Although none of the five are on the ace caliber level of Liriano, they also aren't injury risks and won't cost the Twins a lot of long term money. 

Francisco Liriano is a phenomenal talent, but he is also a major injury risk moving forward. It doesn't make sense to sign him to a long-term extension knowing that the slightest thing going wrong could derail the entire contract. 

With his value at its peak, now is the proper time to shop Francisco Liriano.


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