New York Yankees: Would Francisco Liriano Be a Good Fit? Do the Homework First

Paul CatalanoContributor IIMarch 3, 2011

Are Liriano's mechanics sound enough to ensure he won't throw out his elbow...or worse, his shoulder?
Are Liriano's mechanics sound enough to ensure he won't throw out his elbow...or worse, his shoulder?

Did I want Cliff Lee for the Yankees? Of course. The guy is a stud, wins playoff games and more than replaces Andy Pettitte.

Of course, seven years was way too long for a contract, but the Yankees could have expected a few dominating years with him, CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes in their rotation, and likely a couple of championships as well.

And of course, they would have given up no prospects for him. What’s not to like?

Do I want another lefty—Francisco Liriano—who's only 26, has a wicked slider, gets Ks and could help anchor the Yankees' rotation this year? Well, maybe not.

Unlike some other sites, which call this a no-brainer for the Yankees, I'm not as enamored of Liriano as others. Sure, he has really nice stuff, but the guy is a twitch away from the DL. Already this spring, he is complaining of shoulder stiffness. What’s even worse is why he's complaining about shoulder stiffness:

"Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said he asked Liriano whether he did all of his shoulder exercises during the offseason, and Liriano said no."

Brilliant. So the guy couldn't even stick to his offseason training program and earned himself some tendinitis. Outstanding.

No matter how good his stuff is, could you tell me this guy isn’t going to get injured again—especially when conditioning isn’t his highest priority? Well, ask yourself this: If he is so good, how come the suddenly spend-happy Minnesota Twins don't want him anymore? Wouldn't anyone want a hard-throwing, 27-year-old strikeout machine?

There are other reasons for the Yankees to be concerned about Liriano than just injuries: He is a much better pitcher in the friendly, home run-sapping confines of Target Field than on the road. He has a lifetime 7.78 ERA and 1.678 WHIP against Boston—not to mention a lifetime 12.46 ERA pitching at Fenway.

But the real worry is his health. Tommy John is one thing—bad, but returnable. A shoulder injury though—that's the worst thing for a pitcher. To top it off, it may be sore because he's not taking care of it? Forget it.

Which is, of course, to say nothing of Ivan Nova or any of the Yankee prospects. Forget Dellin Betances, Jesus Montero or Manny Banuelos—the Yankees, in a right state of mind, should not even consider trading those guys. But if the Yankees are thinking of Nova plus prospects for Liriano, they should think seriously about that trade—but they should also do all their homework.

Remember, Nova, who one scout said recently has some Pedro Martinez in him, throws ground balls, throws first-pitch strikes and didn't appear at all overwhelmed to pitch in September in New York.

This is not to say he is the second coming of Pedro or that Nova plus prospects (no Montero, Banuelos or Betances) isn't a good deal. But it is to say that giving Nova up for a guy with a serious injury history should not be something taken lightly.

Liriano—when healthy—is a pitcher most teams would want. He's young, a lefty and gets Ks. That said, the Twins are dangling him for a reason. Minnesota is adept at trading players just before they begin their decline.

Take Johan Santana—he was very good for the Mets but was not the same pitcher he was earlier in his career for the Twins. Now he's out with—wait for it—a shoulder injury.

Perhaps this is an overcautious approach. Maybe the Yankees should snatch up Liriano if they get the chance, costs be damned. After all, they are the Yankees, and they compete every season. It's also very possible that Ivan Nova goes through some growing pains this season and doesn’t become a solid starter.

It’s a gamble—and buyer beware.