Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fare thee well, Francisco Liriano

Everybody knew Francisco Liriano was going to be traded, it was just a matter of where to and for what.  With the starting pitching market drying up after Cole Hamels resigned with the Phillies, Matt Garza got hurt, Ryan Dempster basically saying he'd only waive his no trade rights to go to the Dodgers to play with his BFF Ted Lilly, and Zack Greinke (Angels), Anibal Sanchez (Tigers), and Wandy Rodriguez (Pirates) already have been moved, the Twins looked to have some leverage to maximize their return.  The best pitchers still thought to be available were Josh Johnson, James Shields, and Liriano, but with the Marlins reportedly asking for the world for Johnson and the Rays on the fence about whether to move Shields, Liriano may have been the most attractive option for teams looking for pitching help - and plenty still were.  Texas, the Dodgers, Atlanta, and St. Louis were all rumored to have interest in him, so the hope was the Twins could play them off each other to get at least one good prospect in return.

Instead, they traded him to the White Sox for a couple middling prospects in IF Eduardo Escobar and SP Pedro Hernandez.

Escobar ranks right around the 10th best prospect in the Sox system (but keep in mind the White Sox have the worst system in the majors according to almost everyone) and a plus fielder at three positions, and in fact was ranked as the top fielder in Chicago's system for four consecutive years by Baseball America.  That's good.  What's not so good is his bat.  He's hit at a sub-Puntoian level in his 97 at-bats this year, putting up a slash line of .207/.281/.276, which is a stellar combination of not getting on base and having zero power.  And it isn't exactly like he's just struggling to adjust to major league pitching, because his career line in the minors is .266/.303/.354, an OPS on par with Drew Butera's major league numbers this year.  He did sign when he was 17 and is still just 23 so there's time to develop something, but it's likely not going to be power.   The Twins are starting him at Rochester which is a good move so he can work on his hitting, which is good because as it stands right now his upside is probably as a utility backup infielder.  If he can figure out a way to hit .280 or so with at least a little gap power, combined with his fielding, he could be a starter for the Twins along the lines of Alcides Escobar, but that's probably his absolute ceiling with a floor of Denny Hocking.

Hernandez, the pitcher the Twins got in the deal, generally ranks around 20th in the White Sox system, depending on what you read (and remember, again, the Sox have the worst system in baseball).  He was acquired by Chicago in the Carlos Quentin trade, and you know it's always a good sign when two different organizations are willing to trade a prospect.  He is a lefty, which is good, and his career minor league numbers are decent, which is also good.  He's spent time as both a starter and reliever in the minors, and has a career ERA of 3.42 and WHIP of 1.24 in six minor league seasons.  He had a shot at the Sox rotation back on July 18th, making his first career start against Boston, but gave up 12 hits and 8 runs in just four innings and was sent back to AAA.  He was striking out batters at a pretty respectable rate up until he hit AAA, but this year, after being re-promoted to AAA, registered 17 Ks in 17 innings.  It's pretty obvious why the Twins' were interested -  his fastball sits at 89 mph and he doesn't walk anybody, the Twins' wet dream.

With Liriano hitting free agency after this season, as well as his erratic pitching since his surgery, nobody was going to pay a monster bonanza to get him but he flashed enough success that several teams were at least interested, and the best Terry Ryan could do was two 23-year old barely prospects from the team with the worst farm system in the league?  Still, there are a couple of positives:

1.  Although their upside isn't all that high, both Hernandez and Escobar are 23 and in AAA, and as such both will likely hit the majors with the Twins this year so we'll see what the Twins have quickly.  Both are likely to contribute at the big league level in some capacity, with Hernandez downside a bullpen arm/spot starter and Escobar a utility man, with Escobar having a chance to slot in to 2b (assuming Plouffe/Dozier are the left side of the infield for a few years at least) and Hernandez could end up in the rotation.  If Ryan couldn't get high upside guys, he at least was able to get players that will at least do something at the MLB level, and I guess that's a good second option.

2.  It was time for Liriano to go.  I heard a couple idiot callers on the radio complaining about the Twins' giving up on him and seriously dudes, he sucks.  How many years can you get sucked in by his potential?  This is the guy who has lost his spot in the rotation multiple times and has had an ERA over 5.00 in three of the last four years, including this season.  Suddenly you think he's put it all together because he struck out 15 batters one game?  He has a few starts like that every season, and every season it's the same story as he bombs out his next start.  Trust me, he hasn't suddenly figured it out.  You know who else once struck out 15 guys in one game?  Ron Villone.  Yeah, exactly.  And the no-hitter?  According to game score Liriano's was the worst no-hitter in history.  I'm not impressed by a no-hitter for the sake of a no-hitter either, because Phil Humber has one too.  It was time to move on.  You can only get fooled by potential for so long before you're no longer and optimist, you're an idiot.

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