Heard a rumbling that the M’s are kicking the tires on Francisco Liriano, who the Twins are willing to move for the right offer. The M’s are definitely in the market for a starting pitcher, and given the horde of low-upside, back-end starters already in the organization, a high risk/high reward type makes sense. Rather than spending money on a free agent, however, it sounds like the M’s would rather focus on a younger arm such as Liriano, who they would control through 2012, giving them long term upside if he has a good season.
Liriano, you’ll probably remember, was one of the game’s best pitchers a few years ago. In 2006, he was basically a left-handed Felix Hernandez. He then blew out his arm, missed all of 2007 and half of 2008 before returning to the big league mound. He returned minus a few MPH on his fastball and without much in the way of command, and he hasn’t’ been able to get back to what he used to be. By traditional metrics, his 2009 was a disaster, as he went 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA.
However, he pitched much better than that. His FIP was 4.87, and his xFIP (which adjusts for HR/FB rate) was 4.55, which puts him in the same vicinity as guys like Jered Weaver and Kevin Millwood. Not the ace he used to be, but a useful pitcher who misses enough bats to overcome the walk and home run problems.
Beyond just the possibility that he regains some velocity and gets back to something closer to 2006 form (unlikely, but you never know), Liriano is the kind of pitcher who would most benefit from Safeco Field. He ran a huge platoon split last year, as he destroyed lefties but had massive problems with right-handed hitters. 20 of the 21 home runs he allowed were to RHBs. A flyball pitcher who gives up home runs predominantly to RH hitters can thrive in Safeco, as the park neutralizes their biggest weakness.
So, even if Liriano pitches like he did in 2009, you’d expect him to run a 4.xx ERA for the Mariners. In a lot of ways, he’s like Brandon Morrow, but suited better to the team’s park.
Liriano makes a lot of sense for the Mariners. The Twins have depth in the rotation and are still interested in Jarrod Washburn (who would likely give them a pretty decent close-to-home discount), so if they can get value for Liriano, it makes sense for them as well.
What would the M’s have to give up? I’d imagine Jose Lopez’s name would at least come up. The Twins are looking for either a second baseman or a third baseman (and maybe both), have a line-up of good LH hitters and mediocre RH bats, and care little for on base percentage. He’s not the defender that the Twins like, but he fits their offensive style, and more importantly, he fits their payroll. It’s no secret that the M’s prefer to trade Lopez, and Minnesota is probably the most likely team of any in baseball to be interested.
A Lopez-Liriano swap would allow the M’s to pursue a guy like Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez to play second base, giving them another switch-hitter to hold down the position until Dustin Ackley is ready. And Liriano provides more upside at a lower cost than any free agent pitcher the M’s could sign.
Like the Luke Scott rumor that I heard a month or so ago, this one makes sense. 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. We’ll see if the M’s and Twins can put this one together.