Guest Post by Dan Mason, Edited by Susan Shan
Lately, there has been a rumor floating around that the New York Yankees are pursuing LHP Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins. Many people have scoffed at the notion that the Twins would trade their No. 1 starter with two years of control remaining on his contract. However, the longer you look at this potential deal, the more sense it makes.
There have been stories written about Twins management being unhappy with Liriano’s failure to work on arm-strengthening exercises during the offseason. It may not seem like a big deal, but if you were going to give a pitcher ace money in a long-term deal, you’d pause at that. You’d pause longer if said pitcher had Tommy John surgery in 2006 and was throwing up worse numbers in September (2-3, 4.59 ERA in 2010) as he seemed to tire out.
In addition, Liriano’s postseason start against the Yankees last year didn’t give the Twins any further inspiration to keep him (5.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 6.35 ERA). If you’re the Twins and you don’t have extra money to throw around, you’d better make sure you don’t give ace money to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
The second answer is that the Twins will never have more leverage with the Yankees than right now. Clearly, New York has innings at the back of the rotation that need to be worked. The combination of Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, and perhaps Freddy Garcia isn’t exactly inspiring confidence amongst the fans.
Betances is physically imposing at 6’8″, 260 lbs. He throws a 91-97 mph fastball on the radar gun with a big 12-6 curve that is a plus pitch.
Banuelos (5’11″, 155 lbs.) is at 89-94 mph with the fastball; he has a solid change-up but his curve needs some work.
Brackman is 6’10″; he not only has a 90-95 mph fastball, but has a plus curveball, as well. Although he had Tommy John surgery in 2007, he has pitched well and refined his mechanics.
Betances and Banuelos are most likely ticketed for AA Trenton. Brackman will probably start at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before getting some major league experience during the season. In a year’s time, at least one or perhaps all three pitchers could be ready to be on the Opening Day roster.
Before discussing the specifics of a deal, let’s look at the last time the Twins dealt their No. 1 starter. The date was January 29, 2008 and LHP Johan Santana was the man being dealt away by Minnesota to the New York Mets for RHP Deolis Guerra, OF Carlos Gomez, RHP Kevin Mulvey, and RHP Philip Humber.
According to Baseball America, those prospects were ranked Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 7 in the Mets system, respectively. At the time, Santana had one year left on his contract. The Mets then gave Santana a new long-term deal (6 years, $137.5 million) through the year 2013 with a club option for 2014.
That being said, the general consensus in scouting circles is that at least two of the Yankee pitching prospects mentioned are far better than any of the players the Twins acquired from the Mets. Manny Banuelos was ranked No. 32 by MLB.com’s Top 50 prospect list and Betances came in just off the list at No. 53.
So, can the Twins reasonably expect to get two pitching prospects and perhaps a kicker like SS Eduardo Nunez (.289, 4 HR, 50 RBI, and 23 SB in 464 AB with AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) in return for Liriano? Absolutely.
Now, there are plenty of reasons for the Twins to hold off until July or the offseason. Trading Liriano to the Yankees would certainly disappoint the fanbase in Minnesota and may tip the balance of power in the AL Central to the Chicago White Sox (if it hasn’t been tipped already).
Also, the Twins might move other pitchers. I would suspect that with a rotation of Liriano, Carl Pavano, and Brian Duensing at the top, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, or Kevin Slowey would be available to deal. In addition, top prospect Kyle Gibson is likely to debut in Minnesota sometime this season. If Gibson shows well, it’ll be easier to explain a Liriano deal at the end of 2011.
Finally, the Yankees aren’t the only team in the league. Perhaps the Twins are interested in prospects on another team’s roster. Still, there’s plenty of good logic behind getting a deal done now in terms of maximizing the returns.
Dan Mason is a founding member of LearnBaseball.us. He was a scout for ESPN’s Scouts Inc. for two years and scouted for the New York Mets in 2006.