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July 28, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Liriano Heads to Rival White Sox

by Bradley Ankrom and Kevin Goldstein

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American League

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Acquired LHP Francisco Liriano from the Minnesota Twins for SS-S Eduardo Escobar and LHP Pedro Hernandez. [7/28]

Those who doubt the existence of miracles need only watch Kenny Williams at work in the days leading up to each summer’s non-waiver trade deadline. Despite a farm system that hasn’t ranked higher than 24th since 2007, Williams is always on the prowl, looking for clever and creative ways to improve his major league club.

Having already upgraded third base (Kevin Youkilis) and the bullpen (Brett Myers), Williams continued his acquisition spree on Saturday, procuring Francisco Liriano from Minnesota in exchange for infielder Eduardo Escobar and relief pitcher Pedro Hernandez.

At first glance, it isn’t obvious where Liriano fits into the White Sox rotation, which appears set with Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Philip Humber, and Jose Quintana. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that the plan, initially, is to “slide him in to give others an extra day of rest or two.” Chicago went with the six-man rotation for several weeks last summer before dealing Edwin Jackson at the deadline, so this should be familiar territory. Recent reports have indicated that the White Sox are “eager to move Floyd,” meaning that there’s a fair chance of a natural turn in the rotation opening up for Liriano sooner rather than later.

In Liriano, the White Sox acquire one of baseball’s most enigmatic and frustrating pitchers, a man who flashes ace-caliber stuff yet whose results in recent years have rarely aligned with the scouting reports. Liriano has been worth 5.8 WARP over the last five seasons, but nearly three-quarters of that value came in 2010 when he posted a career-best 4.3 WARP. In 234 1/3 innings over the last two seasons, Liriano has been worth four-tenths of a win above replacement, failing to stabilize a Twins rotation that has lacked consistency at the top since it lost Johan Santana after the 2007 season.

Inconsistency devolved into incompetence this spring when Liriano opened the season with four-consecutive starts of five earned runs allowed, followed by a pair of four-earned run efforts. An 0-5 record and a 9.45 ERA earned Liriano a ticket to the bullpen, where he was mostly effective in five outings, before returning to the rotation on May 30 against Oakland. Since then, Liriano has gone 5-6 with a 3.68 ERA, 10.8 K/9, and 2.72 K/BB in 66 innings, surrendering more than four earned runs just once—against the White Sox on July 23. —Bradley Ankrom

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Acquire SS-S Eduardo Escobar and LHP Pedro Hernandez from the Chicago White Sox for LHP Francisco Liriano. [7/28]

The White Sox gave up a pair of big league-ready talents for Liriano, but neither will play a huge role for the current club.

Escobar has been in the majors all year, but he's done little while getting limited playing time. On the positive side, he is an outstanding defender with the ability to provide value with the glove at second base, third base, and shortstop. He has excellent defensive instincts, good hands, and a strong arm. He has an idea at the plate and can occasionally show gap power, but he's not an especially instinctual hitter and even in the most perfect of projections is a second-division shortstop who bats ninth. More likely, he spends another decade in the game bouncing up and down as a useful utility player.

Hernandez came over from the Padres in the Carlos Quentin deal and was rocked in his one big league start this year, although he's put up solid (if unspectacular) lines at both Double- and Triple-A. The undersized lefty is an almost classic Twins pitcher in that he throws strikes and doesn't miss bats. He does have solid velocity for a southpaw, sitting at 89-92 mph with his fastball, but it comes in straight and often up, leading to a disturbing fly ball rate. Neither his slider nor his changeup are especially effective, and the entire package leaves most projecting future relief work for him. Still, some in the industry believe that he could be a back-of-the-rotation type. —Kevin Goldstein

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

23 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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The worst system in the MLB has acquired Liriano, Youkilis and Myers this year.

Jul 28, 2012 22:37 PM
rating: 1

I think it helps that they've been quite content to take on the two guys that frustrated other organizations in Youkilis and Liariano (and looking back, assuming risk with Peavy, Rios and others). Also, I do think Kenny Williams has some solid people skills and he obviously must work the phones real hard. While he doesn't always acquire the best players in the world, he always seems to be involved in at least a couple deals each year.

Jul 28, 2012 22:56 PM
rating: 5
Bradley Ankrom

Certainly one of the most creative general managers in the game.

Jul 28, 2012 23:15 PM
rating: 0

The Pioneer Press has a quote from Terry Ryan on Pedro Hernandez that tells you everything you need to know about the Twins' pitching philosophy:

"'He has enough stuff,' Ryan said. 'He's got a fastball, slider and a change. He throws a lot of strikes, which is good, but I'm not going to say he pitches to contact. No, he doesn't do that. He pitches to get outs.'"

I like that the Twins acquire pitchers who get outs, as opposed to all of those other organizations that waste time getting pitchers who do not get outs.

What is there to say? This seems like a meager haul for Liariano, even if he is a rental, in that at-best you have a utility infielder and a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. (And the Twins already have a breeding program in place in the greater Minnesota area for this anyway, creating cyborg-human hybrids that specialize in throwing 88 to 92 with nice change-ups and meh breaking balls. Oh, you thought Brad Radke retired? Don't be so naive.)

Jul 28, 2012 22:39 PM
rating: 14

KW gets credit for making some lemonade this season. I thought he gave up a little too much for Myers, especially the young lefty Walters, but I hope his minor league talent evaluators know what they're doing. The Youk trade looks brilliant at this point and Liriano was clearly getting back into a decent groove. Kudos KW.

Jul 28, 2012 22:45 PM
rating: 4

I think it's a fine move for the Sox. They hardly gave up anything and Liriano has a better performance history than what he's shown recently. At a minimum they've got a competent 5th starter or anti-lefty/longman bullpen piece. It's possible they'll get number 3-4 starter production outta him on the upside. I just dont see how this isnt a good move for them.

Jul 28, 2012 23:30 PM
rating: 2

I hope there is enough time for Don Cooper to work his magic. Liriano is just the type of pitcher he has been successful at helping.

Does this deal reflect a new norm post CBA for pending free agents that are not superstars? The leverage seems to have been stripped away from the sellers (trade him or get nothing) and as acquisitions they are less attractive because they will not result in compensation picks.

Under the previous agreement, the sellers weighed the trade proposals against compensation picks (if they survived the offer of arbitration) and certain organizations valued the compensation picks that came along with acquiring pending free agents.

Is the pending free agent the new market inefficientcy?

Jul 29, 2012 04:24 AM
rating: 0

I wouldn't call it a market inefficiency as much as it is a loophole. It seems pretty well established by now that this is the price for non-elite pending free agents - a couple of long shot prospects. It would only be an inefficiency if few teams used it to strengthen themselves for the remainder of the season.

Jul 29, 2012 06:12 AM
rating: 0

I am not so sure that anything has been established, since this is the first trade deadline under the new CBA. The Cubs are still expecting elite prospects for Dempster. Grienke drew legit prospects, but would likely have drawn a qualifying offer from the Brewers over the winter. The next couple of days should tell us more, but it feels more like the 70s rent-a-player mode.

Who else besides the White Sox are exploiting this?

Jul 29, 2012 07:21 AM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

The Astros are doing this too, while also taking a page from the Pirates by trading anyone not nailed down.

Jul 29, 2012 11:31 AM
rating: 0

Yes, Kevin, this is very analytical, but what of your mancrush on Eduardo Escobar? Are you elated that he might get more regular playing time to stage his ballet at Target Field while posting a .460 OPS? Saddened that he leaves the opportunity to generate no power at the Cell? What are the emotional consequences of an Eduardo Escobar trade to a prospect maven?

Jul 29, 2012 07:41 AM
rating: -2
Luke in MN

He's a perfect piece as the Twins move toward their ultimate long-term goal of a 100% bunting offense.

Jul 29, 2012 07:56 AM
rating: 10

The Red Sox gave Youkalis to the Chisox. A vet utility infielder and a rapidly declining prospect is no price at all.
The Chisox sent the Twins 2 C+ prospects who are ML ready for an inconsistent pitcher.
These farm systems are "rated" by the farm-hands who could become major league regulars, but not stars. So whether your farm system has 5 C+ prospects of 50 of them, it won't show up in the ratings.
Williams has been using his C+ prospects. He's used some (Axelrod, Septimo) and has moved some. And if he had B+ and A prospects, he'd move them. To his credit, he actually uses his assets. Many timid GMs from supposedly "smart" systems, let them die on the vine.
Williams' best moves, however, have come off the waiver wire: De Aza and Quintero.

Jul 29, 2012 07:53 AM
rating: 0

Sorry - meant that the farm systems are rated by prospects who could become regulars, IF not stars. Also - using the prospects is not to say that the Chisox have drafted well -they haven't.

Jul 29, 2012 07:56 AM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

How else should you rate farm systems besides looking at prospects who can become regulars?

Jul 29, 2012 11:33 AM
rating: 2

The most interesting part of this trade for me is it tells us where the Twins' system is at. Short summary - Escobar isn't good but the sad reality is they need him, or players like him.

Here's the long comment:
The Twins have been completely unable to produce middle infielders.

So for the last several years they have:
-traded for a series of 2nd division/utility type prospects (Casilla, Bartlett),
-acquired old-guy stopgaps (Carroll, Everett, Cabrera)
-taken an improbable flyer (Nishioka)
-and made one smart move (Hardy) that was then nullified when they dumped him.

If they had relied on their minor league system we'd still be running Matt Tolbert (shudder) out there.

Because of their payroll (Mauer etc) they aren't about to put real money into a free agent middle infielder (so, for example, they were not in on the Jose Reyes game, or even someone like Furcal)

They need cheap, cost-controlled middle infielders. Their minor league system has nobody even remotely close.

It's worth considering how badly - and why - the Twins have been so lousy at producing middle infielders. Who has actually come out of the Twins system in the last 6-8 years as a middle infielder? Tolbert? And...?

Escobar has the potential upside of a lousy-hitting, good-fielding 2nd division SS. And that's better than anything they have. It's also better than anything they could afford to acquire as a FA, except for someone like Carroll at the tail end of their career (Dozier will need to move to 2nd and he's no better than a 2nd division player anyway)

So, a cost-controlled SS who possibly projects to be, what, about the 20-30th best starting SS in the majors, is something the Twins don't have and they DO need.

The saddest part of this deal is that in fact they NEED Escobar.

Jul 29, 2012 09:31 AM
rating: 3
Richard Bergstrom

While I agree with your overall post, they do have Miguel Sano.

Jul 29, 2012 11:35 AM
rating: -2

I don't think there's an evaluator out there who thinks Sano will play middle infield at the MLB level.

Jul 29, 2012 18:55 PM
rating: 2
Richard Bergstrom

True, my bad, thought they were still trying to keep him at shortstop.

Jul 29, 2012 19:46 PM
rating: 0

This also applies to the Pirates. I don't think Jordy Mercer is the answer. They let Ciriaco go and let Ronny Cedeno go. They did trade for Jack Wilson and got by with him for a while, but since then it's been a mess.

Is it hopeless for the Twins to try Trevor Plouffe at SS again?

Jul 30, 2012 10:30 AM
rating: 0

Agreed. Though there is also Brian Dozier.

Jul 30, 2012 11:05 AM
rating: 0

They have Goodrum and Rosario. I know it's only two players, but they both have tools and have developed pretty good approaches.

Jul 30, 2012 16:47 PM
rating: 0

The Twins system is absurdly stocked at OF. They need to start making moves to shore up their pitching and MI.

Jul 30, 2012 16:35 PM
rating: 0
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