Three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Liriano had finally returned to his previous level of filthiness (or at least pretty close) and established himself as the Twins' most dominating and exciting starter since Johan Santana's departure.
And now, the front office was thinking about trading him, with free agency still two years away?
There had to be more to this. I know the Twins don't rely as heavily on statistical analysis as some other clubs, but they're certainly not ignorant to Liriano's relative dominance. Surely they are aware that he was one of the league's most prolific strikeout artists, and that no other pitcher was as stingy with home runs. They weren't asleep while Liriano was breaking off two lengthy scoreless-inning streaks last summer.
The coaching staff knows what a dangerous weapon Liriano is, and that's why the lefty was tabbed as Minnesota's Game 1 starter in the ALDS, even with Carl Pavano coming off a 17-win season.
The Twins are obviously familiar with Liriano's ability, so it seems odd that their attitude toward him this offseason could best be described as "indifferent." Long-term contract discussions between the two sides reportedly went nowhere, and while club officials haven't openly confirmed that they're shopping the left-hander around, they haven't really backed away from the reports of his availability either.
It may be that the Twins are afraid of another major injury. I've been a little baffled by that line of reasoning, since he was mostly healthy last year and has had a full offseason to rest his arm. Then, I came across this bit in La Velle E. Neal's Twins notes for today's Star Tribune, under the scalding header "Failure to exercise is Liriano's issue":
Liriano threw several bullpen sessions in the weeks leading to the start of camp but came down with tendinitis just before he left his native Dominican Republic for Fort Myers. An MRI done in Miami showed no structural damage.
Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said he asked Liriano whether he did all of his shoulder exercises during the offseason, and Liriano said no.
"He's been doing them here, and now his shoulder is strong,'' Anderson said.
That's a surprisingly direct criticism of Liriano's work ethic. I'm sure other Twins players have failed to keep up with their exercises in the past, but I can't remember ever reading about it.
Well, actually I can. While I don't feel like digging through newspaper archives to find quotes, I'm pretty sure I've seen Twins officials grumbling about Liriano's work ethic before. Those gripes may have some validity. He showed up noticeably heavier in 2008 when returning from a year-long Tommy John rehab, suggesting he hadn't been working to keep himself in shape while away from baseball. He battled arm fatigue in the latter months of the 2010 season, a recurring issue which has been attributed to his between-start regimen.
I love watching Liriano pitch and would hope to see him do so in a Twins uniform for years to come. I still feel like buying out at least his first year of free agency should have been more strongly considered this offseason, and I still feel like the idea of trading him at this point in time is loony.
But if quotes like the one Anderson provided above accurately reflect the lefty's work ethic, it's hard to fault the club for being hesitant to commit long-term, or for being perpetually irritated when apparently avoidable injury issues like his current shoulder soreness crop up.