Monday, February 07, 2011

One Year for Liriano is a Mistake

It's probably no secret to people who read this blog often, but I'm a huge Francisco Liriano fan. While I feel nervous about what to expect from a number of Twins players this season, I feel supremely confident that Liriano will be one of the top pitchers in the American League.

He's 27, he's four years removed from surgery and -- for the first time in his Twins career -- he's had a full offseason to rest up. No rehab from injury, no winter ball. Liriano's arm should be as strong as ever this year, and that should help him last deeper into games and avoid wearing down at the end of the season again.

In 2010, Liriano was one of the most dominant pitchers in the league, but his ERA and win/loss record stayed in check -- in part due to an inflated batting average on balls in play. His unremarkable core numbers have made him something of a well-kept secret, but that secret is likely to get out this year if his BABIP normalizes and he keeps racking up the strikeouts and ground balls.

If that's the case, the Twins may be missing their last chance to lock up the left-hander at a reasonable rate by opting for a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. I've been calling a long-term contract for Liriano the team's top priority since last August, but it seems that -- like with so many things this offseason -- the Twins brass sees it differently than me.

While chatting with fellow TwinsCentric blogger Seth Stohs at Twins Fest, Bill Smith acknowledged the downside of going year-to-year with Liriano: "We definitely recognize the risk in doing that and if he has another big year, it will cost us some money."

I don't presume the Twins want to cost themselves money, so the above quote indicates to me that they're not fully confident in the durability of Liriano's arm. I have a hard time understanding why, given that he's averaged 175 innings in his three seasons since Tommy John surgery and was hitting 96 mph in the playoffs last year, but I guess they have more insight on the subject than me. It's fair to say his arm is fragile; he had a lengthy injury history prior to his torn ligament (part of the reason the Twins got him so cheaply) and does go through periodic dead arm spells.

But those facts are all the more reason for Liriano to accept a multiyear deal right now and guarantee himself the first big payday of his career. Hammering out a contract with Liriano two years from free agency and coming off a good-not-great season gives the Twins an opportunity to negotiate from a position of leverage, but for whatever reason they seem perfectly willing to pass on it. I suppose I shouldn't get too worked up about it -- it's not my money -- but I wonder about the implications if Liriano goes on to enjoy a healthy and spectacular 2011 campaign, as I expect he will.

With core numbers that match his ace-caliber peripherals, he would become a much hotter commodity, viewed around the league in the same category as David Price, CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. And, with only one more year standing between Liriano and free agency, leverage will have shifted largely to his side. At that point, the Twins will face the difficult decision of meeting the potentially exorbitant demands of Liriano's agent, or risking the loss of another prime-aged lefty ace.

Of course, if Liriano doesn't have a great year, these points are mostly moot and it probably ends up being a fine decision. I admit that my opposition to this course of action is completely vested in the notion that he'll take another step forward this year, which could easily be wrong. Maybe he'll get hurt. But injuries are almost impossible to predict for pitchers. When the Twins handed totally unnecessary long-term contracts to Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn, both of those pitchers seemed to be in fine health, but neither has had a fully healthy or productive season since inking the dotted line. Given an opportunity to gain similar cost certainty with Liriano, a far more irreplaceable asset, it appears they'll opt to let things play out year-by-year, gambling that the southpaw won't continue his ascent and price himself right out of their budget.

Between Baker, Blackburn, Joe Mauer, Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, Joe Nathan and Michael Cuddyer, the Twins have handed out a lot of bloated contract extensions to their own players in recent years that haven't turned out to be particularly team-friendly (at least so far). Liriano's situation struck me as a chance to buck that trend. Whiffing on the opportunity to reach a long-term pact with the only ace-caliber pitcher in the entire organization on somewhat team-friendly terms while his value is superficially low hits me as another misguided decision in an offseason that has featured far too many.

23 comments:

Eric said...

I completely agree! I don't see Franky ever competing for CC, Price or Lee money though. If the twins give Delmon a long term deal, it will be a waste because he had a career year. He deserves a one year deal and Liriano deserves the long term deal.

Anonymous said...

Waiting on a long term deal my come back and bite the Twins in the wallet but making Liriano prove he can put up something close to ace-like numbers isn't the worst move either. Keep in mind that he has had injury problems, still has a violent delivery and has been inconsistent at times. I have no problem letting them wait to see if he can match his 2010 numbers before giving him a big contract. The same goes for Delmon Young....make the young guys prove it before breaking the bank on large contract extensions....instead of giving money to a guy and watch his numbers revert...Cuddyer, Harris, Punto, Blackburn, etc.

Let's not get too excited over a guy who still has a lot to prove. Maybe he turns into an ace, maybe he's just a number 3 starter and maybe he wrecks his arm again with that violent delivery.

lvl 5 Charizard said...

"but making Liriano prove he can put up something close to ace-like numbers isn't the worst move either"

The point is the twins the twins could wouldnt have to pay liriano ace money if they signed him now and if he puts up something close to ace like numbers they will. I think the twins stand to lose quite a bit of money. All the players you mentioned were all predictably bad guys for the twins to extend. Nick blackburn was striking out 4 per 9 before they extended, the twins had no business believing what he was doing was sustainable. The opposite is true for liriano. If the twins were to eat up a few FA years at 10-15 mil right now even if he doesnt become an ace hed likely to be worth that price. If he has a big year his FA years could cost 15-20 mil or more.

Dave said...

All of the things you say are true Nick. Rationally, the Twins should have looked at Liriano's full recovery and peripherals to determine that he is an excelent buy low candidate.

But rationally, Liriano knows the same things. Its possible Liriano feels confident enough in his arm to take a one year deal, post an "ace" season and cash in. We simply have no idea what Liriano's end of the negotiation was. Maybe he simply didn't want a multi year deal. I have no idea how Liriano likes it here, and he stands to make a haul on the free agent market when he gets there.

Nick N. said...

We simply have no idea what Liriano's end of the negotiation was. Maybe he simply didn't want a multi year deal.

That's true, I suppose. But the main focus of Liriano (and especially his agent) right now is to guarantee himself a big pay-day. At this point, 2013 is a long way away and if Liriano suffers a significant injury in either of the next two years he's going to severely limit his earning potential.

I liken the situation to the four-year deal Santana signed with the Twins after he won the Cy Young in 2004. He was in the same place as Liriano -- two years left of arbitration -- and he took a deal that bought out his first two years of free agency for ~$12.5M/yr because he couldn't turn down $40M in guaranteed money. That was coming off a better season than Liriano and without the injury concerns.

Liriano represents the best SP asset the Twins have had since Santana. I just hope they realize that.

Anonymous said...

"But injuries are almost impossible to predict for pitchers."

That's not true. If it was, injury history would be irrelevant when it comes to deciding whether to offer a pitcher a multi-year deal. Not only does Liriano have a history of arm injury, he has a violent delivery that is particularly susceptible to injury.

"the above quote indicates to me that they're not fully confident in the durability of Liriano's arm"

According to Jack, Smith said they have injury concerns.

I'd be okay with giving Liriano an extension, but this blog post was not a fair analysis. It's completely reasonable to see another year of results before committing big years and dollars to him.

Josh said...

I think it's still possible that the Twins will do a long-term deal with Liriano. they seem to like settling their arbitration cases first, then working out extensions once that's taken care of.

But I do think now is the time to get some cost-certainty and long term stability with The Cisco Kid. He's the best pitcher we have, with ace-quality stuff and the team would be wise to get him locked up. arbitration is a crappy process all the way around and absent another major injury his price is just going to shoot up. A 3-4 year deal will save money.

Nick N. said...

It's completely reasonable to see another year of results before committing big years and dollars to him.

Long-term contracts for pitchers are always risky. If Liriano is healthy next season it doesn't change the factors you mentioned, and it doesn't mean he won't get hurt in future years. The Twins will simply be paying more for those years.

Essentially, they're gambling that he's going to get hurt this year. As I said in the post, they have more insight than me there, so maybe there's a logic to it that I'm not seeing, but he's been relatively healthy over the past three years and this team has handed out far more questionable contracts in the past.

I think it's still possible that the Twins will do a long-term deal with Liriano. they seem to like settling their arbitration cases first, then working out extensions once that's taken care of.

There's only one occasion I can remember where the Twins have reached a one-year arbitration settlement with a player and then washed it out with a long-term deal (Morneau). I'm pretty sure in that instance they weren't telling everyone they had no plans of going the multiyear route and explaining their rationale behind the decision.

I strongly doubt we'll see a long-term contract between the Twins and Liriano this spring.

rghrbek said...

Nick,

I am in agreement in your opinion on Frankie. He is worth the risk because of his skill.

In your list of bloated contracts (or unnecessary ones due to remaining years of arb, you forgot to mention Denard Span (if the league has figured him out). If the Denard can get back to 08-09 form, then he is fine.

Anonymous said...

did i read that Liriano has another year of arbitration before becoming a free agent? If that is the case then the Twins should definitely see if he puts up similar numbers to 2010. He is big injury risk with that violent delivery. The only year he posted a sub 3 era was in 2006 when he ended up going down with the injury and has struggled to regain that form ever since. And, even though the sample size has been small, he has not been close to a dominant/ace pitcher in the postseason. If there is another year before free agency, make him prove he's worthy of a long term deal. The Cubs invested heavily on Wood and Prior and look how that turned out....giving pitchers big money is dicey...the Yanks with Pavano, Giants with Zito, Cards with Mulder, Rockies with Hampton, Yanks with Burnett, etc, etc, etc...make him prove it for another year.

lvl 5...you want to give Liriano 10 to 15 mil a year? really? 8 to 10 mil maybe...he certainly hasn't proven he's worth 10 to 15 yet.

lvl 5 Charizard said...

"lvl 5...you want to give Liriano 10 to 15 mil a year? really? 8 to 10 mil maybe...he certainly hasn't proven he's worth 10 to 15 yet."

Ted lilly and jorge dela rosa each got 3 yrs 30 mil this offseason. Liriano is younger and better at everything than those pitchers. The twins might get his last arb year for 10 mil but baring injury 10-15 mil per for his first two FA years will be a bargain. Liriano's peripherals are as good as any in baseball. I'm relatively confident hell perform well enough to get 15-20 mil in FA with the potential to be more. I think the twins are risking 3-5 mil per FA year for the fake piece of mind that will come with another injury free season. If hes too big of an injury risk this off season he should be a bigger risk next season when hell likely be asking for more money because the injury risks arent going to change.

Nick N. said...

If hes too big of an injury risk this off season he should be a bigger risk next season when hell likely be asking for more money because the injury risks arent going to change.

Well put.

Ben said...

Has anyone heard about any salary demands or even possible multi-year offers? It does seem like neither side wants more than one-year deals right now. If that's not the case I'd say offer him 30 million for 4 years. He's aware of his injury history just as much as the Twins, I would think, so it would have to be hard to resist it. If he develops into the ace they hope for then you have a steal. If he gets hurt on day one then you've wasted little more than what was already wasted on Blackburn and Capps without nearly the possible payoff. It's a step in the right direction anyway. If he wants too much more than that then riding out this season may be a good idea but I can't think of any reason other than Smith is assuming he will get hurt. But if that's the thinking why wouldn't you look to trade him?

Kelly Vance said...

Nick, I like Frankie and wanted a long term deal. But the Twins will either get that done after avoiding the arbitration hearing (what's so scary about arbitration hearings anyway? I do em allatime) or trade him. He is sorta high value now for teams like the Yanks that have to get an ace on the come to beat the Sox and Phils and others to the punch (if they wanna avoid a Cliff Lee bidding war). That is teh new economy in baseball. But if he pans out after a trade, ewww that sucks.

So I'd make a long ter,m deal with him and Delmon. I heard the comment that Young had a career year. What a moron. Delmon is just a kid, 24 year sold. He is just figuring it out. He is a 40 HR guy potentially.

Anyway, I agree that they oughta sign Frankie and Delmon. Pay 80 percent of league average for their stat level. But add extra years. Then coach em up and win the Central.

Dave said...

Is it a pipe dream to get Young from the Rangers, rewind him 6 years, put him at SS, all while getting the Rangers to foot most of the bill? I saw that one of his no-trade clause exception teams was the Twins and my mind is racing. Wait, what was this thread about?

Anonymous said...

Nick,

One good season since 2006 and you would lock Liriano up for 4 years...Sure glad you are not the GM...Bill Smith is making the right move here...You are the biggest cry baby around...All off-season you have complained about the Hardy trade, signing Nishoka, Casilla at SS, signing Pavano, signing Thome, the bullpen, and now Liriano not getting long term deal. You are also the one who hates Capps and Cuddyer getting big money this year. I would say you are pretty tough to please. Twins will be fine and all your crying will have been for nothing.

Nick N. said...

All off-season you have complained about the Hardy trade, signing Nishoka, Casilla at SS, signing Pavano, signing Thome, the bullpen, and now Liriano not getting long term deal.

I didn't complain about signing Nishioka, because at the time I didn't realize it would cost the team Hardy. I also didn't complain about signing Pavano or Thome, unless you consider pointing out downsides along with upsides to be "complaining." I've wanted a multiyear deal for Liriano for six months, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm disappointed they weren't able to get it done.

I would say you are pretty tough to please.

Good baseball decision please me. Like the kind this front office had been making for the last two years prior to this offseason.

Also, that entire comment is truly hilarious coming from you.

Anonymous said...

Nick,

You hated the Pavano signing and that's a fact by reading some of your past posts...You said it was a waste of money....Just wondering are you still kissing your J.J. Hardy pictures every night before bed?? LOL!! Hardy might have a great season but I still prefer Casilla long term...

Your a fantastic blogger and love your blog but you have made even me look positive this winter....Have some faith the Twins will be fine.

Nick N. said...

You hated the Pavano signing and that's a fact by reading some of your past posts...You said it was a waste of money

I never said that. I've questioned the front office's priorities, but on its own merits Pavano's contract is a very good deal.

halfchest said...

Learning their lesson would be nice.

The Twins missed out 3 times by my count on waiting one year too long to sign a guy. Had they been willing a year earlier they could have retained Hunter and Santana with reasonable deals in terms of money and years. They waited until they were a year away and the prices went up thus they missed out. I doubt they would have extended both but I'd be happy had we kept either one of them for decent 4 year deals.

The third player is Mauer. Again, they had injury concerns but really they knew unless he had a career ending injury they were gonna pay the man. Had they signed him one year earlier before his MVP season, I'm betting he's making more in the 15-18 million per year range. That's a lot of money, this year that'd be JJ Hardy still on the team or we could have retained Crain.

Either way, I agree with your post. It seems now would be the time to go ahead and sign him to a 4-5 year deal with a hefty option or two on the back end.

Dave said...

The Mauer deal is even more insane. Its not like the FO would have had just let Mauer go had he been injured again unless it was career ending. And how likely was that? I don't know if this is quite like that situation, but it very well could end up with the same result.

Anonymous said...

I think that it is tough to pay for "ifs". There is absolutely no guarantee that he will match last years numbers let alone exceed them. Furthermore, I think his chances of exceeding last years production are greatly enhanced by this one year contract forcing him to continue to prove he can perform at an elite level to get that big payday. Keep him hungry in other words. I mean, like it or not, last year was the FIRST time he has made it through a whole season. I think would every bit of irresponsible to tied major money after very little proof. And say he does come out and blow everyone away. By the time he hits the free agent market he will be coming out of his prime years and will be a Type A free agent. If the Twins can't sign him, at least they will get hefty compensation, which I am fine with.

Ben said...

It seems Joe Christensen followed the same logic I did in thinking Smith may be looking to trade him. I sure hope that isn't the case but it's hard to reach any other conclusion given what we know for certain. They haven't signed him long-term, and they don't seem to be too interested in doing so apparently due to the assumption that he will get hurt again. I guess the hope could be that he stays healthy and pitches lights-out and they will just take the picks that would come when he signs elsewhere. He just doesn't fit the Baker, Blackburn, Slowey, Radke mold in much the same way Garza didn't. It appears just showing the ability to strike a guy out once in a while is the quickest way out of the organization. Unless of course you created an obstacle in the way of getting at-bats for Nick Punto