Should Yankees Pursue Francisco Liriano?

By Craig Williams

Recently it became known that the Minnesota Twins are open to moving lefty Francisco Liriano.  I have procrastinated a bit in getting this post out, but better late than never, right?  There was a time when Francisco Liriano and Joba Chamberlain were my two favorite pitchers on the face of the Earth.  Unfortunately each one has fallen off of the path that initially seemed to lead straight to Cooperstown.  Liriano has come closer to getting back on track and while he probably won’t make it into the Hall of Fame, he is well on his way to establishing himself as a solid Major League pitcher – if not an ace.  Should the New York Yankees make a run at the left-hander though?  Here are some of my thoughts…

First things first, I would not trade Jesus Montero in a package for Liriano.  I would only move Montero for a legitimate top-of-the-line ace which Liriano is not.   As talented as he is, there are a couple of issues keeping him out of the top tier and that need to be addressed before I would feel comfortable trading a sorely needed young and potentially impact bat.  The primary issue on the list is health.  Liriano took a while to come back from Tommy John Surgery and dealt with some shoulder issues in the Minors.  He was healthy for a full season in 2010, but I think most of us would like to see him repeat that feat and surpass the 200 inning barrier before treating him like a full-blown ace.  The second is his ability to step up in big games.  I realize that this is a bit tougher to quantify.  A lot of times you don’t know what type of playoff animal you have until he’s unleashed.  Liriano’s lone postseason start was unimpressive, but it was against the Yanks.  I’m not sure how much he should be penalized for that.

How about the other studs in the system, namely Manny Banuelos.  “ManBan” has been steadily rising the ranks of prospect lists and providing Montero with a little competition for the No. 1 spot in the hearts of Yankees fans.  If the Twins decided to pass on Jesus Montero – which they easily could do considering the presence of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau – I think they would demand Banuelos in a deal.  At this point I am on the fence when it comes to whether or not I’d be willing to trade the young lefty.  I’m probably hugging the prospects too tight (as I almost always do), but the upside is immense with Banuelos.  At the same time, what are the chances that he develops to produce the same types of numbers that Liriano has and is capable of?  The chances are probably low enough that it would be smart to center a blockbuster trade around Banuelos.  Call me greedy and unrealistic, but I want the Yankees to wait until they can acquire someone with the 2nd tier talent in their system.

One thing that I see a lot of people from the pro-trade camp point to is the package that the Twins received for Johan Santana prior to the 2008 season.  I won’t get into specifics but to make a long story short, they got hosed.  There are two things to keep in mind here though.  Primarily, Santana had one year left on his contract and was set to sign a nine figure contract that the Twins couldn’t afford.  Yankees and Red Sox fans remember that off season quite well as their teams were in the news virtually each and every day as ESPN analyzed the rumors from every degree possible.  Liriano is not in the same boat yet because he has two years left of cheap production that the Twins can take advantage of.  They are not in a position where they are forced to agree to a mediocre package of prospects.  Almost as important is the fact that the prospects that the Twins received weren’t bad prospects.  They were lower profile guys than the Yanks and Sox were offering, but they still had some upside.  The fact that they’re considered bad pieces now is just a matter of hindsight being 20/20 and, therefore, does not suggest that the Yankees could get Liriano for a weak package.

There is no denying that adding Francisco Liriano could be beneficial to the squad.  For starters, a rotation of Sabathia-Liriano-Hughes-Burnett-5th starter would inspire a lot more confidence in the teams pitching.  The Yankees would also enjoy the fact that Liriano would not hit free agency until after the 2012 season at which point they could simply outbid anybody to retain his services.  I’m just not chomping at the bit to see a blockbuster deal go down.  I understand that prospects carry a lot of risk and uncertainty (just check out some New York Yankees Top 10 prospects lists from 2007 or 2008), but I just want the Yankees to wait for a real slam dunk to hit the trade market before unloading any blue chip talent.

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