The Minnesota Twins should leave no stone unturned in their search for starting pitching this offseason, regardless of whether they choose to go after the bigger fish in the free agent pond. But Tuesday night’s news that they have talked to the representatives for Francisco Liriano comes as a big surprise. The two sides apparently intend to meet at the upcoming Winter Meetings, so there may be more than smoke to this fire. General manager Terry Ryan, as expected, would not confirm or deny interest in Liriano.
The Twins are, of course, very familiar with Liriano, as he spent his entire big league career with the team prior to being dealt to the Chicago White Sox last July. Over six-plus seasons with the Twins, he had a 50-52 record with a 4.33 ERA over 156 appearances (130 starts). He burst onto the scene in 2006 when the Twins made their run to a division title, going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in 28 appearances (16 starts) as he earned an All-Star selection and finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. But he injured his elbow during the postseason that year, and missed the entire 2007 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Liriano has never quite been the same pitcher upon his return from that elbow issue, with his best season coming in 2010 (14-10, 3.62 ERA over 191.2 innings-31 starts). Moments of brilliance, including a 2011 no-hitter, followed by bouts of maddening inconsistency made it impossible for the Twins to seriously consider signing him to a long-term contract. The trade with the White Sox did not yield a huge return (infielder Eduardo Escobar, pitcher Pedro Hernandez), but under the circumstances it was better than losing him for nothing when the season ended.
For the Twins to seriously consider bringing Liriano back, the price would have to be right. Anything more than a two-year deal seems risky given his history, and how many other teams do or will have interest stands to go a long way toward setting the market for him. I think Ryan knows better than to get into a bidding war for Liriano’s services, and the organization’s history with him suggests if contract talks surpass a pre-determined level another team will be allowed to take the risk.