Is Francisco Liriano the offseason pitching acquisition for which Brain Cashman, and the Yankee fan base, has been patiently waiting?
According to a newspaper report out of Minnesota, the Twins’ recent inability to sign their talented young lefthander to a long-term deal has led some in the organization to consider trading him while his value is high. Not surprisingly, this news immediately prompted speculation about Liriano being traded to the Yankees. Over at IIATMS, Jason provided a nice rundown of various reactions to this rumor from throughout the Yankees’ blogosphere, but as always, the devil is in the details.
The Yankees’ farm system is brimming with highly regarded prospects, but most major deals involving the pinstripes always seem to center around two: Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos. At this point, Montero, who some have compared to Frank Thomas and Mike Piazza, seems close to untouchable, but there has been no such indication regarding Banuelos. Although the TINSTAAPP (there is no such thing as a pitching prospect) concept is very popular in some circles, Banuelos’ scouting report suggests that he may be the exception that proves the rule. If the Yankees’ internal evaluations are as optimistic, trading this young lefty would seem to require an extreme level of prudence.
When healthy, Liriano has proven to be a terrific pitcher who excels at missing bats, which is usually a pre-requisite for dominance. However, the “when healthy” caveat can not be taken lightly. Although all pitchers are a risk, ones who have already exhibited a history of arm problems and undergone a Tommy John surgery carry with them an extra bright red flag.
The risk associated with Liriano’s injury history is further compounded by his impending free agency after the 2012 season. As a result, any team acquiring him would have two options: (1) sign Liriano to a long-term deal just one strong season removed from his recovery; or (2) wait until after 2012 and run the risk of having to give him a Cliff-Lee type contract. Even though money isn’t as much of a concern to the Yankees, sinking a pretty penny into an injury prone pitcher would probably make even the Steinbrenners swallow hard.
All things being equal, and considering the depth of its farm system, the Yankees should be able to appease the Twins’ demands without parting with their two true blue chip prospects. However, this isn’t a perfect world. The big bad Yankees are the same team that has repeatedly sent the Twins packing from the playoffs over the last decade. By trading Liriano to the team’s chief tormenter, the Twins would likely face a significant backlash from a fan base that not only helped build the team’s new stadium, but made Minnesota one of the hottest markets for baseball. As a result, if the Twins decide to trade Liriano to the Yankees, they might seek to exact a pound of flesh.
Obviously, adding Liriano would make the Yankees stronger in 2011, but the initial rumored cost seems to be much too prohibitive. Recent trades of Matt Garza and Zack Greinke as well as last season’s trade of Dan Haren did not include prospects like Montero and Banuelos, so the Yankees shouldn’t feel compelled to trade one away for Liriano. Brian Cashman has been patient for this long. There’s no sense panicking now.