While Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves have stepped up big-time filling in for John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, we have to be realistic about our expectations for their future performance. Wakefield hasn’t posted an ERA or FIP under 4.50 since 2008 and it’s hard to predict how effective his knuckler will be from game-to-game. As for Aceves, he pitched well today, but his overall numbers are sure to regress (.179 BABIP) should he be the one that remains in the rotation upon Lackey’s return. It seems like Dice-K may be headed for Tommy John surgery, which means one of Aceves or Wakefield will need to stick in the rotation for the rest of the season.
Or, the Sox could explore a trade.
Yes, I know, Liriano’s stats look horrible right now, but that’s one big reason why there might be a buy-low opportunity at hand. Last season, Liriano posted a 3.47 K/BB ratio, wlaking only walked 58 batters in 191.2 innings. Obviously, his control has been far from consistent this season, as he has walked almost six per nine innings pitched. Along with the rise in walks, Liriano has seen a sharp drop in strikeouts as well–only 34 in 48 innings this season. However, one can’t help but wonder if Liriano has been a victim of poor management this season.
The Twins have apparently been trying to convince Liriano to pitch to contact since the season began. They’ve–specifically manager Ron Gardenhire–also threatened to take Liriano out of the rotation. That was before he threw a 2/6 K/BB no-hitter. Since the no-no, Liriano has allowed seven earned runs in 16 innings with a 14/8 K/BB ratio (though two of the three opponents were Seattle and Arizona).
Aside from the “pitch to contact” controversy and the threats of bullpen work, Liriano had also been the subject of trade speculation all winter and spring long. With the Twins’ horrible start to the season, those trade rumors have begun to pick up again. Any team that Acquires Liriano would owe him the remainder of a $4.3 million dollar contract and have him for the 2012 season as well before he becomes a free agent.
Given Liriano’s struggles this season, it may seem like a risky move to add him to the rotation, but there is still a ton of upside in his numbers that may translate to more in-game success should a team fix his mechanics and/or rebuild his mental game. Liriano has actually induced a good amount of weak contact this season as evident by a very low 11 percent line drive rate against. He’s also keeping the ball on the ground at a good rate (48 percent). Most importantly, Liriano is still missing bats at an outstanding rate (26 percent whiff rate), which would almost certainly translate to more strikeout should he correct his control issues.
The Twins, win-loss wise, are the worst team in baseball right now and are already 14.5 games behind the Indians. If they do decide to trade Liriano and build for next year, the Sox have the trade bait to make a deal happen. Recently called-up Josh Reddick had a very impressive 2011 major league debut today, going 3-5 with three RBI and a stolen base. While he was only hitting .248 at Pawtucket, he did have 12 home runs, a .344 OBP and a .527 SLG. Between him and the currently injured Ryan Kalish, the Sox have one too many outfield prospects ready to jump in and take over for J.D. Drew next season. Using Reddick s trade bait would be dealing from a position of strength to fill a weakness. The Twins don’t exactly lack depth in the outfield, but Michael Cuddyer isn’t playing like a player that is going to have his $10.5 million dollar club option exercised next season and Reddick would be a huge defensive upgrade over Jason Kubel. Ben Revere, due to a weak throwing arm, is no answer in right-field either.
While the Twins might not be looking to add an outfielder, they certainly need an answer at shortstop. The Sox just happen to have a defensive whiz who’s glove is big-league ready right now in Jose Iglesias. If it is determined that Jed Lowrie is the shortstop of the now and of the future, then Iglesias becomes expendable, though there could be an argument made that Kevin Youkilis should shift to DH next season with Lowrie taking over at third.
Then, there are a number of young pitchers, led by Felix Doubront, that could be used as bait as well. The Twins have the depth in the minors to replace Liriano right away should he be traded–top prospect Kyle Gibson has a 4.9 K/BB rate at triple-A so far this season.
Everything above is purely speculation and I won’t begin to try and predict the thoughts of the Sox brass, but if they wanted to explore a trade with the Twins, it is very realistic that something could get done.
The issues with the starting rotation are far from over and at this point it seems like a deal is highly likely, or at least an attempt to make a deal is. Francisco Liriano was one of the most dominant pitchers in the big leagues last season. If the Sox were to acquire Liriano, tell him to go ahead and strike out the world and build up his confidence, I think we’ll see a much more effective pitcher the rest of the way. It would also mean having an answer in place should Matsuzaka indeed need Tommy John surgery and miss a large chunk of 2012.
If management decides to pursue Liriano, I’d be 100 percent behind the decision…obviously.