We've discussed the enigmatic Twins' starter Francisco Liriano, both here and at Baseball Prospectus. And Lord have mercy, we have discussed Joba Chamberlain, flogged the should-start horse to death, milked the never-the-same cow dry, pulled the wings off the what-might-have-been butterfly, and went on a tri-state animal killing spree which set off the alarm bells of the SPCA's Bad Metaphor Unit.
Now the chickens of speculation have come home to roost (sorry). Via USA Today's Bob Nightengale, we hear that the Yankees and Twins have discussed those two oft-discussed pitchers as well. Over the weekend, Nightengale tweeted that the Yankees were keeping an eye on Liriano, and the Twins checking out Yankee prospects. I must admit having some fun with this myself, sending a few of my punchier Twins followers over the edge with awful deal proposals which they took at face value.
Adding fuel to the fire, XM/Fox's Jim Bowden had Nightengale on his radio show yesterday and passed along his summary of the appearance: "Bob Nightengale of USA Today just told us that he thinks its possible that Liriano is traded to the Yanks in nxt 2 weeks for Nova or Joba +." ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand confirms the discussions between the two teams.
Since Nova is hardly sui generis given the stockpile of arms in the Yankee system, let's assume it's Chamberlain who's the headline act in whatever discussions have taken place. On a certain level, a deal along such parameters makes perfect sense, a swap of two high-ceiling pitchers who have some minor marks against them upon which their respective teams have fixated to such an unnecessary degree that they've all but squandered the advantages of information asymmetry. We know about both pitchers' warts. Liriano was slow to report his initial elbow woes and his comfort level during his progress back from Tommy John surgery, with the Twins sweeping those problems into a big pile labeled "Communication Issues" and muttering about his work ethic and the current condition of his shoulder. Chamberlain has been "permanently" shifted to the bullpen because of concerns about his shoulder, his velocity, his mechanics, and his inability to make sense of the Yankees' ineptitude in handling his workload.
With their respective teams more focused on the blots on their permanent records than the promise of their baseball records, it's apparent that both pitchers would benefit from a change of scenery, a clean slate and new voices in their ears. Either one could burn the team acquiring them by failing to live up to their limitless potential or succumbing to worse injuries, but then, that's the nature of every single pitcher on the planet; staggering towards entropy is what they do. Either could burn the team they leave behind by blossoming in their new environment. Liriano could become a frontline pitcher in a major market and put himself in line for a handsome payday when he reaches free agency. Chamberlain could thrive with a move back to the rotation, armed with stuff that's still more than decent and a pitching philosophy that doesn't involve attempting to blow it by every hitter.
Liriano's 27 and making $4.3 million in 2011; he can become a free agent after the 2012 season, and he's seeking a contract extension whose price tag apparently makes the Twins blanch, though the Yankees were prepared to spend so much more on their pitching this winter. Chamberlain's 25 and making $1.4 million in 2011; he can become a free agent after the 2013 season, giving the Twins an extra year of club control, not to mention a commodity whose price has been artificially suppressed by his detour to the bullpen.
The difference between the two pitchers in terms of salary and role makes it likely that the Yankees would have to include additional player or players in the deal, but if Chamberlain's atop the bill, the Yanks probably wouldn't have to include any of their prized Killer B's. Furthermore, with Joe Mauer signed through 2018 and Justin Morneau through 2013, the Twins don't have an immediate need for Jesus Montero, and dipping further into the Yankees' cache of catching prospects would probably be seen as a shot across the bow regarding the eventual necessity to move Mauer out from behind the plate. That's not a battle the Twins will undertake just a year after unveiling Mauer's $184 million extension.
As to the response that Chamberlain doesn't have enough upside left to justify headlining a return for Liriano, remember that even with their pedigrees, the odds of any given pitcher from among the Yankees' half-dozen or so developing arms providing what Joba already has given the club — 7.0 WARP via 350+ innings with a sub-4.00 — and surviving with a major league fastball and a future aren't tremendously high. If you were a general manager who had a 100 percent guarantee of knowing which one from among the lot of Banuelos, Betances, Brackman, Nova, Phelps, Noesi, Warren et al would reach the point of where Joba is, having provided considerable value during his short career, and still in line to provide more, you'd take that pitcher instead. But you don't have that guarantee, which is why the guy who's done it and still has his arm attached has value.
So count me as somebody who says that if Brian Cashman can swing a deal for Liriano without touching the core of the Yankees' vaunted system, he absolutely should, because the lefty is the type of risk the Yankees can afford, and the best pitcher the Yankees are likely to acquire until just before the July 31 trading deadline, if not longer. And if Twins general manager Bill Smith can find something within the Yankees' system which fills additional needs — middle infield insurance, another near-ready arm — he could reap the benefit of unlocking the full potential of a pitcher who's been misused, and fortifying a contending club both in the near-term and the longer one.
Such a deal wouldn't be an automatic win for either team, because deals for pitchers never are. But this one would balances the risks rather equitably, and has the chance to be a victory for both clubs if they can find common ground.