>Trading Liriano Would Not Be Rational, But the Twins May Still Do It

>By The Common Man

There is incredible buzz going around about whether the Twins are dumb enough to trade Francisco Liriano before the 2011 season gets underway, an idea that’s gained even more intrigue with Bob Nightengale’s strange-sounding report that the Twins would trade Liriano for a package headed by Joba Chamberlain or Ivan Nova. Rob Neyer wondered yesterday why this would make any sense for the Twins, because, after all, “The Twins sort of need Francisco Liriano, don’t they?”

This is similar to the line of reasoning Corey Ettinger put forth the other night, when he tweeted, “Listen guys, there is no chance Liriano is getting traded. None.” He then followed that up, saying,

“First of all, the Twins are looking to compete, not get worse. Second, there it’d be essentially impossible to get equal value for Liriano at this point. A Top-10/15 pitcher in baseball signed at 4.5m with two years of service time remaining… Three, given his peripherals, the Twins would probably be trading him at something other than peak value. There may come a time when Liriano is traded (like after the 2011 season) but it wont be now.” [sic]

And all of this makes sense. There’s a great deal of logic in it. But if the last several years should have taught Twins fans anything, it’s that the Twins are not logical actors. Which means that, as much as we’d all like to believe the team wouldn’t deal its ace, you can’t put anything past them. The Twins have proven again and again that they are unimpressed by concepts like logical analysis. Instead, they’re moved by feelings and guesses and inertia to act.


He doesn’t fit in.

The Twins have a disconcerting habit of trading and marginalizing players who don’t fit their preconceived notions of what that ballplayer should be. Consider the JJ Hardy trade this offseason. By all accounts, the Twins had one of the better shortstops (when healthy) in the American League, a solid hitter who was also an outstanding fielder. But rather than focus on Hardy’s overall value, Ron Gardenhire instead looked at his shortstop’s prime deficiency: a lack of speed on the basepaths. So the Twins dealt him. And rather than properly valuing him and getting a good return, the Twins unloaded him for a pair of spotty (at best) minor league relievers.

In just a few other examples, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett were traded for Delmon Young after falling out of favor with the Twins. Glen Perkins and Pat Neshek were marginalized after having fallouts with management over how their injuries were handled. David Ortiz was released because he was a pull-hitter. There is The Twins Way and the highway, and he Twins have consistently sacrificed talented players who did not conform to their vision.

Meanwhile, players who meet even low expectations, such as Drew Butera does and Luis Rivas did, are held up as examples to the rest of the organization of the importance of filling that designated role.

I just know this will work!

The Twins front office seems to be ruled as much by their wild-eyed optimism as their prejudices against non-conformity. The signings of Tony Batista, Juan Castro, Rondell White, Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Livan Hernandez, and Craig Monroe all bear witness to that. The team finds a forgotten and highly flawed veteran player, and attempts to plug them into a hole, seemingly certain that, because the deal is cheap, it has no risk. But these signings, again and again, jeopardized the Twins’ playoff chances.  Yet the front officed didn’t learn their lesson for four years, going back to this well even after it was clear that it had been poisoned.

You have been classified; therefore you are important.

The Twins have an infatuation with labels. When Matt Capps and his closer tag became available last year, the Twins jumped to deal one of their most valuable prospects, despite having Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, and (eventually) Brian Fuentes available to close. They also overspent this offseason to keep Capps on as “insurance” in case Joe Nathan isn’t healthy. Leaving aside Nathan’s health for a moment, no team should understand how closers are made, not born, better than the Twins who converted Nathan from a setup man after losing Eddie Guardado. And Guardado had been a LOOGY before the club elevated him to the role. And the man who Guardado inherited his job from, Rick Aguilera, had been a starter before the Twins converted him in 1991. Yet, in spite of all the evidence that a reasonably good reliever will make a reasonably good closer, the Twins continued to overvalue the label.

They also, like so many other teams, have a weakness for the “veteran leadership” tag. It’s led them to overpay to keep guys like Michael Cuddyer and Shannon Stewart for several times what the players would be worth on the open market.

Well, we can’t turn back now. We’re already halfway there.

The Twins have, over the years, proven vulnerable to organizational momentum. They get started down a path and are unable to turn back. In particular, the Johan Santana trade stands out as a painful example. The Twins had Santana under control for one more full season in 2008, and did not plan to pursue him as a free agent. So they began exploring trade opportunities for the best lefty in Twins history.

They held talks with the Red Sox and Yankees primarily, involving young players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Phil Hughes, and Melky Cabrera (dodged a bullet there), but were unable to come to an agreement. The speculation and discussion lasted for almost two months, and it became increasingly clear the Twins were unlikely to get what they wanted for their ace. But rather than packing it in and taking their chances with competing for a division title or dealing Santana at the trade deadline, the team seemed resigned to push forward. On February 2nd, they dealt him to the Mets for an underwhelming package of Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, Phil Humber, and Deolis Guerra. Three of them have essentially been failures, while Guerra clings to prospect status despite underwhelming performance in the minors.

The Twins finished the year tied with the White Sox for the AL Central title, and lost a play-in game. If they had simply kept Santana, the club almost certainly would have won the division outright and then been able to collect two draft picks for him in 2009.

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The Twins remain an organization driven by emotion. They lack the ability to keep dissatisfaction in-house (a problem they’ve had since Tom Kelly was managing, actually), and actively seem to antagonize and marginalize talented players. They also overreact to perceived needs and slights without considering alternatives that do not fit with their preconceived notions of what players should be and what roles they can fill. The Twins are, in short, not rational or logical actors. You cannot count of them to make reasonable and sound decisions in the face of high emotion and mounting pressure.  And given that their campaign against Francisco Liriano seems to have started in earnest, witht he public criticism of his conditioning and the decision to start Carl Pavano in the season opener, The Common Man has little faith that it won’t end with the premature unloading of Liriano for a disappointing return.

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