Francisco Liriano is going to make a contending club very happy this fall. At least, that’s the consensus thus far in 2018 after an impressive showing with the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers signed the journeyman left-hander to a one-year, $4 million deal in late February with the low-risk, high-reward mindset that Liriano would net a nice return if the Tigers were to flip him to a contender at the July 31 trade deadline.
The roadblock of that masterplan falls on the shoulders of Liriano, who would have to pitch well in the first half of the season to be considered a viable trade candidate. A tall task for a 34-year-old coming off a combined 5.18 ERA in the past two seasons with stops in Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Houston.
But the Tigers gambled and invested in Liriano, immediately throwing him into the mix for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. He earned the job in mid-March after his audition proved to the Detroit baseball bosses he still has the swing-and-miss stuff he flashed over the first decade of his career.
His strong spring has since parlayed into his $4 million toss-up looking like one of the steals of the offseason. In six starts, Liriano owns a 2-1 record and a sparkling 2.97 ERA. He’s held batters to a .187 average in 36.1 innings, striking out 26 and issuing 16 walks.
His last start may have been his finest so far as a member of the Tigers, twirling seven innings of one-run ball while limiting the Kansas City Royals to just three hits. Liriano, through his half-dozen outings, is the epitome of a one-year deal.Veteran lefty Francisco Liriano's early-season excellence will pay off for the rebuilding @tigers at the trade deadline.Click To Tweet
He’s showcasing that he still has stuff left in the tank; contending teams down the stretch will find value in a crafty left-hander. A failed experiment would not have killed the Tigers, nor would it have helped. Liriano is pitching to the Tigers’ advantage, a team with sights set on advancing the rebuild instead of competing for this October.
Although, it’s hard to pinpoint what kind of return he’d bring the Tigers if they were to flip him at the trade deadline.
The Oakland Athletics received a trio of highly-touted prospects in Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian from the New York Yankees in exchange for Sonny Gray last July. Gray had a 6-5 record and a 3.24 ERA at the time of his trade.
Chicago White Sox lefty Jose Quintana was on his way to a career-high 4.15 ERA before he was traded across town to the Chicago Cubs for a pair of top prospects, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, among two others last July.
Liriano was dealt to the Houston Astros last summer as the Toronto Blue Jays received outfielders Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez. Liriano was 6-5 with a 5.88 ERA in 18 starts for the Blue Jays, but worked out of the bullpen for Houston.
Teams are willing to move big pieces for starting pitching depth as summer turns to fall, like we’ve seen in year’s past. The Tigers are likely not in a position to haul in a pair of highly-touted prospects for an aging left-hander on a one-year deal, but contending teams would not hesitate to better their big league club by acquiring starting pitching.
The Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland Indians, and Colorado Rockies rank Nos. 13, 15 and 16, respectively, in ERAs by starting rotations, according to ESPN.com. The Angels lead the American League West, the Indians are on top of an ugly AL Central, and the Rockies are winners of five straight, trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks by 3.5 games in the National League West. All three clubs have given off the impression that they could find themselves in the postseason this fall and would surely look to stock up on pitching to do so.
The Tigers are 15-20, just 35 games into a rebuild predicted to take anywhere from three to five seasons. Liriano’s one-year contract, though it initially looked like a gamble, will play to the Detroit Tigers’ favor if he is able to prolong his dominant start.