Monday, May 05, 2008

The Liriano Decision

"[Francisco] Liriano got a chance to see that he wasn't ready to pitch in the Majors quite yet, something that it seemed neither he, nor his agent, was so quick to believe out of Spring Training."

- Kelly Thesier in her mailbag on the Minnesota Twins web site.

Bill Smith: Maybe in [Liriano's] own eyes, he now knows that he's not ready to pitch up here.
Chad Hartman: Did he need to see that? Was he convinced that he could pitch up here right now? And that he would have harbored some negative feelings toward people up here if he was still pitching in Fort Meyers or in Rochester without getting the chance to show everybody....
Bill Smith: I think so. I think there was a chance that that was going to be an issue. Not so much that he's going to harbor feelings, but I think it had a chance for him to really get down that he wasn't being given a chance.
- yesterday in an interview on KFAN
When you study this stuff, you spend more than a little time doing nothing more than reading tea leaves. And I gotta tell you, it's awfull gratifying when you find out you're suspicions were right.
In spring training, the Twins repeatedly talked about Liriano's lack of control. And after his second minor league start, presumably done to have him build arm strenght, it was repeatedly noted that his control was still a major problem. He was called up anyway. This despite walking four batters in four innings in his first start was called up when Kevin Slowey pulled up lame. Hell, his own AAA manager speculated that he wasn't ready yet.
Now, it's fair to say this isn't a protypical move by the Twins. They're absolutely freaks about control. To the point where it's been annoying. In face, they haven't been afraid to use it over an over as a talking point for why a pitcher isn't in the major leagues. So what was different here?
Well, one thought was that the Twins viewed this year as a developmental year. After all, Carlos Gomez clearly doesn't meet the Twins traditional definition of "major-league-ready", but he broke camp with the team. So maybe Liriano fits that mold, too?
Except that in Gomez's case, they felt like he needed to be exposed to major-league pitching, and that is something that can't happen in AAA. Working on control doesn't need to happen in the majors. Learning to put the ball in a certain quadrant of the strike zone can happen at any league. And in Rochester, the Twins weren't burning Liriano's major league service time.
Ah, but that was exacty the point wasn't it? Liriano entered the season with 2 years and 32 days of service time. If he was on the team starting in April, he would end the season with 3+ years of service time which
a) guarantees arbitration
b) guarantees arbitration as a third year player and
c) puts him on track to become a free agent after 2011.
And if you think that little ticking clock wasn't at the top of his and his agent's mind, you're kidding yourself. You can be damn sure there would be plenty of resentment if he "wasn't being given a chance" as Bill Smith so aptly put it.
Three starts later, things were much clearer for the team, the agent, and probably the player. Liriano needed to redevelop his control. His performance wasn't just bad, and might have even gone beyond damaging financially. It was embarassing. And that's the kind of thing that can derail a player's career and is in nobody's self-interest.
The good news, believe it or not, is that Lirano continued to struggle with his control in Rochester. So this isn't just some mental block about the majors. He has some work to do, and he's now probably in the best place to do it, under the less-bright, less-hot lights.
But it also means that there are going to be some artificial deadlines, times when the clock is going to be ticking a little louder in Francisco's and his agent's head. I count about 13 more days on the major league roster, giving him a current total of approximately 2 years and 45 days. So the magic dates are:
  • Mid-May - I suspect he's pressing a bit now, because he'll need to be called up in the middle of this month to get the other 135 days he needs to reach three full years of service time. that would get him more in arbitration and put him on track to become a free agent a full year earlier.
  • End of June - He needs about 90 more days on a major league roster to qualify as Super-2 player and be eligible for arbitration. That likely means a couple of million dollars in salary next year. To reach that, he would need to be called up to the Twins by mid-June.
Calling up Liriano only cost the Twins a couple of starts, and seems to have got everybody on the same page as to what the next steps should be. But these artificial deadlines can either provide further incentive for progress, or get in the way of regaining confidence.
And I'm not just talking about the player. I'm also talking about the team.


Twinstalker said...

Hey, John, long time, how are you? I just wanted to inform you of a "fact" that I don't really know is one but that I believe is. As you know, three years service time equals arbitration. But I believe that for players who spend a year on the DL or a substantial amount of time on the DL, their super 2 status is drastically affected. In other words, that June date isn't meaningful for Liriano.

And note that I don't know the exact rule if, in fact, I'm right about there being one. Yeah, Liriano is soon to be under the 3 yr trouble line, and that will be good for the Twins, because he won't be arb eligible until after the 2009 season.

TT said...

From the player agreement:

"In addition, a Player with at least two but less than three years of
Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if:

he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately
preceding season; and

(b) he ranks in the top seventeen percent
(17%) (rounded to the nearest whole number) in total service in the
class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of
Major League service, however accumulated..."

It appears that one absolute deadline for Liriano to be eligible for arbitration next year would be to get a total of 86 days of service this year. But, as Geek notes, that is probably less than he needs to be a super two in any case.

Pseudofool said...

Always like your take, seemingly--still-the only even-keeled big picture analysis around the blogosphere. I hope you continue to post, but I'm happy the Gameday thing is going well.

Pseudofool said...

Always like your take, seemingly--still-the only even-keeled big picture analysis around the blogosphere. I hope you continue to post, but I'm happy the Gameday thing is going well.

Jake said...

An ode to little Nicky Punto.

I know at the beginning of the season everyone was dreading having Punto any where within breathing distance of the starting lineup, but I have always believed in the magic of the tiny super hero. And as of last nights 2 H, 5 RBI performance he sits smack dab in the middle of the twins batters in all of the stats that count. 7th in AVG, 7th in OBP, and 9th in OPS! and who needs Adam Everett on D. I see this as a nice rebound from last season and a notice to all the doubters. Let the Punto train roll on! Come on John show the man some love.

AdamOnFirst said...

I think it's pretty clear to everyone by now that teams are acutely aware of service time, but it is interesting to wonder how much it weighs in the minds of players in the minors.

Liriano's concern should be returning as close to 2006 form as possible. If he manages that, he'll never ever have to worry about money ever again no matter when his arbitration clock ticks.

Anonymous said...

We need you back! over two weeks without your insight and the Twins are 7-9 since your last post.