- 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.