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Updated: July 1st, 2012 11:38pm
Mackey: Teams could buy high based on Liriano's short-term results

Mackey: Teams could buy high based on Liriano's short-term results

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- If Sunday's performance by Minnesota Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano were a painting, it certainly wouldn't have been mistaken for a Mona Lisa or a Starry Night.

Maybe something more abstract.

An abstract print, perhaps. With no frame. Maybe from Art.com or something.

Facing a Kansas City Royals lineup with a handful of formidable hitters, Liriano was charged with four earned runs on five hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings, but he struck out six, and most of the damage took place in the sixth inning due to poor defense.

Liriano certainly wasn't as dominant Sunday as he has been in his previous few outings, but it's an outing that would have passed as Cy Young-worthy when compared to the clunkers he tossed out in April and May.

Since returning to the starting rotation on May 30, Liriano owns a 2.95 ERA with 46 strikeouts, 18 walks, and only 25 hits allowed (one home run) in 42 2/3 innings.

And judging by certain folks in attendance on Sunday, Liriano is generating plenty of interest with his recent return to form.

The Atlanta Braves, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees were among teams who sent scouts to watch Liriano's outing. The Braves, specifically, have had one of their top scouts in attendance for each of Liriano's last two starts at Target Field, which makes sense considering Atlanta's current lack of reliable starting pitching behind Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson now that Brandon Beachy is out for the season.

The main question for the Twins is, if/when they elect to sell, how much can they get in return for Liriano?

"I think the one thing you might be able to get someone to dream on -- it's amazing to me, continually, how often trades are made based on the last two starts," one American League personnel director said last week. "It's amazing to me. ...

"So if he can put together a couple of starts in the next couple of weeks... You've definitely seen him turn the corner the last month or so."

On the surface, despite his run of success, it would seem there are a lot of forces limiting Liriano's trade value -- namely the fact that he will hit free agency in October, so at the moment he acts as nothing more than a three-month rent-a-pitcher.

Not to mention, Liriano usually doesn't pitch more than six innings in any given outing -- once, in fact, since Aug. 20 of last season. And teams aren't oblivious to the fact that he has a split personality on the mound, pitching at times like one of the most untouchable starters in baseball while at other times showing a total inability to throw strikes.

Opposing teams also know the Twins might be hesitant to offer Liriano the one-year, $12.4 million deal required if they want to collect draft-pick compensation should he sign elsewhere this offseason.

But teams need pitching. The Braves even went so far as to sign Ben Sheets to a minor league deal last week. The Yankees are currently without both C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. The Blue Jays have the eighth-worst starting staff ERA (4.51) in baseball.

"If it's $5.5 million -- you're talking about half of that for the year, so you're really not taking on that much payroll," the personnel director said.

"You figure, at the least, if you're going to be making a playoff push -- and whoever's taking him is going to be counting on him as a starter -- but at the least you've got a hard-throwing lefty out of the bullpen. In the playoffs, if you're running two or three starters out there, you can follow them up with Liriano, even if he's not as consistent. How many guys really are?"

It's also important to note that Liriano's average fastball on Sunday was 94 mph and frequently touching 95 and 96 mph, and he induced six swings-and-misses with his slider. Liriano has induced at least 12 swings and misses (including all pitches) in each of his last seven starts.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson and manager Ron Gardenhire have been frustrated in the past with Liriano's difficulties making in-game adjustments, and his propensity to be thrown off by negative outcomes within games.

Lately, Liriano has been better in those areas. But will it last?

"We've all bragged about his stuff. People are tired of hearing about his stuff," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said Friday in an interview with 1500 ESPN's Tom Pelissero Show. "We need results. Hell, he's got stuff. He's got three pitches that can strike any hitter out on any given night. We need him to do that on a consistent basis where we aren't looking in that bullpen in the third or fourth inning.

"The guy's in the prime of his career, he's left-handed, he's one of the best teammates in the clubhouse. It's very puzzling why he's gone through (struggles), but he has."

That almost sounds like a sales pitch.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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