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Updated: April 17th, 2012 9:23pm
Mackey: Twins to face tough decision if Liriano continues to struggle

Mackey: Twins to face tough decision if Liriano continues to struggle

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by Phil Mackey

Francisco Liriano is proving why it doesn't pay to put much stock into spring training performances.

After a brilliant March in which he showed signs of putting together a bounce-back season, Liriano was awful for the third straight start in Tuesday night's loss to the New York Yankees.

Liriano was pulled after just 2 1/3 innings. He allowed five earned runs on seven hits and four walks while striking out two, and he saw his ERA rise to 11.91. After striking out 33 and walking only five this spring -- numbers that are, admittedly, relatively meaningless -- Liriano has punched out eight and walked nine in 11 1/3 regular-season innings.

It's still way too early to consider this a lost season for Liriano, who is set to become a free agent at the end of the year.

But the more he struggles early on, the more he tightens the handcuffs on the Twins front office.

Why? Because of Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, which makes it more difficult this season for teams to collect draft-pick compensation for free agents that sign elsewhere.

Beginning this year, the Type-A and Type-B free agent ranking system is gone. Instead, all free agents will be lumped into the same pool. In order to be eligible to receive first-round draft pick compensation, teams must offer their free agents a one-year contract worth the average of the top 125 contracts in baseball -- currently around $12.4 million.

In the past the Twins have been able to collect compensation in the form of first-round or sandwich draft picks for departing free agents such as Orlando Hudson, Jesse Crain, Corey Koskie, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and others who elected to sign with new teams.

In those cases, the procedure required the Twins to offer salary arbitration (which would have worked out to a one-year deal worth much less than $12.4 million in most cases) and the player turned it down, instead electing to sign a longer-term deal somewhere else.

To put it simply, if Liriano remains on the team through the end of the season, the Twins must offer him a one-year contract for $12.4 million if they want a first-round pick when (or if) he signs with a new team.

If they don't offer a $12.4 million deal, they get nothing in return when (or if) he walks.

If they do offer a $12.4 million deal, he might accept it -- in which case the Twins would be paying $12.4 million for one of the most inconsistent pitchers in the game.

The only other solutions are A.) to sign Liriano to a long-term deal, which clearly doesn't appear to be a viable choice at the moment, or B.) to trade him before the July 31 deadline.

But opposing general managers surely aren't oblivious to the position the Twins are in with Liriano, who would be nothing more than a three-month rent-a-pitcher for any team with interest.

Getting almost nothing in return for a man who, as recently as 2010, was one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League would likely be tough for the Twins to swallow.

Barring a quick turnaround, they may have to just swallow hard.

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