As trade season heats up, the Dodgers seem to face a bit of a conundrum. Just as their lefty relief corps is depleted, elite southpaws like Brad Hand, Sean Doolittle and Felipe Vazquez are either effectively off the market or being offered with ridiculous asking prices. The potentially season-ending injury of Rich Hill makes things even more stressful, as it could push Julio Urias back up to the rotation at some point.
Like any other fan, I have endless scorn towards Andrew Friedman’s lackadaisical approach to bullpen construction during his tenure. I believe he has low-balled it one too many times, and doing so again in 2019 could cost Los Angeles a championship. But there could still be “third way” options, pitchers who aren’t as flaccid as Ryan Madson and John Axford but not at the top like Hand and Vazquez.
Could be the Twins fan in me talking, but I’m surprised I haven’t heard more Dodger fans talk about Francisco Liriano as a trade target. How’s he doing?
— Marshall Garvey (@MarshallGarvey) July 14, 2019
One such consideration is Francisco Liriano, who is currently in another stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Liriano’s MLB trajectory started in the mid-2000s with the Minnesota Twins, blossoming in a 2006 season that seemed to anoint him as the next premiere ace in MLB. With a slider that seemed to break hard enough to encompass half a batter’s body, he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in one of the most magical seasons in Twins history. However, he suffered elbow pain that required Tommy John surgery that offseason, sitting him out for all of 2007 and robbing him of so much potential.
Obviously, especially now at age 35, he will never touch 2006 ever again. But after rebounding from injury, Liriano has been more than serviceable since then for the Twins, Pirates, Blue Jays, and Astros. He had a particularly strong resurgence for the 2013-15 Pirates teams that made the playoffs. After an off year with the cellar-dwelling Tigers in 2018, he’s rebounded nicely as a long man for the Pirates in 2019.
Francisco Liriano froze Chris Davis with this Slider to end the fifth pic.twitter.com/oK2zzf8x3Q
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) September 29, 2016
As of this writing, he sits at 3-1 with a 3.09 ERA. He relies primarily on his fastball, which he uses 43.5% percent of the time with a velocity that climbs up to 92 MPH. His other specialties are the slider (29.7%) and changeup (26.9%). He’s using the changeup more than ever, and as he can’t reach the velocity of his youth the offspeed stuff is his bread and butter. Being used strictly in a relief role, he has excelled, with an ERA+ of 142.
There are, however, causes for concern. According to Ted Schwerzler of Twins Daily, his FIP, which currently rests at 4.65, is a red flag for incoming regression. He isn’t inducing many infield fly balls, and while his hard hit rate isn’t too high, there is reason to believe batters in today’s homer-friendly game could start launching off him as he regresses.
Some might also have an aversion to Liriano in Dodger blue given he pitched for the hated Astros in game seven of the 2017 World Series. As much as we’d all like to forget everything about that game, I can’t see that really being a mark against him. If anything, it’s a plus.
So should the Dodgers go for him? That depends on if they can’t get anyone better. If Hand and Vazquez aren’t options, I honestly believe a trade with San Francisco to get Will Smith and Tony Watson that doesn’t poach our elite prospects might be the optimal route. Liriano’s ability to work as a starter and reliever, and his postseason experience, make him a feasible option. However, especially with some troubling signs, he should be far from the best they get.