Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Prognosticating A Liriano Extension

I've mentioned more than once that the Twins are likely working on an extension with Francisco Liriano (and quite likely Delmon Young) as we speak (ok, not as we speak, because you're reading this... but you know what I mean). It's only logical after all. In 2010 Liriano was one of baseball's best pitchers, and clearly the ace of the Twins staff. His velocity was back and once again he was making hitters look foolish, showing that he was nearly all the way back to his 2006 form.

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Year Age K/9 BB/9 GB% FIP xFIP
2006 23 10.71 2.38 55.3% 2.55 2.35
2010 26 9.44 2.72 53.6% 2.66 3.06

For those that don't follow baseball closely - or if you follow baseball but don't like sabermetrics - what you see in that chart is the Holy Grail, the Devine Trinity of pitching metrics. Massive strikeout numbers, a strong walk rate, and ground balls in bunches. Hitters can't make contact, and they can't hope for a walk. And in the rare instance that they are lucky enough to make contact, they usually just beat the ball into the ground. He is a pitcher essentially without a flaw.

As he enters his second year of arbitration eligibility this season, the time to get a deal done is now. After this season, Liriano will be entering his third and final year of eligibility and will have essentially zero incentive not to go to free agency where he would command mega-dollars.

So when someone recently posed the question, "... what kind of money would it take to get him to sign a long term contract..." I nearly kicked myself for not having thought to write about this already.

To determine what sort of contract Liriano and the Twins would be likely to agree on, we need to consider the circumstances. Liriano will be 27 in 2011 and as Liriano's agent knows, the sooner he can get his client to free agency, the sooner he can cash in. Ideally, he'll want to get Liriano there at or before he turns 30. That would give his agent the opportunity to sell someone (maybe the Twins) on a 5 or 6 year deal worth 20m+ per season.

Of course, just waiting has it's risks. Liriano is a maximum effort pitcher, and that tends to wear down arms quickly. It's part of why he blew his arm to smithereens at age 23 and needed Tommy John surgery. Well, it's four years later and nothings changed. While Liriano has the benefit of a brand new ligament in his elbow that's unlikely to break down, that doesn't prevent other future injuries, either to his shoulder, back, whatever. And should Liriano suffer a major injury before free agency, his stock would take a massive hit.

That fear of injury is precisely why pitchers and their agents are willing to agree to long-term deals before free agency, even if they know they aren't maximizing their clients earnings potential. It's a dollars-for-security trade-off. In turn for the security the contract provides the client, the team reaps the cost savings.

With all of that in mind, we're back at the original question - what can we expect him to sign for, should he sign?

I'll break it down like this. I have Liriano pegged for 5m in arbitration this season, and given another season like his 2010 campaign, he should get something in the neighborhood of 9m in 2012. That would mean the team would be looking to pay him something in the neighborhood of 14m to buy out his remaining arbitration seasons.

Of course, in return for that security, the team will seek to buy out as many years of free agency as possible - at a reduced rate. On the open market, Liriano would likely be worth at least 18m (and likely more) over 4-5 years. That will increase if he repeats his 2010 season. But for now, it's likely the Twins could get the third season - Liriano's first true free agent year - at a discounted rate, say 14m.
So you're looking at 28m over three years.

After that third season, Liriano would be ready to enter his age 30 season. At that point, his agent will likely be pushing for Liriano to pursue free agency. However, if the Twins make a competitive bid on a 4th season as a team option for around 17m, Liriano and his agent would be wise to accept.
So all told, I'd be expecting a 3 year deal worth 28m, with a team option for a 4th season at 17, for a total value of 45m over four years, should his option be picked up.

It makes sense, and I'd hardly be surprised to see a contract very similar to this one announced sometime within the next two months.

Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both and He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog AL Central In Focus.

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