Kenny Williams creates possibilities with Liriano trade

Francisco Liriano: Fan favorite.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Angels traded for Zack Greinke. On Saturday, some of the unsuccessful efforts were revealed, and Tom Haudricourt relayed a representation of the White Sox's attempt:

Doug Melvin is a gentleman. Two of the three players the Angels sent to the Brewers would have been the White Sox's top prospect, so Williams was bringing a plastic spork to a gunfight. A representative phone call might look like:

Doug Melvin: We're looking for a shortstop and a couple of arms.
Kenny Williams: I can do Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez.
Doug Melvin: No, I mean, a shortstop who can start, and I --
Kenny Williams: [interrupting] Escobar can start. Just watch.
Doug Melvin: -- and I said a couple of arms. You only named one.
Kenny Williams: ...
Kenny Williams: Pedro has two arms.

As we discussed a couple days ago, Williams probably couldn't have expected to have a real shot at Greinke, and the side talks would be the ones to yield a move.

Terry Ryan: What are you willing to give up for Liriano?
Kenny Williams: I can do Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez
Terry Ryan: OK. Let's start the paperwork.
Kenny Williams: I know what you're looking for, but I have doubts you're going to get it. I mean, a 5.31 ERA--
Terry Ryan: Kenny, I said OK.
Kenny Williams: What?
Terry Ryan: I said OK. It's a deal. We're going to do it.
Kenny Williams: Sweet! Do it up!
Kenny Williams: [dial tone]

After Saturday's sound 5-2 victory over the Texas Rangers, the Sox sprung a press release on us, saying they indeed traded Escobar and Hernandez to Minnesota for Francisco Liriano.

It's a move that will help. It's just unclear how exactly it will help, because it opens up a lot of possibilities, including an opening for another trade to come.

I'm going to throw a couple half-season lines at you:


W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WP ERA+ WHIP BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
Pitcher A
6 10 5.16 21 134.1 141 80 77 13 60 104 5 13 82 1.496 4.0 7.0 1.73
Pitcher B
3 10 5.31 17 100.0 89 63 59 12 55 109 4 6 77 1.440 5.0 9.8 1.98

If you've read any of the previous stories about the trade, you probably know that Francisco Liriano is Pitcher B, because the idea of a solution having a 3-10 record stands out.

The first line is the one that belonged to Edwin Jackson when the Sox traded Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg to Arizona for him back in July of 2010. He was especially lousy in the month before the trade, with a 7.24 ERA and a .330/.412/.496 line allowed, so the Sox couldn't even pretend to be jumping on an upswing. Among all the reasons the trade was confusing, Jackson's stats challenged for the top spot.

Whether the Sox actually intended to keep Jackson, or whether he was supposed to be flipped to Washington, Don Cooper thought he could make a simple tweak to improve his results.

Cooper was right. Jackson allowed just three earned runs over his first four starts combined, and ultimately gave the Sox a 3.24 ERA over 75 innings (11 starts) for the rest of the season. He cut his walk rate in half while striking out better than a better an inning. Sox fans might bemoan the trade, but it had nothing to do with Jackson's performance.

Star-divide

Liriano comes to the Sox under similar circumstances with similar adjectives like talented, erratic, frustrating. But he comes at a far lower cost, both in terms of players and dollars, and also far lower expectations.

However, he showed signs of a resurgence before the Sox beat him up on July 23. His terrible season stats are front-loaded. Ron Gardenhire relegated him to the bullpen after an abysmal first six starts, and when he returned to the rotation at the end of May, he fared far better. Compare!


W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP BA OBP SLG
First 6 starts
0 5 9.45 6 26.2 37 30 28 6 19 21 2.100 .346 .435 .589
Next 10 starts
3 4 2.84 10 63.1 38 22 20 3 28 77 1.042 .171 .270 .252
Totals thru 6/22
3 9 4.81 16 97.1 82 56 52 9 54 107 1.397 .230
.322 .359

Because the Sox are on the road and the trade broke late, impressions from the club are scant. Williams, in a group e-mail to reporters, only mentioned that Liriano would help provide starter support for the "two-month grind ahead." Robin Ventura said the Sox plan to plug him into the rotation, but neither he nor Don Cooper offered much about what they think Liriano will offer besides the expected quotes.

Sox fans can cross their fingers that Coop'll fix him, but the nice thing about Liriano is that he might not need fixing, really. In his two starts before his flop against the Sox, Liriano struck out 15 A's over eight innings, then came back and struck out 10 Orioles over six. If Cooper doesn't do anything to aid Liriano over the last couple months, he'll still be an upgrade.

And while I wouldn't hang hopes on Cooper making a measurable impact, the Sox have a book on Liriano. They have seen him at his best and worst, before and after surgery, so they know what they're getting as well as they can from the outside. Liriano might always be a roll-of-the-dice kind of guy, but it sure seems like the conditions are conducive to some sexy, sexy risk-minimization.

Star-divide

Williams is getting rave reviews for improving his team in highly proactive fashion, even while operating with the constraints of a prospect pool that couldn't drown a kitten.

Besides all of the aforementioned reasons why this makes sense, here's another thing that put a glide in my stride:

The Sox are going at least one day without a true backup shortstop.

This became a point of contention between us at South Side Sox and some organizational allies last year. Omar Vizquel spent the whole year on the roster solely because he had shortstop experience. He didn't look like much of a shortstop, and the Sox didn't really need a backup shortstop (he played 72 whole innings there), and so using his roster spot for a hitter could have opened up a few avenues toward improvement. Nevertheless, Vizquel's past shortstop experience elevated him to a structural necessity. The lack of imagination (and communication, and leadership) resulted in roster gridlock and the stagnation the Sox never really tried to escape.

This time around, the Sox are willing to leave it open-ended, and even after Escobar played a great game during a rare off day for Alexei Ramirez. There are a few creative solutions on hand -- Gordon Beckham could return to his collegiate position, and scouts said Brent Morel played surprisingly well there when Dayan Viciedo bumped him from third back in 2010. If Morel doesn't survive his rehab stint, I wouldn't put a Tyler Saladino promotion out of the question, as premature as it seems. It's not a good idea, but the Sox are aggressive like that, recklessly so sometimes.

There's no point in making an ultimate assessment while Williams wears his trading trousers with a few days to go. He could bring in a true backup shortstop, or he could trade a starter and make Liriano a necessity. Right now, what matters most is that Williams continues to seek out upside wherever he can find it, even if it creates temporary inconveniences, and it's funny to see those who opposed roster revisions last year raving about its fluidity this time around.

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