Potential Mets Free Agent Target: Francisco Liriano


Now that R.A. Dickey has been dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Mets have a void in their rotation that needs to be filled. Manager Terry Collins made a good point as New York goes about to start replacing the Cy Young award winner; it’s not about replacing the 20 wins, but more about replacing the 230 innings pitched. While Sandy Alderson is content with using internal options to fill that hole, such as Jeremy Hefner, Jenrry Mejia, or Collin McHugh, he would also like to add to the competition by bringing in a low-cost free agent pitcher capable of winning 10-12 games. That’s where Francisco Liriano comes in.

While speaking on WFAN earlier this week, Alderson expressed his interest in Liriano, and the front office is considering pursuing the southpaw. Liriano bursted onto the scene back in 2006, as he went 12-6 with a 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 144 strikeouts in 121 innings pitched. He placed third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting while also earning his first, and at this time, only All-Star selection. There is no doubt some of his success could be attributed to the student-teacher relationship with former teammate and similar pitcher, Johan Santana. The two of them were a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation, as Santana brought home his second Cy Young award in three years, while leading the league in wins, ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP.

Sept 15, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (58) delivers a pitch in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The White Sox won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Since then, it’s been a rocky road for the Dominican pitcher. Towards the end of his successful rookie year, he reported some discomfort in his elbow, and eventually led to Tommy John surgery, followed by missing the entire 2007 season, which would be Santana’s last as a Minnesota Twin before he was dealt to the Mets that winter. Liriano returned in 2008 to make 14 starts, compiling a 6-4 record to go with a 3.91 ERA. After he made his comeback, he’s only had one season since 2009 where his ERA was under 5.00 (14-10 record, 3.62 ERA in 2010).

He was the first pitcher to toss a no-hitter in the 2011 season, but it was mostly a frustrating one for him, as he struggled to find his form on the way to a 9-10 record. It got even worse this past season, posting a 3-10 mark in Minnesota, which is when management finally decided to pull the plug on the former “super prospect,” and traded him to the Chicago White Sox mid-way through the year.

Now that he’s a free agent again, the pitching-starving Twins are trying to court their former starter, but negotiations between the two sides haven’t been going well. Earlier in the off-season, there were as many as seven teams interested in Liriano, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of buzz surrounding the free agent because of his inability to put it all together on the mound. Michael Baron of MetsBlog made the comparison to Oliver Perez because he has fantastic stuff, but hasn’t have much control (5.0 BB/9IP since 2011).

So, that sounds pretty awful, right? I mean, we were already punished once by having to watch Ollie pitch, but why bring back another version of him? I feel Liriano has much more potential than Perez ever did as a starting pitcher, and if he’s surrounded by the right people, can find some of that magic again. Having Johan Santana in the same clubhouse as him again would be huge, as it’s reported they’re still somewhat close. Plus, New York wouldn’t be throwing $36 million at him like they did to Perez.

Also, his fastball velocity (93 mph in ’12) was back up to where it should be, after it dipped to 91.8 mph in 2011, and he’s starting to use his slider more often. Although he has three pitches he can throw, he’s considered a fastball-slider hurler. In the years he’s been successful (’06, ’10), he’s thrown at least 30% sliders and less than 50% fastballs when he’s on the mound. In the seasons in which he struggled (with 2012 being the exception), he threw less than 30% sliders and over 50% fastballs. Whatever the reason is for this, he needs to have more confidence in his slider.

At the age of 29, this could be a great pick up for the Mets. Liriano is clearly looking for a way to prove himself again so he can get a decent multi-year contract, and the situation in Flushing would be perfect for him; he’d be reunited with Santana, would be able to get a fresh start in the National League, and has the opportunity to compete for the last rotation spot in Port St. Lucie. At the very least, bringing in someone like Liriano will definitely make the likes of Mejia, Hefner, and McHugh work a little harder. Hefner ended the season strong, but both Mejia and McHugh were incredibly inconsistent during their limited playing time. Francisco certainly has the kind of potential Alderson is looking for in a free agent pitcher.

What do you think? Should the Mets pursue Francisco Liriano, or is there another pitcher that catches your eye?