Twins trade Liriano to rival White Sox
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins traded pitcher Francisco Liriano to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday, acquiring shortstop Eduardo Escobar and left-handed pitcher Pedro Hernandez, who will both be assigned to Triple-A Rochester.
Liriano has played his entire big-league career with the Twins, dating back to 2003 when the team acquired him from the San Francisco Giants. He's started 130 of the 156 games in which he's appeared since his 2005 debut, accumulating a 50-52 record and a 4.33 ERA.
The lefty was demoted to the bullpen this May after starting the season with an 0-5 record, but he resumed his duties as a starter on May 30 and since has gone 3-5 with a 3.68 ERA. This season marked another up-and-down year for a pitcher who was considered one of the Twins' best prospects in 2004 and 2005, but his strong outings recently made him a strong candidate for a trade to a contender such as the White Sox, who have a 2-1/2-game lead in the AL Central but were looking for another starting pitcher.
In 2005, Liriano led all minor league pitchers in strikeouts with 204 before he was promoted to the Twins on Sept. 5. He won his first start later that month, on Sept. 30, and earned a consistent starting role in 2006. That same year, Liriano earned an All-Star nod and won the American League Rookie of the Year award.
After his breakout rookie season, Liriano underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow and missed all of 2007. After a rehab assignment in 2008 and some early-season struggles, he was recalled permanently from Rochester on Aug. 1 and went 6-4 that season.
Since 2008, Liriano, 28, has never strung together two winning seasons; his only winning record since his comeback year was in 2010, when he went 14-10. The high point of these recent seasons undoubtedly came on May 3, 2011, when Liriano threw the first no-hitter by a Twins pitcher since 1999. It came in a 1-0 outing against the White Sox, his new team as of Saturday, but in spite of that outing he finished the season with a 9-10 record and a 5.09 ERA.
Despite Liriano's inconsistency this season, he has shown flashes of brilliance, including a three-hit shoutout against Oakland on May 30. He gave up only one earned run five times since returning to the rotation, and his return to form and expiring contract — he'll be a free agent at season's end — made him optimal trade bait.
Twins general manager Terry Ryan told 1500espn.com in Minneapolis that neither the team nor Liriano had pursued a contract extension.
"You're talking about dollars, you're talking about years, you're talking about a lot of things there," Ryan said. "So, I don't want to pretend like we pursued an extension, and I don't want to pretend like they did. ... I'll tell you this — he expressed interest in staying, and I appreciated that very much."
Liriano's final outing as a Twin came on July 23 against the White Sox, and even his seven-hit, seven-run, 2-2/3-inning start didn't deter Chicago from targeting him. Before Saturday's game, Ryan acknowledged that the July 31 trade deadline was fast approaching and that the team needed to make a move quickly; he also added that Friday's trade of Zack Greinke from the Brewers to the Angels did not significantly alter the trade landscape.
The White Sox currently have a 55-45 record and sit atop the AL Central by 2.5 games, while the Twins have moved out of last place in the division for the first time since April. According to MLB.com, Liriano will remain in Minneapolis for the Twins' series against the White Sox, which begins on Monday.
Escobar, 23, is the White Sox 10th-best prospect in 2012 according to Baseball America. He's spent all of this season on the White Sox's 25-man roster, playing 36 games in the infield. He also played nine games with the White Sox last season, and he's posted an overall major league batting average of .202, with 18 hits and two RBI.
Hernandez, also 23, debuted on July 18, starting a game against Boston in which he pitched four innings. He gave up eight earned runs and 12 hits in his only major league appearance after spending time at both Double A and Triple A this season. In the minor leagues, Hernandez had an 8-2 record and a 2.94 ERA this season.
The Twins also announced that they transferred P.J. Walters to the 60-day disabled list on Saturday night, and they will make a corresponding roster move before Sunday's game against Cleveland.
Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.