Thursday, November 29, 2007

What to do about Francisco Liriano, keep or throw him back to the Wolves?

I get this question almost once a day... "What do I do with the Minnesota Twins Francisco Liriano? Should I keep him?" In 2006, at age 22, Liriano dazzled fantasy owners who plucked him off waiver wires going 11-3 with a 1.92ERA and 112K in 98IP as a starter and an appearance on the All Star team. Then it all hit the fan and Liriano went down needing reconstructive elbow surgery and missed the entire 2007 season. So where is Fran now?

As of today, Liriano has had no setbacks in his recovery and completed a few successful bullpen sessions earlier this month. The plan for Liriano is to be ready for Spring Training and with the possibility of Johan Santana being traded and now Matt Garza gone to Tampa Bay, Liriano is going to be counted on big time as their Ace (if Johan departs) along with Kevin Slowey. So what's in store for 2008?

Personally, I feel that Liriano will hit some kind of speed bump early on and bring that super hype back down to earth. Assuming he's healthy to start the season, I don't think he'll be that 1.92ERA/112K/in 98IP guy in 2008 like he was in '06. Beyond? Maybe, but this year I'd exercise some caution. Right now, fantasy wise, Liriano is all hype which probably makes him an 8th - 10th round pick in a 12 team league and close to a $10-$12 player in auction leagues, which in my opinion, we are over-valuing him. For the amount of risk Liriano holds, he's a much better value say after the 11th round and under $10 in which case, he'd be worth the risk. So be warned! If you jump on the Liriano bandwagon too early to pay too much you'll get burned either early in the season or in the second half when he burns out after too many innings. I don't think there has been talk yet about limiting Liriano's innings and if thats the case, then $10+ or a pick earlier than the 9th round and an injury could really be a waste.

Liriano is a high risk/high reward player but unless he's changed his mechanics, which caused the elbow destruction in the first place, there's a possiblility he could reinjure himself. On the other hand, if he changes his mechanics to favor that elbow, he could lose some of the "electricity" that he showed back in '06.

I'm not here to downgrade Liriano, I think in time he has the potential to be a superstar based on what we have seen, but I am just here to advise you not too buy into the Liriano hype and other wise make a poor choice in your draft. Of course in the Rotohog game, I'd definitely draft Liriano initially, sell him later in the day when the market opens, and bank on his hype!

Now, on to the main question here....What do I do with Liriano?

In normal 12 team keeper leagues where you might keep 6 or less, I would definitely not keep Liriano unless your keeper list is so bad that you just cannot help it. With teams of 7 or more, I'd advise keeping Liriano only if you lack superstars. If you can keep 8 players for example and you have 8 players that would most likely be gone in the first 8 rounds of a draft, then you don't need to keep Liriano. Obviously, if your keeper list is lacking, then keeping Liriano because of his potential should be an option. As for any auction keeper league, Liriano is only keepable if you have him for $5-$10 or less in a normal $260-$300 budget league, other wise, you are over paying.

Now, if I were you and I had Liriano on my roster, whether I had room to keep him or not, I would try to package him with another solid middle tier player and see if you can upgrade to a superstar. Makes sense right? Use Liriano's hype and potential to upgrade to a solid and trustable player. Taking a guy like Bobby Abreu for example and packaging him with Liriano should net you a nice late 1st-2nd round type player. It works because Abreu has value as a 5 tool guy and your combining him with a 22 year old pitcher with superstar potential. On the other hand, you dump an Abreu who is getting older and the high risk of Liriano.

As for a projection, its tough to crunch numbers and come up with something solid being that we only have half of one major league season to go by, therefore, I'm saying..... 14-9, 3.62ERA, 1.25WHIP, 180K in 190IP with a missed start or two at somepoint in the year. How did I get that projection??? I am guessing. I figure he will give you a nice K/IP ratio and won't be super dominating like he was but I think he'll be decent. He'll be solid however and at the end of the season, the excuse by every fantasy owner who drafted him in the 7th round will say...."Well, it was his first year back after surgery, he'll ready to be a superstar next year!" As for me, I'd rather avoid the whole situation from the beginning. If he has a great year, then you guys can say "I told you so"....but know you'll be lucky!

Mike Kuchera
Fantasy Baseball Express
http://www.fantasybaseballexpress.com/