Mets Starting Pitcher Target: Francisco Liriano — Off The Market

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

The Twins' former future ace has been wildly inconsistent over the past few seasons, but he is still just 29 years old.

Following the big trade of R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays, Sandy Alderson indicated that the Mets would be looking outside of the organization to fill the final spot in the Opening Day rotation. With Zack Wheeler not quite ready to make the jump to the big leagues, it's a decision that makes plenty of sense.

Reports indicate the team is looking into acquiring one of several veteran pitchers: Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Chris Capuano, and Aaron Harang. Let's first take a look at Liriano.

Liriano burst onto the scene at the age of 22 in 2006 as the Twins were on their way to an American League Central division title. Like his then-teammate Johan Santana had done a few years earlier, the left-handed Liriano transitioned from the Twins' bullpen to the rotation in the middle of the year, and he was dominant. In his first 16 starts, he posted a 1.92 ERA with 112 strikeouts and 28 walks in 98.2 innings. But Liriano's season ended in the middle of September when he required Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow — a huge blow to the Twins' playoff push at the time.

He then missed all of the 2007 season, and in his first three starts at the beginning of 2008, he got rocked. The Twins sent him back to the minor leagues, where he made 20 starts with a 3.43 ERA before getting recalled by the team in August.

Since then, Liriano's mostly been awful, outside of a very good 2010 season. His strikeout rate has ranged from above-average to elite all along, but in 2009, 2011, and 2012, he struggled mightily with walks. His ERA suffered in each of those seasons as a result.

For his career, Liriano now owns rates 9.1 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 along with a 4.40 ERA and 3.75 FIP. Other than his brilliant debut season, however, he's always had a hard time getting his ERA to match his FIP, much like Ricky Nolasco and — until this season — Jon Niese.

According to PITCHf/x data, Liriano's fastball averaged 93.3 mph in 2012, his second-highest mark since the data became available several years ago. He's had a short list of minor injuries over the past couple of seasons, but there hasn't been anything beyond soreness or a brief stint on the disabled list since he had Tommy John surgery in 2006.

There's an obvious comparison to be made for Liriano at this point of his career: Oliver Perez. Both pitchers had excellent seasons at the age of 22. They had several disappointing seasons surrounding one year in which they seemingly returned to form — Perez was 25, Liriano was 26. And both pitchers, of course, had no problem racking up strikeouts but struggled with walks. The highs were higher and the lows were never quite as low for Liriano as they were for Perez, but their career arcs are very, very similar.

But Sandy Alderson presumably isn't looking to sign Liriano to a three-year, $36 million contract, which could make a roll of the dice on him worthwhile. If he's just the same pitcher that he has been for most of the past few years, he'll be at the back of the rotation and could give way to Zack Wheeler when the time comes. If he puts together another season like 2010, though, the Mets will have caught lightning in a bottle and could either trade him in July or, in the unlikely event that they're in contention, hold on to him for a run at a wild card spot.

UPDATE: Liriano has reportedly agreed to a two-year, $14 million deal with the Pirates. The Mets would not have been wise to agree to such a contract.

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