Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 18, 2008
BASEBALL: Get Over Yourself

So Francisco Liriano's agent wants a players union investigation of the Twins for not bringing Liriano up to the majors:

Greg Genske has asked the players' union to investigate why Liriano remains in Rochester despite going 7-0 with a 2.73 ERA in his past nine starts.

"I think that Francisco is dominating down there," Genske said Thursday. "The club concedes that as well. We're a little frustrated he hasn't been called up."

...Genske said the delay has had an adverse effect on Liriano's service time, which determines when he is eligible for arbitration. After three years in the big leagues, a player qualifies for arbitration. Liriano has two years and 45 days.

Seriously, get over yourself. Three points:

1. Genske seems to have amnesia here. After he missed the 2007 season with elbow surgery, the Twins rushed him back to the big club on April 13 of this season. Liriano wasn't ready, he lost three straight starts with an 11.32 ERA and walked 13 men in 10.1 innings. The Twins are in the middle of a pennant race, 1.5 games out of first place. They could certainly use a healthy Liriano, but I can understand why they want to make extra certain that he's ready this time. Liriano has pitched well in the minors, but his 3.34 ERA isn't really that much more impressive than the four Twins starters presently between 3.47 and 4.26 for the big club. I'd be ready by now to slot him in for Livan Hernandez (5.44 ERA, third straight season above 4.80), but that effectively means giving up on Hernandez, and teams are often slow to make those decisions. It's not like Liriano would be stepping into an open hole or bumping a struggling rookie.

2. I'm no expert in this area, but since when does the collective bargaining agreement give the union authority to supervise these kinds of decisions? The CBA makes arbitration and free agency dependent on the amount of major league usage a team gets from a player. That system has some benefits to the players, specifically guys like Liriano who come up pretty young (personally, I'd prefer a minimum age) but also creates some perverse incentives; that's the deal. Small-market teams have regularly played games with service time (why do you think Evan Longoria started the year in the minors?), albeit at a cost to their own competitiveness on the field, but unless there's something in the CBA saying they can't, I don't see what stops them.

3. Personally, I'd have brought Liriano up by now....before he did this. Now, if I were the Twins, I would definitely keep him cooling his heels a bit to make a point about who runs the team, because if they let the agents dictate this kind of stuff, they will have problems well beyond this one incident (plus, they will need to negotiate with Genske and Liriano in the future - you need to demonstrate that they can't just dictate terms). Bill James made this point emphatically when Whitey Herzog traded Ted Simmons when Simmons refused to move out from behind the plate - if the manager can't tell the players what to do, he's no longer the manager of anything. Ron Gardenhire understands that:

"I just back into town and I hear all this stuff, and Buster Olney is making my team up now and [Genske] wants to tell me who is going to pitch here," Gardenhire said. "No one is going to tell us who to put on our team and no one on ESPN is going to tell us who should pitch for my team....

As Gardenhire noted, Liriano should let his arm do the talking, not his agent:

"He's pitching well, and he's trying to force the issue," Gardenhire said. "And what should all Minor Leaguers try to do? Try to force the issue. That's the greatest thing in the world. We have depth, now. We have a guy that is knocking on the door and trying to take someone's job. What is wrong with that? I don't get it."

Still, the skipper was cognizant of future ramifications that could arise from bending to the will of others outside the organization.

"We have a guy that has 18 homers in Double-A and his agent is going to start calling if we start letting all this happen," Gardenhire said. "You don't let other people dictate what we do."


UPDATE: It would be unfortunate for the Twins if this keeps Liriano in the minors too long, but as I said, they gotta do what they gotta do now. Ironically, you will remember that Tom Kelly had something of a power struggle back around 1999-2000 in which he pointedly sent a bunch of guys back to AAA and made them rot there - the incident ended up holding back the careers of Doug Mientkiewicz, Todd Walker, AJ Pierzynski, and to a lesser extent Matt LeCroy and David Ortiz, but the Twins improved by 16 games in 2001 once all those guys were back in the lineup.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:01 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

It's perfectly legal for a team to delay bringing up a quality minor leaguer in order to delay his arb clock from running. And so the grievance has no merit. But let's be honest here, the Twins are doing precisely that and their major league team is suffering for it. If I was a Twin fan and I watched them contending yet sending fat Livan out there every fifth day to get pummelled while Liriano ripened on the vine I'd be pissed.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at July 18, 2008 3:19 PM
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