The Tigers took on a reclamation project as they signed 34-year-old lefty Francisco Liriano to a one-year, $4 million contract in late February, and so far it’s paying dividends. Per USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale, Liriano might fetch the Tigers more value than they could have ever imagined if they look to deal him at the deadline:
Francisco Liriano is throwing a no-hitter and the Detroit #Tigers have a beautiful trade chip on their hands. The Tigers already are getting inquiries from teams who have expressed strong interest when the Tigers decide to move him.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) May 20, 2018
Before we get too wrapped up in what the Tigers are going to do at the deadline, it’s worth noting that they’ve been surprisingly solid so far and are just 2.5 games out of first place in an extremely weak AL Central. They’ve put their fans through quite a bit of misery over the past year, so if they’ve still got a good chance to win the division at the deadline, they absolutely should not start selling off pieces — after all, they could do so during the waiver trade period if they fall off. In reality, though, they’ve got so little depth that it’s difficult to see them sticking in the division race all season, even though they have the ability to beat up on two extremely weak divisional opponents, the Royals and White Sox.
Liriano, a former All-Star who has rediscovered his form while reuniting with Ron Gardenhire — his former manager with the Twins — has posted a 3.42 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over nine starts. There’s plenty of reason for skepticism that he’ll be able to keep this strong start going: He has just 37 strikeouts and 26 walks in 52.2 innings, he posted a subpar 4.69 ERA and 1.48 WHIP last year, and there’s no guarantee that the current level of comfort he has with Gardenhire in the dugout would transfer to a new club. But plenty of contenders are already desperate for starting pitching depth and will likely be even more desperate come deadline time, so the Tigers could surely move them if they so desire — it’s just questionable whether they’ll get anything great in return for him.
Of course, if MLB teams are weighing Liriano’s previous results after getting traded at the deadline, they may feel slightly less compelled to acquire the veteran lefty. After being traded to the White Sox on July 29, 2012, Liriano posted a 5.40 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over 12 appearances (11 starts) the rest of the way. After getting dealt to the Astros on July 31 of last year, Liriano struggled to a 4.40 ERA and 1.67 WHIP over 20 relief appearances down the stretch. On the other hand, he was fantastic after being traded to the Blue Jays on August 1, 2016, posting a 2.92 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 10 outings (eight starts), though he struggled in two postseason appearances.