There are a lot of ways to look at the Chicago White Sox’s surprising trade for Minnesota Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano, and all of them seem good.
First, White Sox general manager Ken Williams acquired the most important element in the game for a backup infielder and overmatched pitching prospect.
Second, Liriano has overcome a couple rough months to post a 3.69 ERA and record 79 strikeouts in his last 11 starts. He might never return to that dominating rookie form, but he can shut down teams for extended periods, then look bad for extended periods. He went from being Johan Sanata junior to a left-handed Gavin Floyd.
Third, it eases the absence of John Danks, who might spend September recovering from surgery while his teammates fight for a playoff spot.
But the best reason to like the acquisition is that it appears to be a more productive handling of Chris Sale than the Nationals intend with Stephen Strasburg.
The Nationals planned to shut down their young ace at 160 innings, which will come in August and seemingly leave them scrambling in September as they try to clinch a playoff berth. Washington could alleviate the absence of Strasburg with a trade, but there are few starters available who could replace a guy who would be in the Cy Young conversation if he didn’t have a curfew.
The Sox never voiced such a plan with Sale, but he’s at 124 innings, which is 53 more than last season and almost 34 more than his previous major league seasons combined. Sale’s recent drop in velocity screams for some kind of break.
The new left-hander debuts against his former team Tuesday, pushing back Sale, as well as Jake Peavy. Liriano also gives the Sox the chance to use a six-man-rotation or skip Sale altogether to limit him in August and ideally allow him to pitch with renewed freshness in the more critical month of September.
If you’re comparing the care and feeding of young aces on the Sox and Nationals, then setting up your best pitcher to take the ball in the most important month of the regular season is smarter.
I don’t know if that’s exactly what the Sox have in mind, nor is there a guarantee they would stick to it. But still, while the move for Liriano is bold on it’s own, the trade could become exponentially big if Sale returns to his pre-All-Star form for the Sox’s postseason drive.