Now that Felix Hernandez has been called up to the major leagues, pleasing his minders from Alpha Centauri, the prospect world needs someone else to ogle. Matt Cain would have been an excellent choice, except his control and ERA haven't been ogle-worthy. So the attention has turned to former Giants farmhand Francisco Liriano, who the prospect mavens are ogling as if he were Kate Hudson in a San Quentin exercise yard. This is not really sitting well with Giants fans.
Liriano was involved in the deal known to Twins fans as, "Quite Possibly the Best Trade in Franchise History", known to Giants fans as, "The Trade that Lost the Division in 2004, and now, perhaps, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009", and known to Giants trainer Stan Conte as, "The Trade that Eventually Led To Me Actually Getting Kicked in the Groin By the Guy the Giants Received in the Trade, So Who is the Real Loser in this One, Huh?". A.J. Pierzynski came over to the Giants. Joe Nathan, titular sensation Boof Bonser, and Liraino went to the Twins. Even though Bonser has seen his stock drop since his minor league peak, I would still prefer to see him in the current Giants rotation over Brad Hennessey or Kevin Correia, and that was the least impressive part of the trade from the Minnesota perspective.
Liriano was more of a throw-in than anything else. He was a solid prospect at the time. As solid as a prospect can be when averaging 23 innings a year, that is. It would be a delight to have Liriano ascending our minor-league system, but I just can't be too broken up over the trade that sent him to Minnesota. The coy maxim, "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect", is one thing. It's an exaggerated viewpoint with a larger underlying truth behind it, which is most likely what it was supposed to be all along. But with Liriano, you had a kid who was constantly being shut down with twinges and tweaks, pulls and burns, 15-day stints with the grippe and shoulder dropsy. He was an unusual prospect, as this injury history hadn't served to completely destroy his prospect status or trade value much.
If I'm a general manager, I trade guys like Liriano every time. Every so often a specific case, like the Liriano of 2005, will make this philosophy look ridiculous, but you have to assume a prospect like the Liriano of 2003 will never have a higher value to the organization than as a futures investment to dangle in the trade market. Now, including him as a random throw-in to quickly finalize a deal would have been silly, as he had just as much value as a raffle ticket to the Giants as he did to any acquiring organization. But if the Twins said, "No trade without Liriano", there was no sense in letting the oft-injured low-A pitcher halt the deal, forgetting that the deal was for a malcontented and industrious double play factory in the first place.
The list of arms traded away by Brian Sabean is a familiar one. Joe Fontenot, Darin Blood, Mike Vilano, Kurt Ainsworth, Jason Grilli, et cetera, et cetera, et freaking cetera. Young pitchers that the Giants tossed into the abyss, only to see other teams dive after them. There was bound to be another Keith Foulke. In a sense I'm rooting for Liriano to have the same easy transition from hyper-prospect to all-star that players like Barry Zito and Roy Oswalt did. In another sense, I'm reminded that Jesse Foppert had about the same amount of chatter going for him when he was rolling over the Pacific Coast league. When Liriano is rolling to his first Cy Young or 150th win, that's the time to start punching walls. Until then we're subjected to a pretty strong case of the what-could-have-beens. We could have traded Liriano for Jaime Moyer this year. What could have been, indeed.