The toughest news of the spring so far came out of Twins camp over the weekend. Joe Nathan, a couple weeks removed from feeling a twinge in his elbow, is going to have Tommy John surgery. His 2010 season is over before it ever got started. It's a devastating loss for Minnesota, and for all of baseball. Year in and year out, Nathan has been as good as they come at closer, bar none - even Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon. Nathan is at that ethereal level, and people would notice it a bit more if he was in a bigger market.
Anyway, I'm not writing about Joe Nathan to talk about how awesome he is. I'm writing about him because he is a Minnesota Twin, and with him on the shelf for the year, the Twins all of a sudden need a closer. The most logical internal options for them are promoting Jon Rauch from setup man, or taking Francisco Liriano out of the rotation. The Twins seem opposed to giving a Liriano a chance, and I have a hard time believing that they are terribly enthused at giving Rauch, a waiver-wire pickup late last year, the reigns to the most important spot in the bullpen.
What if Jack Z were to give Twins GM Bill Smith a jingle, and offer David Aardsma, their pick of one of our younger fringe starters (Garret Olson, Luke French, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Nick Hill...), and a marginal position prospect (I'm thinking Matt Mangini), for Francisco Liriano?
Minnesota's closer problem is solved. David Aardsma anchors the position. The younger fringe starter takes Liriano's spot in Minnesota's rotation. That player would be cheap and under team control for several years, much like Liriano is right now. He would be a noticeable step down from Liriano, but that's okay, because the closer spot is significantly upgraded in the deal. Matt Mangini could be an answer at third base for Minnesota in a year or two. He helps offset whatever upside they lost trading away Liriano.
This deal would be bold on Seattle's end, but I would do it in a heartbeat. Much has been written about the role luck likely played in Aardsma's surprising 2009 performance. His trade value will never be higher, and the back end of the bullpen can take his loss thanks to the addition of Brandon League. In fact, both League and Mark Lowe are arguable as good or better than Aardsma right now. It won't take too long for Josh Fields to be added to the back-end mix either.
In return, the Mariners would get a promising southpaw that could help this team no matter what role he ends up in. Let's say Liriano regains his stamina and form as a starter. Could you imagine a September rotation featuring Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, a resurgent Francisco Liriano, revitalized Ian Snell, and healthy Erik Bedard? That's a rotation that would generate quite a few swings and misses.
However, Liriano's stuff profiles well in short relief too. Maybe Ryan Rowland-Smith develops into the inning-eater he seems like he can become, or Liriano just can't maintain his filthy stuff for long stretches. Liriano could become the shut-down lefty in the M's bullpen that they haven't had for a while. He could be the best one they've had since Arthur Rhodes.
I don't foresee any deal happening. Liriano for Aardsma, a AAAA starter, and a marginal position prospect doesn't pass the "eye test" for me. However, Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley didn't either, or Cliff Lee for three prospects (none with MLB or AAA experience). A Twins trade in the wake of Nathan's injury has entertained my thoughts for the past day and a half, and I bet something has crossed Z's mind as well.