SARASOTA, FLA. - Today, the Twins will showcase one of their young starting pitchers for a trade.
The question is: Which one?
Francisco Liriano will start in a B game at the Twins complex. Kevin Slowey will start in the regular spring training game at Hammond Stadium.
Both have been the subject of trade rumors. Assuming the good health of the six candidates for the starting rotation, one could be dealt before the end of March.
Which one? My informed guess, after speaking with scouts and baseball executives, is that Liriano is highly unlikely to be traded, and Slowey would be a logical candidate for a trade if the Twins' other starters stay healthy.
National media reports have focused on Liriano, for good reason. His name is the most intriguing, and Liriano's history of elbow problems gives the Twins a logical reason for trading their most efficient starter for top prospects.
That's a logical notion, but I don't believe Liriano is going anywhere. For the Twins to trade a potential Game 1 playoff starter, they would have to be overwhelmed by an offer. Only contending teams would be willing to pay a ransom for Liriano, and contending teams are unlikely to give the Twins present-day value for him.
The Yankees and Rangers have inquired about Liriano but have not made progress toward a deal. Just about every contender in baseball would be interested in Liriano if he were available, but the Twins are not dangling him.
The team most likely to make a major play for Liriano is the Yankees, who have excellent high-level prospects and are desperate for high-end, experienced starting pitching. Let's remember, though, that public relations matter to the Twins. Public relations helped inflate Joe Mauer's value to $23 million a year for a catcher who has produced power just one season in his career and has a history of injuries. Public relations would dictate that the Twins not trade their most talented starter to the team that regularly embarrasses them in the playoffs.
The primary reason the Twins would consider trading Liriano would be fear of further injury because of his violent delivery. But considering modern pitchers almost all undergo surgery at some point, should that be a decisive factor? The Twins' five other starters, their top pitching prospect (Kyle Gibson) and their All-Star closer (Joe Nathan) all have had arm problems, too.
Liriano reported to camp with a strained shoulder. He didn't do his exercises this winter. The Twins believe there is nothing structurally wrong with his shoulder, though. And if he were injured, any chance of a trade would vanish.
The Twins aren't looking to sign Liriano to a long-term deal right now, but if he's healthy and productive again this season, they might be willing to lock him up next winter, considering the contracts of Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Matt Capps and Nathan will expire this fall, creating more payroll flexibility.
Slowey's future is less certain than Liriano's. If another starter is hurt or traded, he could wind up in the rotation. If the rest of the rotation is healthy and the Twins don't trade him, he figures to be the one shifted to the bullpen, considering Ron Gardenhire prefers to keep Brian Duensing in the rotation and the staff is thrilled with the way Nick Blackburn is throwing after undergoing elbow surgery this winter.
Or the Twins could trade Slowey, perhaps bringing prospects or a power reliever, and ridding themselves of his $2.7 million contract.
It's more fun to talk about a potential Liriano trade, because it involves an ace, and the Yankees, but a Slowey deal makes much more sense.
Trading Slowey would damage the Twins' pitching depth, but they don't seem too worried about that given the rapid rise of Gibson, who has impressed everyone in the organization with his poise.
The rumors about a Liriano trade will persist. In fact, don't be surprised if they persist all season, while Liriano continues to pitch for the Twins.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org