Rumors continue to swirl around Twins ace Francisco Liriano and the Yankees

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Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune got the Francisco Liriano rumor mill rolling two weeks ago by reporting that the Twins aren’t interested in signing the 27-year-old left-hander to a long-term contract extension and are open to the possibility of trading him before he becomes a free agent following the 2012 season.

I speculated that the Twins were undervaluing Liriano by focusing on his win-loss record and ERA rather than taking a deeper look at his exceptional secondary numbers. He’s the “ace” they want.

Shortly after that Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson publicly criticized Liriano’s lack of offseason conditioning and manager Ron Gardenhire chose Carl Pavano, not Liriano, as the Opening Day starter, throwing a little more gas on the Liriano fire.

Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony downplayed the situation last week, but stopped well short of putting it completely to rest by saying, among other things: “We’re not talking to anybody right now on Francisco Liriano.” Right now, of course, being the phrasing of note.

Well, now the reports linking Liriano to the Yankees are starting to roll in. Bob Nightengale of USA Today, who has broken Twins news several times in the past, wrote that the Yankees “are keeping a close eye” on Liriano “while the Twins are keeping tabs on Yankees prospects” and then yesterday Nightengale said on Jim Bowden’s radio show that “it’s possible” Liriano is traded to the Yankees for a package headlined by Joba Chamberlain or Ivan Nova before the season begins.

Building off that, Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com reported yesterday that “the Yankees called the Twins this offseason about the availability of Liriano” but “as of right now Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said there are no talks with the Twins.”

Twins fans understandably aren’t happy about talk of trading Liriano, particularly now that the Yankees are rumored to be interested, but it seems awfully hard to believe that all this speculation–from Christensen’s initial report and the Twins’ general attitude toward Liriano to Antony’s non-denial denial and Nightengale’s follow-up–is somehow being invented out of whole cloth. As a Twins fan I hope I’m wrong.

Kris Bryant on Joey Votto: “He’s the best player ever … He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

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The Cubs wrapped up a four-game series against the Reds at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 13-10 loss to split the set. They’ll match up again against the Reds next week for a three-game series in Cincinnati. That’s good news for Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, because that means he’ll get to see Reds first baseman Joey Votto some more.

As CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports, Bryant has grown quite fond of Votto. Bryant has already won a World Series ring, a Rookie of the Year Award, and an MVP Award, but he still looks up to Votto. According to Bryant, Votto is “the best player ever.” He added, ““He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain. He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Bryant said that Votto is “a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant also explained how his approach changed by watching Votto. He said that in his rookie season, he was “swinging at everything.” Votto, however, is “aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it.”

Indeed, in Bryant’s rookie season, he struck out in nearly 31 percent of his 650 plate appearances. This season, he has struck out in only 19 percent of his PA. His walk rate has also increased by more than 2.5 percent since his rookie campaign. Compared to last year, Bryant is down in HR and RBI, but his average is the same, his on-base percentage is markedly better, and his slugging percentage is only down by a minute amount.

Video: Daniel Descalso hits D-Backs’ third inside-the-park homer of the season

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Diamondbacks second baseman Daniel Descalso hit his team’s third inside-the-park home run of the season during Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Astros. In the top of the fourth inning, with the score 1-0 and the bases empty, Descalso ripped a 1-0, 83 MPH change-up to right-center field. The ball caromed off the wall, heading towards left field, which sent center Jake Marisnick on the chase. Marisnick tried to pick up the ball with his glove, but dropped it, which sealed Descalso’s destiny for an inside-the-parker.

It had only been five days since the Diamondbacks’ last inside-the-park home run. David Peralta hit one against the Cubs on August 12. Ketel Marte legged out his club’s first ITPHR on July 26 against the Braves.

As ESPN Stats & Info notes, the Diamondbacks have three as a team, which is amazing because the other 29 teams have hit seven combined.