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Ron Gardenhire says Twins “talking about our options” with struggling Francisco Liriano

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Ron Gardenhire indicated today that Francisco Liriano could be in danger of losing his spot in the Twins’ rotation after going 1-4 with a 9.13 ERA through five outings, telling Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com that “we’ve been talking about our options with him.”

Kevin Slowey moved from the rotation to the bullpen because the Twins had six starters for five spots and is now on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, but his rehab assignment involves building up his pitch count in case he’s tabbed to replace Liriano.

Asked about Liriano’s confidence, Gardenhire noted that “it hasn’t been good” and added “that’s kind of why we’re working on Slowey … in case we have to decide after his next start whether we’re going to do something.”

Liriano was fantastic last season, posting a 3.62 ERA with 201 strikeouts in 192 innings while his secondary numbers suggested he’d have been even better if not for some shaky defense and/or back luck behind him. Instead of progressing into a clear-cut ace this season Liriano has taken several steps backwards with his command and velocity while failing to make it past the fifth inning in four of five starts.

His struggles come after the Twins questioned his offseason conditioning and trade rumors briefly swirled following reports that they had no interest in signing Liriano to a long-term contract extension, which certainly looks like a wise decision right now. He’s gone from ace in the making to possibly getting bumped from the rotation. It’s unclear if Minnesota’s “options” with Liriano would involve a trip to the DL or a move to the bullpen, but the Twins seemed frustrated with the 27-year-old left-hander even when he was thriving.

Yankees in, Red Sox out on Edwin Encarnacion

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on against the Cleveland Indians during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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In light of the Astros’ deal for veteran designated hitter Carlos Beltran on Saturday, the Yankees are thought to be intensifying their pursuit of free agent Edwin Encarnacion, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. The Yankees never made an official offer to Beltran, but remain in need of a DH/first baseman to give them a little more power outside of a Tyler AustinGreg Bird combo in 2017.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, are reportedly withdrawing their interest when it comes to the Encarnacion sweepstakes. According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, they will look for a hitter to beef up their lineup without taking a “big plunge” on the 34-year-old.

Encarnacion enjoyed another All-Star run with the Blue Jays in 2016, hitting at a .263/.357/.529 clip with 42 homers and a league-leading 127 RBI in 702 PA. He’s expected to command a significant contract in free agency, and agent Paul Kinzer said that a potential deal is unlikely to be finalized before the Winter Meetings as Encarnacion is not close to agreeing to any offer. Interested teams include the Blue Jays and the Astros, though Beltran’s signing appears to have effectively taken Houston out of the running for the slugger.

Report: The Nationals are still in on Chris Sale and Andrew McCutchen

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 05: Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning on September 5, 2016 at U. S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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The Nationals are trying to go big this offseason, and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal notes that they are still in trade talks for White Sox’ left-hander Chris Sale and Pirates’ center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Both players figure to command a big return, as Sale delivered another Cy Young-worthy performance in 2016 and, despite a downturn in his production rate, McCutchen is still one of the more coveted sluggers in the National League.

In 2016, Sale led the league in complete games, with six, and turned in a 3.34 ERA and 5.2 fWAR in 226 2/3 innings. While teams have been sniffing around the White Sox’ ace since the trade deadline, the club is expected to maintain a high asking price — so high, said FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, that it may keep the left-hander in Chicago for the foreseeable future.

According to Heyman, four other teams are reportedly in the mix for Sale, including the Red Sox, Astros, Rangers, and Braves, though parts of Rosenthal’s tweet hinted that the Red Sox were maintaining their interest in hopes of striking a more affordable deal. Should the Nationals pursue a deal for Sale, it’s likely that they’d have to move shortstop/center fielder Trea Turner, which they appear reluctant to do.

McCutchen, meanwhile, is also drawing interest around the league after batting .256/.336/.430 with 24 home runs in 675 PA during 2016. He didn’t appear to lose much power in his eighth season with the Pirates, but took considerably fewer walks and struck out at a career-high clip.

The Nationals were said to be in the lead for McCutchen on Thursday, and there was some expectation that the club would wrap up a trade for the center fielder by the non-tender deadline on Friday. FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi pointed out that the Rangers were also talking to the Pirates, however, and no deal has come to fruition as of yet.