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.

Report: San Diego Padres trade Brad Hand to the Cleveland Indians

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Ken Rosenthal reports that the San Diego Padres have traded closer Brad Hand to the Cleveland Indians. No details have yet been reported on the return.

Hand, the Padres’ All-Star closer, has a 3.05 ERA and 65/15 K/BB ratio and 24 saves over over 44.1 innings of work this season. In addition to helping an Indians bullpen which has struggled mightily this season, Hand will provide an insurance policy for the next two seasons given that both Andrew Miller and Cody Allen are due to hit free agency this winter. Hand, meanwhile, is under contract for this year and next for a total of $13.5 million, with a $10 million club option for 2021.

We’ll update further when the players heading back to San Diego are known.