Francisco Liriano realized he was ripe to be traded, with the Minnesota Twins out of the race and his contract expiring at the end of the season.
He didn't expect to wind up with the division rival Chicago White Sox.
But that's where he went, and for an interesting twist to the end of his vexing tenure with the Twins the talented yet inconsistent lefty will find his new team facing his old club this week at Target Field. The White Sox sent two prospects to the Twins.
"It was kind of a surprise to me, but that's part of baseball," Liriano said Sunday on a conference call.
He didn't have to leave town. Liriano will start Tuesday's game at Target Field.
"I wish I could say I was looking forward to that, but I'm really not," Twins center fielder Denard Span said. "So we will see."
Span has seen Liriano's signature slider dart away from many a bat, from his view behind the mound.
"I'm definitely hoping that when we face them his slider isn't on," Span said.
This was the first deal the Twins made with the White Sox since 1986. They preferred not to give him to such a familiar opponent, but losing him for nothing is worse. New rules this year require teams to offer salary arbitration to their free agents in order to receive draft-pick compensation, and the Twins didn't pursue a contract extension with him.
"I took the best baseball trade I could get," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. He added that "a lot" of the 20-something teams still in the playoff chase expressed interest in acquiring Liriano, whose sensational rookie performances in 2006 coupled with Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana's usual dominance created a season the Twins or their fans won't forget.
Liriano went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 121 innings that year, before an elbow problem ended his season and prompted Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.
"It was something special and something we'll remember. For a while all of us will play that `what-if' game," said first baseman Justin Morneau, the league MVP in 2006. "What if we had him and Santana going into the playoffs that year when everybody was hot?"
Liriano might never return to that form, but he's been good enough this summer after an awful April and May to persuade the White Sox to add him to their young, promising but tired rotation.
His addition has given the White Sox the ability to skip All-Star Chris Sale's next turn, which was scheduled for Wednesday, if they want to. Manager Robin Ventura said Sunday that Sale is experiencing "fatigue" and added that they'll use a six-man rotation of sorts for now and that struggling right-hander Phil Humber will make his next scheduled start.
"Feel like I can be more consistent than I was before, go deeper into games, too," Liriano said. "I'm on a pretty good run now, too, so I'll bring that to the White Sox and try to help them win some games."
White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said pitching coach Don Cooper "thinks he has a little bit of wisdom" to impart on Liriano that can "immediately show some better results" for the left-hander who is 3-10 with a 5.31 ERA this season.
Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson joked that Liriano was the source of his gray hair, for all the downs that came after the ups.
"We said it a million times: He's got some of the best stuff you'd want to see," Anderson said. "It's just a matter of putting it all together."
In lamenting the departure of Liriano, labeled by manager Ron Gardenhire a "stand-up guy" and a good teammate with a strong work ethic, the Twins were forced to ponder the possibility of another trade or two before baseball's Tuesday non-waiver deadline.
"We've put our general manager in this situation because of our performance," Gardenhire said. "Terry has to do what he has to do to right this organization and bring more talent to it."
Span and Morneau have both heard their names bandied about.
"I'd be lying to you If I tell you I don't think about it or it's not on my mind. You can't control it. You just hope you can make it through the trade deadline. Either way, whatever happens, I'll take it in stride," Span said.
The Twins will add right-hander Jeff Manship to the roster Monday. He's 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA in six starts for Triple-A Rochester since his first stint with the Twins. The prospects from the White Sox, shortstop Eduardo Escobar and left-hander Pedro Hernandez, both 23, have been assigned to Rochester.