When the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Francisco Liriano at the MLB trade deadline last season, they had an eye on both their current team situation, but also on 2017.
The Blue Jays had many strong trades this past season, but the Liriano deal certainly stands out as one of the finest.
When the Jays landed the veteran left-hander for Drew Hutchinson, they also took on his remaining 2016 and 2017 salaries. The Jays also got outfielder Harold Ramirez and catcher Reese McGuire in the deal. You may not know Ramirez and McGuire, but they are on the cusp of being top-10 prospects in the Blue Jays organization after strong seasons in double-A New Hampshire.
Having Liriano for 2017 is one of the best parts of this deal for Toronto, especially because R.A. Dickey left to Atlanta this offseason in free agency. With Dickey gone, expect the 33-year-old to not only take on a bigger role on the mound but in the locker room as well. With a rotation that includes Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, it never hurts to have an experienced starter who knows what it takes to win, especially on a team that plays in arguably the toughest division in baseball.
With Liriano, the Blue Jays will go into the regular season knowing that they have five starting pitchers firmly locked in place barring injury. This is a rare occurrence for a team that usually finds their fifth starter in spring training.
Liriano pitched extremely well over his 10 games with the Jays last season. In eight starts, Liriano pitched 49.1 innings with a 2.92 ERA and is a big reason why Toronto’s starters had the lowest ERA in the American League.
After struggling in Pittsburgh for most of the year, Liriano rediscovered his control. Being reunited with Russell Martin, and having him behind the plate only made things better for Liriano. Before he was traded to Toronto, Liriano was averaging 5.5 walks per nine innings. That number dropped down to 2.9 by the end of the season. If Liriano’s massive decline in walks allowed carries into 2017, and he maintains his 9.0+ strikeouts per nine, Toronto has themselves a number two quality pitcher, as the fourth or fifth man in their rotation.
Where Liriano can benefit the Blue Jays most, is if he can pitch over 170 innings. In 2015, Liriano pitched 186.2 innings but pitched only 165 in 2016. It is hard to expect that Stroman, Sanchez, Estrada, and Happ to pitch as much as they did last year again this year. If Liriano can take some of the pressure off of Toronto’s other starters, he can really benefit this team, especially if they make the playoffs, where the starters would be looked upon to pitch A LOT.
If Liriano can put up similar numbers to his 2015 season, he would be in line for a qualifying offer at the end of the season. With the way things appear right now, Liriano currently sits as the fourth or fifth starter but the sky is the limit for him. He also hasn’t lost his velocity on his fastball or slider. Liriano has a high ceiling, and if he can spot his pitches, he can easily find his way into the one or two spot of Toronto’s rotation in 2017.