The Toronto Blue Jays addition of Francisco Liriano at the deadline was made with an eye on the present season, but also on 2017
In a year filled with strong trades from the Blue Jays front office, the Francisco Liriano deal stands out as one of the finest.
Not only did the Blue Jays land the talented left-hander from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but as a token of appreciation for taking on his remaining 2016 and 2017 salaries, Toronto also got outfielder Harold Ramirez and catcher Reese McGuire in the deal for Drew Hutchison.
Both Ramirez and McGuire, who finished the season in double-A New Hampshire, will open 2017 on the cusp of being top-10 prospects in the Blue Jays system. McGuire is especially intriguing as a catcher, and while his bat still needs to take significant steps, his defensive game is already MLB-ready.
Having team control over Liriano for 2017 was an attractive part of this deal for Toronto with R.A. Dickey departing in free agency. The Blue Jays now enter the offseason with their five starting pitchers firmly locked in place, a rare luxury for a team coming off their second consecutive trip to the ALCS.
Beyond the trade haul that Liriano brought with him, the 33-year-old was excellent in his limited time with the Jays. In 10 games, including eight starts as part of Toronto’s six-man rotation, Liriano pitched 49.1 innings with a 2.92 ERA.
This was made possible because Liriano rediscovered his control, something that might be credited to reuniting with Russell Martin. Liriano was averaging 5.5 walks per nine innings with the Pirates over the first four months of the season, but after the deal, that number dropped down to 2.9. If he can keep it there and maintain his 9.0+ strikeouts per nine, Liriano holds the ceiling of a number two starter.
For all his talent, Liriano’s career has seen many inconsistencies. After a brilliant debut with the Minnesota Twins over a decade ago, Liriano eventually bottomed out before bouncing to the Chicago White Sox for a season in 2012. He then re-established himself in Pittsburgh with a great 2013 and, similar to teammate J.A. Happ, turned that rebirth into a three year, $39 million contract.
Liriano pitched 186.2 innings in 2015, but has otherwise topped out around 165.0 throughout his career. Stroman, Sanchez, Estrada, and Happ can’t be reasonably expected to put up as many innings as they did in 2016, so Liriano’s greatest value could come in stretching his workload. Wrangling his control will be a primary factor in that.
Liriano is under contract for the 2017 season and will hit free agency following that. If Liriano is able to put up a year similar to 2015 — which was worth 3.6 Wins Above Replacement — he could make himself worthy of a qualifying offer at season’s end. Toronto will have more young arms on the way by then, of course, but the faraway potential of draft pick compensation can never be ignored.
As the rotation currently stands, Liriano slots in as the fourth or fifth starter depending on how manager John Gibbons wants to mix in his two left-handers. His fastball and slider continue to maintain their velocity, so if he can spot his pitches, there is little stopping Liriano from outplaying his role in the Toronto rotation.