With Opening Day quickly approaching and multiple bullpen vacancies, could the Jays look to a familiar lefty to round out their relief corps?
Francisco Liriano’s career has been drastically shaken up over the past few seasons as he has moved around to a number of teams. After several solid seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Liriano, along with a duo of prospects, was dealt to the Jays at the 2016 trade deadline in exchange for starting pitcher Drew Hutchison.
Liriano went on to post solid numbers for the remainder of that season, tossing 49.1 innings with a 2.92 ERA both out of the bullpen and as a starter. He then struggled during the 2017 campaign, leading to his departure from Toronto in late July. The Jays would send him to the future champion Astros in exchange for veteran outfielder Nori Aoki and outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez.
Despite his struggles in 2017, Liriano was a viable lefty option in tough spots where John Gibbons needed multiple innings out of his bullpen. In the latter half of the 2016 season, Liriano was able to minimize his walk numbers, something he struggled with mightily in the past.
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Most recently, Liriano appeared in 14.1 innings for the 2017 Astros, pitching to a 4.40 ERA while striking out 11. He was put on the postseason roster for the Astros, but would only end up pitching 2.1 innings during Houston’s spectacular playoff run. The question is: With the way this free agent relief market has gone, is Liriano a name to consider in the Blue Jays’ pursuit of a left handed reliever?
At this point, only the division rival Orioles have shown even moderate interest in Liriano, mainly due to their hesitation to spend on big market arms.
With Liriano’s name barely coming up in the rumour mill, it’s possible he’d accept a minor league deal with a spring training invite. With that in mind, the San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic native could join Jake Petricka and Craig Breslow in the hunt for an elusive spot in the bullpen.
Liriano would most likely pitch alongside fellow southpaw Aaron Loup, and could also be joined by Tim Mayza and Matt Dermody, should they make the major league squad. It has been said that part of Liriano’s initial success with the Jays was as a result of a reunion with Russell Martin, which could still be a factor as he tries to extend his major league career. Liriano could also make spot starts or reprise his role as a long man in the bullpen.
Given Ross Atkins’ most recent comments, it’s likely the Opening Day bullpen will not be the same as it is today. While Liriano might not quite be the addition Atkins speaks of, he’s certainly a low risk option for the club as they continue to build a bullpen of experienced, economical veterans.