The Blue Jays’ acquisition of left-handed starter Francisco Liriano from Pittsburgh at Monday’s non-waiver seems to have cemented the organization’s controversial decision to move AL ERA leader Aaron Sanchez to the bullpen – a move Jays brass have been telegraphing for sometime.
It was the headline move on a very busy day of roster shuffling for the Jays that has resulted in a significant makeover, especially on the pitching staff.
But exactly where does it leave the Blue Jays as they aim to better last year’s stretch run? Let’s review what the Jays did on deadline day, keeping in mind the Melvin Upton Jr. and Joaquin Benoit additions this past week:
— acquired Liriano and two of the Pirates top 10 prospects (outfielder Harold Ramirez and catcher Reese McGuire) for Drew Hutchison, who made two MLB starts for the Jays this year. Liriano (6-11, 5.46) leads the MLB in walks this season, but Jays brass is hoping he recaptures some past magic with Russell Martin, who caught him in Pittsburgh in 2014 when he posted a sparkling 2.92 ERA. It’s been clear for sometime the Jays had lost confidence in Hutchison’s reliability. Liriano has been to the playoff with both the Twins and Pirates, and has another year on his contract at $13.6 million, so he’s controllable.
— acquired swingman Scott Feldman (5-3, 2.90) from Houston for young pitching prospect Lupe Chavez, then dealt Jesse Chavez (1-2, 4.57) to the Dodgers for reliever Mike Bolsinger (1-4, 6.83), who was immediately sent to triple-A Buffalo. Chavez was inconsistent in that role for the Jays, and Feldman represents a clear upgrade and has playoff experience. He can also start if need be. Bolsinger was simply an additional depth asset the Jays were able to get for Chavez, who may well have been DFA’d had a deal not been made. Better to get something than nothing.
— put Ezequiel Carrera on the disabled list, recalled Ryan Goins and Bo Schultz and DFA’d Franklin Morales, a move made easier after his performance Sunday in the 6-2, 12 inning loss to Baltimore
The decision to move Sanchez to the bullpen due to an innings limit (likely 30 per cent above his current 133.1 IP) will no doubt cause endless debate among fans and experts all around the game. There’s no question the rotation will be weaker without him there. But their bullpen with Sanchez will be as deep and experienced as any in baseball. And if the Jays offence can continue to chug along at the six run per game pace they set in July, that bullpen strength will be key to success. Sanchez will start Friday as scheduled, but beyond that remains to be seen.
Personally I was disappointed the Jays were unable to wrest Jeremy Hellickson away from the Phillies. To me, he was the best starter available — but then no one else was able to convince the Phillies to part with him either, a risky move on their part. But at least no one else got him either. The A’s Rich Hill was packaged up with Josh Reddick to the Dodgers, so it’s hard to feel bad about losing out on him — the Jays just didn’t have the assets to match that deal.
So how does the rest of the American League look? The Orioles added back-end rotation starter Wade Miley, while the Red Sox added lefty reliever Fernando Abad. Neither of those moves would be seen as conversation changers when it comes to the AL East race. All things being equal, this division is the Jays to lose, especially with an improved bullpen with Sanchez, Benoit and Feldman being added.
The team that really concerns me is the Texas Rangers. The acquisitions of slugger Carlos Beltran, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and closer and one-time Blue Jay Jeremy Jeffress fills in the few holes the Rangers have. If Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are in top form, they’re going to be a tough team to beat for anyone in the playoffs. Blue Jays-Rangers Part 2: 2016 ALCS, anyone? Flip me a bat, I’m ready…
ROSTER RUMBLINGS: The departure of Morales and move of Carrera to the DL gives them much more roster flexibility than they had yesterday. Twenty-four hours ago, the Jays had no one on the 25-man roster with options left. Goins and Schultz, just recalled, do have options and can be sent down to Buffalo to accommodate Liriano when necessary. While another lefty reliever would have been welcome, the Jays still have – gulp – Aaron Loup in Buffalo if they feel they need him.
Troy Tulowitzki’s cracked thumb remains of great concern. After being hit by a pitch Sunday, he’s hopeful he can avoid the DL, but was not in the lineup Monday night, with Ryan Goins taking his spot. The Tulowitzki injury meant Josh Donaldson’s scheduled day out of the field Sunday to rest a sore hamstring was anything but, so Donaldson also sat Monday night in favour of Darwin Barney.