Blue Jays take gamble on Francisco Liriano to help rotation

Francisco Liriano will look to turn around his fortunes in Toronto. (Getty Images/Dylan Buell)
Francisco Liriano will look to turn around his fortunes in Toronto. (Getty Images/Dylan Buell)

Desperate for help in the rotation, the Toronto Blue Jays have acquired Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano in a deal that didn’t come to light until long after the trade deadline passed.

In exchange for Liriano, the Pirates have acquired pitcher Drew Hutchison and Double-A outfielder Harold Ramirez. It’s a clear change of scenery move for both sides.

After turning around his career with the Pirates, Liriano’s luck seems to have run out this season. The 32-year-old lefty has a 5.46 ERA over 113 2/3 innings. His strikeout rate has dropped to 22.2 percent, a solid rate for most pitchers but low based on what Liriano has done over his career. Liriano, who has always had issues with walks, is currently set to post the highest walk rate of his career.

The move isn’t just for this season either. Liriano is under Blue Jays control through 2017. He’ll be paid $13.6 million. He’s set to be a free-agent following the 2017 season. That gives the Blue Jays a year and a half to figure out a way to get Liriano back to form. The move will reunite Liriano with catcher Russell Martin. The two worked well together when both were in Pittsburgh.

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Hutchison is also a prime change of scenery candidate. As a 23-year-old, he showed promise, posting a 4.48 ERA over 184 2/3 innings in 2014. While the ERA was high, Hutchison showed solid peripherals, offering hope that he could be a future mid-rotation starter for Toronto.

Drew Hutchison is on his way to Pittsburgh. (Getty Images/Mark Cunningham)
Drew Hutchison is on his way to Pittsburgh. (Getty Images/Mark Cunningham)

That wasn’t the case. Hutchison had a disastrous 2015, in which he posted a 5.57 ERA over 150 1/3 innings. He was sent to the minors, and has mostly stayed in Triple-A since then. This season, the 25-year-old has a 3.26 ERA over 102 innings in the minors. Hutchison was a candidate to replace starter Aaron Sanchez in the rotation once the club shifted him to the bullpen, but it appears Liriano may fill that role now. Hutchison is arbitration-eligible through the 2018 season.

In order to get Toronto to take a shot on Liriano, Pittsburgh had to part with Ramirez. The 21-year-old entered the season ranked 95th on Baseball America’s top-100 list. He ranked 80th according to Baseball Prospectus.

Ramirez has spent the entire season in Double-A. He’s posted a .306/.354/.401 slash line over 414 plate appearances.

With the deal, both sides have taken on significant projects. In Hutchison, Pittsburgh can take more of a long-term approach, while Toronto would be best served by Liriano paying off immediately.

When he’s on, Liriano has shown the ability to be among the best starters in the game. When off, he’s easily among the worst. With the Blue Jays stuck in such a tight race, Liriano’s performance could make or break Toronto’s chances as they race for the playoffs.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik