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MLB Trade Deadline: Astros add insurance with Liriano

The Astros reinforce their rotation and possibly their bullpen, while the Jays take on some cash to accelerate their rebuild.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

This afternoon, the Toronto Blue Jays traded Francisco Liriano to the Houston Astros for outfielder Nori Aoki and prospect Teoscar Hernandez. Lirano, a pending free agent was one of the few Blue Jays rumored to be moved by the trade deadline.

The Astros add insurance

Recent inconsistent outings from Astros starters (and injuries — Lance McCullers was placed on the 10-day DL today) mean that Houston might need some depth sooner rather than later, and Liriano provides that. Although the 33-year-old lefty has struggled so far this year (5.88 ERA and 4.72 FIP), the Astros are hoping that he finds the form that made him such a useful piece to the Blue Jays during their stretch run last year. When he’s on, Liriano’s stuff is as good as any in baseball. In fact, this year, he’s had an ERA under 4.00 for eight of his 18 starts, and a FIP under 4.00 in seven; he’s capable of pitching well.

And if the rotation finds its footing as the season goes on, or if Liriano’s struggles as a starter continue, he could easily be an effective power arm in the bullpen. Lefties are slashing a line of .230/.254/.361 against him, with just a .262 wOBA. The only other lefthanders in the Astros bullpen are Tony Sipp (6.39 ERA, 5.05 FIP in 2017) and Reymin Guduan (just 8 23 innings of major-league experience), so Liriano doesn’t need to do much to give the Astros a boost in the late innings.

Given that he’s a pending free agent, Houston has done well to acquire a veteran arm who’s had some success in the postseason, can act as a cover in case one of the starters continue to falter, and has utility in the bullpen if he’s not needed there.

The Blue Jays add controllable pieces

Toronto added veteran outfielder Nori Aoki, a well-travelled corner outfielder with an average profile. Given that the Jays already have Bautista in RF and Pillar in CF, with both Carrera and Pearce hitting well enough to vie for a LF spot, it sounds like Aoki is primarily in the deal to allow the Astros to offload some salary, and for the Jays to acquire a better prospect than they would otherwise. Aoki is under control for next year, with a trip through arbitration after being paid $5.5m this year, although my guess is that he gets non-tendered during the offseason (or maybe even the next few weeks).

In Teoscar Hernandez, the club acquired an outfield prospect at the AAA level, and started planning for the next good Blue Jays team. By all accounts Hernandez is major-league ready, with average to above-average defense in both corner outfield spots and the potential to be an everyday player. ESPN’s Keith Law had the following to say about Hernandez prior to this season:

Really worked on improving his pitch recognition and it paid off in his performance at Double-A and Triple-A, earning him a big-league call up and I think the chance to be someone’s regular in right field, maybe in center if you can live with subpar defense there. He’s still probably going to be a low-OBP guy but will bring you power, speed, and in either corner above-average range, and players with his profile do sometimes develop later or have outlier years where they make enough contact to be more than just average regulars.

Jays fan should be quite satisfied with the return: if this was a straight trade of Liriano, you’d probably expect a return much worse than this. But by taking over Aoki’s contract, once again the Shatkins duo [ed. note: Mark Shapiro, Jays President, and Ross Atkins, Jays GM; if you don’t know their names, this abbreviation is a bit jarring] has proved that it’s willing to take on salaries and spend more money up-front in order to acquire better prospects. It’s similar to the deal they made when they acquired Liriano (and his salary) for Drew Hutchinson and a couple of prospects, and it’ll help bring Toronto’s future closer.

Azam Farooqui is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @afarooqui21.