The Blue Jays have several needs in their bullpen next year, and an old friend in Francisco Liriano could be a surprising decent fit.
The Toronto Blue Jays will be likely to pursue left-handed relief pitching this off-season, as Tim Mayza is currently the only lefty relief pitcher on the Blue Jays 40 man roster. It would make sense in a rebuild year for the Blue Jays to focus on reclamation projects for their bullpen, or players on short contracts that can be flipped for prospects when the time is right.
One possibility the Toronto Blue Jays might look at could be former Blue Jays starter Francisco Liriano. Francisco had a tough 2018 as a starter pitcher, with a 4.58 ERA over 26 starts with the Detroit Tigers. His innings average dropped to 5.06 innings per start showing that time and age might be catching up to the two-time Comeback player of the year. Is there a possible fit for the Blue Jays to take a flier on Francisco for their bullpen at the right price?
Francisco made four million last season playing for the Detroit Tigers, in what was mostly seen as a down year for the veteran. He will likely have to accept a relief role with a team to continue having a MLB job, so you can expect that it will likely be at a reduced rate compared to what he earned in 2018.
He did still hit mid 90’s with his fastball last season, and could also provide veteran leadership to what will likely be a young crop of Blue Jays pitchers. Also with uncertainty surrounding the sustainability of the success of Ryan Borucki, and the health questions for Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, Liriano would give the Blue Jays additional starting pitching depth.
In 2017 the Blue Jays were able to acquire Nori Aoki, and Teoscar Hernandez from the Astros in exchange for Liriano. The hope in signing Liriano again would serve the same purposes. Sign him for a 1 year deal hoping that he catches fire as a reliever and you can flip him for prospects. As early as last May teams were inquiring the Tigers about Liriano.
Though flipping Francisco for prospects is a plan the Blue Jays have used successfully with Liriano before, there is still caution to be had as Detroit was stuck with him for all year last season after a promising start. “The veteran starter neither ate enough innings nor pitched well enough to be traded in 2018. Francisco does have a desire to play in 2019”, as quoted by Jarrid Denney at MLB.com as saying:
“Just hoping to find a job and do whatever — starter or reliever,” Liriano said. “I would like to come back [to Detroit] and be with the guys. We have great teammates and great coaches. I’ve been with those guys for a long time, so I would like to come back.”
With the Tigers having signed Matt Moore recently to be a starter, Liriano’s chances of being back in Detroit have decreased. It would be a gamble for the Blue Jays to sign the 35-year-old as a relief pitcher, as we have seen him have mixed results in that role at Rogers Centre in the past. Also this time around its not guaranteed that his pal Russell Martin will be in Toronto this time for him either.
Yet the Blue Jays will have holes to fill in their bullpen, especially left-handed holes, and we have seen from management before a history of signing relief pitchers in an attempt to flip them out for prospects at the deadline. If Francisco Liriano were to come cheap enough with a willingness to work exclusively from the bullpen, I can see the Jays taking a chance on him once again. Who knows, the Blue Jays may even cash in on Francisco’s success one more time.