HOUSTON -- The Blue Jays have been saying all year that Aaron Sanchez was going to the bullpen. Now they have the pieces in place to make that move a reality.
Toronto acquired a trio of pitchers in three separate deals prior to Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Blue Jays received veteran lefty Francisco Liriano from the Pirates, right-hander Scott Feldman from the Astros and right-hander Mike Bolsinger from the Dodgers.
The trades can all be traced back to the plan for Sanchez, who became one of the top starters in the American League this year. The Blue Jays seemed to waver at times but for the most part maintained Sanchez would end up in the bullpen because of an undisclosed innings limit, and while the timing still needs to be worked out, that move is about to happen.
"We didn't know this was concrete, but what we did decide, before the Deadline, we felt like the best chance for us to win a World Series was if Sanchez was a part of the team," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. "We felt like the best odds of Aaron Sanchez being a part of the team was, at some point, transition to the bullpen. With that in mind, we considered alternatives and now we have the option to do that."
Toronto traded last year's Opening Day starter, Drew Hutchison, to the Pirates for Liriano alongside prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez. McGuire is a 21-year-old catcher in Double-A and was ranked Pittsburgh's No. 8 prospect by MLBPipeline.com. Ramirez was ranked No. 9 on that list and is a 21-year-old outfielder in Double-A.
Liriano will eventually take Sanchez's spot in the rotation, but it's possible the Blue Jays will go with a six-man rotation over the next week until the roster can be sorted out. Toronto announced that Sanchez will make his next scheduled start in Kansas City, but that likely will be his final outing before transitioning to the bullpen.
The 32-year-old Liriano was having a down season with the Pirates, posting a 6-11 record with a 5.46 ERA and an alarming 5.5 walks per nine innings. Prior to this year, Liriano posted three consecutive years with an ERA of 3.38 or below, and this move means he'll be reunited with catcher Russell Martin as the pair worked together from 2013-14.
"I think experience and talent," Atkins said of Liriano, who is making $13.67 million this season and will earn the same in 2017. "What he has accomplished throughout his entire career, we feel like gives us a chance to have someone who could be pitching in Game 2 or 3 or 4 of a World Series run.
"The fact that he has been there before, in a playoff chase, pitched in a major playoff game, and still has very good stuff, we're hopeful that if we get him back, even close to where he was, then it's better than our alternative."
Hutchison represented one of the only backup starters in Toronto's Minor League system. Toronto could not afford to deal him without increasing its organization depth, and that's where the deals for Feldman and Bolsinger come into play. Feldman will pitch out of the bullpen in a long-relief role, but he also has the ability to make spot starts if needed.
Feldman will take the spot of right-hander Jesse Chavez, who was sent to Los Angeles in the Bolsinger deal. Bolsinger will report to Triple-A Buffalo and essentially takes the spot of Hutchison on that team's staff. That leaves the Blue Jays with at least two backup starters in the event anyone gets hurt over the final two months of the regular season.
"A couple of nice moves and we think they're going to help us," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "[Liriano] has a great arm and we're looking to reunite him with Russell back there. That's when he was really rolling, when Russell was back there."
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Those who have remained patient with Liriano despite his struggles may be happy to see him be reunited with Martin, who was the Pirates' No. 1 backstop when the left-hander registered a 3.20 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP during the 2013-14 seasons. Though Liriano should not be started in any leagues right now, he's an intriguing bench option thanks to his strikeout ability. Sanchez is the American League leader in ERA (2.71), but he should fall to waivers in mixed leagues when the Blue Jays move him to the bullpen.