PITTSBURGH (AP) - In the mix of a heated playoff race, the Toronto Blue Jays added depth in search of a second straight postseason appearance. On the fringe of the wild card in the National League, the Pittsburgh Pirates did their best to clear the books for 2017.
Toronto acquired pitcher Francisco Liriano from the Pirates on Monday in exchange for Drew Hutchinson, hoping a return to form by the veteran starter will help the Blue Jays escape a crowded log jam near the top of the AL East.
The move was the latest and highest profile of a busy deadline day for Toronto, which also nabbed right-hander Mike Bolsinger from the Los Angeles Dodgers for right-hander Jesse Chavez and $1.15 million and received right-hander Scott Feldman from the Houston Astros for minor league pitcher Lupe Chavez. Toronto also picked up a pair of promising minor league prospects from Pittsburgh in catcher Reese McGuire and outfielder Harold Ramirez.
Liriano gives the Blue Jays an experienced starter to replace 24-year-old Aaron Sanchez in the rotation. Sanchez is 11-1 and hasn’t lost since April 22, but he’s also at 139 1/3 innings this season. His previous high was 133 1/3 across the majors and minors in 2014.
Toronto has been planning to move Sanchez to the bullpen to reduce his workload.
“What we did decide was before the deadline we felt like our best chance for us to win the World Series was if Aaron Sanchez was a part of the team,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said Monday. “So we felt like the best odds of Aaron Sanchez being a part of the team was at some point a transition to the bullpen. So with that in mind we considered alternatives and now we have the option to do that.”
The Pirates were busy too, but coming off a weekend sweep at the hands of Milwaukee and with hopes for a fourth consecutive playoff appearance fading entering August, Pittsburgh instead chose to jettison expensive disappointments Liriano and Jon Niese, who was shipped back to the New York Mets for reliever Antonio Bastardo. Pittsburgh also acquired right-hander Ivan Nova from the Yankees for two players to be named.
Liriano revived his career in Pittsburgh, going 35-25 from 2013-15 while helping the Pirates to three straight playoff berths. He has struggled this season, posting a 6-11 record with a 5.46 ERA. Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington called the decision to move Liriano “challenging” but one he could not pass up, even if it meant throwing McGuire and Ramirez in the deal, because Liriano is signed through 2017 and is due $13.66 million next season.
“The financial flexibility and adding Drew Hutchinson with our ability to reallocate those dollars onto this club in different ways going forward (were attractive),” Huntington said.
The trade came shortly after the Pirates sent Niese back to the New York Mets. Sent from New York to Pittsburgh last December for second baseman Neil Walker, Niese never found a rhythm during his time with the Pirates. He went 8-6 with a 4.91 ERA and was moved to the bullpen earlier this month.
The 29-year-old Niese is making $9 million in the final season of a deal he signed with the Mets in March 2012, a contract that includes a $10 million team option for 2017 with a $500,000 buyout.
Pittsburgh enters the final two months of the season with just one starter remaining from the opening day rotation: Gerrit Cole. Niese and Liriano have been traded while Jeff Locke and Juan Nicasio have been moved to the bullpen, though Locke will get a spot start this week in Atlanta.
Huntington stressed the Pirates still believe they can compete this season and believes in a way addition by subtraction might help. Nova will take Liriano’s spot in the rotation. Ryan Vogelsong, out since May with facial fractures, will return this week. Rookie Jameson Taillon has shown signs of promise and rookie Tyler Glasnow will also be back in the rotation when he returns from shoulder fatigue.
“We had some guys that weren’t getting the job done,” Huntington said. “How do we improve our rotation to give this club that’s three games out in the loss column an opportunity to regain (positioning)? The starting pitching was our biggest challenge and we felt like we addressed that somewhat internally and somewhat externally.”
Over the weekend, Pittsburgh sent All-Star closer Mark Melancon to Washington in exchange for hard-throwing reliever Felipe Rivero and minor league pitcher Taylor Hearn.
Feldman gives the Blue Jays some versatility. The 33-year-old went 5-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 26 appearances for the Astros this season. He’s made five starts but has pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen since the end of April. Feldman is 1-2 with a 3.65 ERA as a starter this year, and he’s gone 4-1 with a 2.41 ERA in relief.
The Blue Jays were playing at Houston on Monday night, making Feldman’s move pretty easy.
“It’s always weird getting traded to begin with. It was kind of convenient actually,” he said. “Just drove to the field today like normal and just switch clubhouses. Say bye to all the old teammates, coaches, everybody.”
The 28-year-old Bolsinger was 1-4 with a 6.83 ERA for the Dodgers this season. He’s also spent some time in the minors in 2016. Bolsinger made 21 starts for Los Angeles last year, going 6-6 with a 3.62 ERA.
The cash payment from Toronto to the Dodgers, due Sept. 1, is to offset part of Chavez’s $4 million salary.
AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in Detroit contributed to this report.
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