Within the last couple of months, two of the Toronto Blue Jays’ best potential trade chips have lost substantial value.
Marco Estrada has a 9.50 ERA since June 1 and has completed five innings just twice during that stretch. Francisco Liriano has a 6.15 ERA on the season and has battled neck tightness of late. Both are on the brink of free agency with salaries north of $13 million and diminishing trade value in the view of opposing evaluators.
Safe to say this isn’t what the Blue Jays hoped for. And yet pitching is always in demand at the trade deadline, even if it’s the kind of pitching that gets you to the post-season rather than the kind you’re comfortable starting in a playoff series.
As such, Estrada and Liriano are at least on the radar of opposing teams with 10 days remaining before the trade deadline. J.A. Happ’s having a better season than either pending free agent, but he seems more likely to stay put given that the Blue Jays want to contend in 2018.
A closer look at contenders in need of pitching identifies potential fits for Estrada and Liriano …
The Yankees have addressed their bullpen, but Michael Pineda’s season-ending injury leaves a hole in their rotation. Could the Blue Jays be the ones to fill it? Seems unlikely, even if intra-divisional trades have happened on occasion. The Red Sox and Yankees swapped Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew in 2014, and Steve Pearce went from the Rays to the Orioles last summer.
The Royals are in the market for starting pitching, and have already been linked to Estrada. For starters his fly ball-heavy approach would work well at Kauffman Stadium. And it probably doesn’t hurt that Estrada had two stellar starts against Kansas City in the 2015 ALCS.
Injuries have weakened the Seattle rotation, which now includes Andrew Moore, Ariel Miranda and Sam Gaviglio. As a result, pitching appears to be a priority for the Mariners, who acquired reliever David Phelps Thursday.
“We will leave no stone unturned,” GM Jerry Dipoto recently told reporters. It stands to reason that a team considering all its options would even look at under-achieving starters like Estrada or Liriano.
While starting pitching looks like Houston’s biggest need, they’ll presumably be aiming higher than the likes of Estrada and Liriano. Someone like Sonny Gray or Justin Verlander would represent a clear upgrade over the likes of Mike Fiers, Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton. At this point, the Blue Jays’ options appear to be a downgrade compared to what Houston has at the back of its rotation.
Tommy John surgery ended Joe Ross’ season early and forced the Nationals to turn to journeyman Edwin Jackson. Prospect Erick Fedde awaits in the minor-leagues, so they’re not desperate, but they could use rotation help.
Their playoff rotation appears set, with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, and with an 11.0 game lead in the NL East, they don’t have to worry about making the playoffs. This is a club that could absorb risk by taking on an underperforming player.
The Brewers are aiming high, with Sonny Gray and even Justin Verlander in their sights. Those pitchers will require top prospects, though, and if GM David Stearns prefers to hold onto the assets his front office has worked to obtain, he could turn to the Blue Jays. For what it’s worth, Stearns worked with Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro in Cleveland early in his baseball career.
With the J.D. Martinez trade, the Diamondbacks showed a willingness to give up talent for rental players. Estrada and Liriano are down a tier or two from Martinez, but could nonetheless be of interest in Arizona. The question is: are they really an upgrade over Patrick Corbin?
The Rockies, perpetually in need of pitching, are now in possession of an NL wild-card spot. It’s hard to imagine that Estrada’s fly ball tendencies would play well at altitude, but perhaps Liriano’s stuff and experience would be of interest to a Colorado team starting Jon Gray and four rookies.