The Blue Jays have made their first trade on the non-waiver deadline day, sending left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano to the Houston Astros for outfielder Norichika Aoki (or just Nori) and outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez.
Liriano has struggled throughout the season, posting a 5.88 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 18 starts totaling 82 2/3 innings but has really been effective in his last couple of outings.
Coming back to the Blue Jays are a couple of players who will help with outfield depth now and in the future. Aoki is a veteran of parts of six major league seasons but is still not going to be a free agent until 2019 despite being 35 years old. Aoki was a star in Japan, playing eight years with Yakult and hitting .329/.402/.454 in 984 games before coming to the US. Aoki went to the Brewers and hit .288/.355/.433 with 37 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs and 30 stolen bases in his first big league season. His power dropped in his second year with Milwaukee, hitting just 20 doubles and he was traded to Kansas City for the 2014 season. There, he put up a very similar .285/.349/.360 slash line to his 2013 line with the Brewers and followed that with a .287/.353/.380 line back in the NL with San Francisco in 2015. He was remarkably consistent, hitting .283/.349/.388 with Seattle in 2016 and has been hitting .272/.323/.371 with the Astros in 71 games this year. Aoki can play all three outfield positions but was playing mostly left field this year.
The other player coming back to the Blue Jays is one for the future. 24-year-old Dominican outfielder Teoscar Hernandez really turned things on starting in 2016 when he hit .307/.377/.459 in 481 plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A, making his big league debut that year and hitting .230/.304/.420 in in 41 games with the Astros. Hernandez stole 34 bases in the minors (but was caught 15 times) and hit 10 home runs with 28 doubles and three triples. In the majors, he hit seven doubles and four home runs.
This season, spent entirely with Houston’s Triple-A affiliate, the Fresno Grizzlies, Hernandez has hit .279/.369/.485 with 20 doubles, three triples and 12 home runs, stealing 12 bases in 19 attempts.
Hernandez was ranked by MLB.com as the #9 prospect for the Astros in their mid-season list revision. MLB.com writes that he turned his prospect status around by “toning down an overly aggressive approach and improving his ability to recognize pitches.” While they write that he can still improve in those areas, he makes more consistent contact now and has been tapping more into his raw power. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound outfielder is also taking a “decent amount of walks rather than getting himself out with impatience.” He has “plus speed” but “his quickness doesn’t play as well in the outfield, where his instincts remain somewhat raw” and will probably be better suited to right field.
Are the Jays finished with their moves or will more players be on the move? And who will step into Liriano’s spot in the starting rotation now?
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