Mak­ing moves

Jays trade left-han­der Liri­ano, righty re­liever Smith at dead­line

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY MELISSA COUTO

Blue Jays gen­eral man­ager Ross Atkins went into Mon­day’s non-waiver trade dead­line look­ing for young, con­trol­lable tal­ent that could help Toronto both im­me­di­ately and in the near fu­ture.

What the Blue Jays re­ceived — a ma­jor league out­fielder, a triple-A tal­ent that’s well on his way to per­ma­nent ma­jor league sta­tus and a cou­ple of low­er­level prospects, for good mea­sure — pretty much summed up ex­actly what Atkins had planned. And it only took two trades to get there.

Toronto dealt left-han­der Francisco Liri­ano and cash con­sid­er­a­tions to the Hous­ton Astros for out­fielder Nori Aoki and mi­nor-league out­field prospect Teos car Her­nan­dez, then traded right-handed re­liever Joe Smith to the Cleve­land In­di­ans for a pair of mi­nor-league prospects, sec­ond base­man Samad Tay­lor and left-handed pitcher Thomas Pan­none.

“Francisco Liri­ano and Joe Smith were great mem­bers of the or­ga­ni­za­tion who made sig­nif­i­cant im­pacts and now we have four play­ers with dif­fer­ent years of con­trol, with dif­fer­ent up­sides at dif­fer­ent po­si­tions we didn’t have yes­ter­day,” Atkins said on a con­fer­ence call.

“So we feel good about the process, we feel good about the work that went into the trade dead­line.”

Aoki, a 35-year old na­tive of Hyuga, Ja­pan who bat­ted .272 in 71 ap­pear­ances with Hous­ton this sea­son, will im­me­di­ately slide into Toronto’s ros­ter. But from the Blue Jays per­spec­tive, Her­nan­dez is con­sid­ered the cen­tral piece of that trade.

The 24-year-old bat­ted .279 with 12 home runs and 44 runs bat­ted in over 79 games with triple-A Fresno this sea­son. He has made 42 ca­reer ap­pear­ances with the Astros over the last two sea­sons, bat­ting .230 with four homers and 11 RBIs.

Atkins said the Jays had their eyes on Her­nan­dez “for a while.” He’ll re­port to triple-A Buf­falo with a pro­mo­tion in Septem­ber likely, though Atkins also said Her­nan­dez could play reg­u­larly for Toronto’s ma­jor league team be­fore that if needed.

“He’s a well-rounded player who runs well, throws well, gets on base, has some power, can play all three out­field po­si­tions,” Atkins said. “It’s ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to ac­quire tal­ent that you can say all those things about that you will have five-plus years of con­trol of and can po­ten­tially be some­one you can count on year in and year out.”

The re­turn on the Smith deal is less ob­vi­ous as of now with nei­ther prospect rank­ing high on the In­di­ans top lists.

But Atkins, who worked in Cleve­land’s or­ga­ni­za­tion for 15 years be­fore join­ing Toronto, was ex­cited about their up­side.

“In re­gards to where they’re ranked, that cer­tainly is a fac­tor that I wouldn’t dis­miss but it’s more about ac­quir­ing the tal­ent you think can make an im­pact,” Atkins said.

Tay­lor bat­ted .300 with four homers and 19 RBIs this sea­son with Ma­hon­ing Val­ley of the short-sea­son sin­gle-A New York-Penn League, while Pan­none was 6-1 with a 2.62 ERA with dou­ble-A Akron.

The Blue Jays ac­quired Liri­ano from Pitts­burgh at last sea­son’s trade dead­line. He had a 2-2 record in eight starts in Toronto’s 2016 play­off drive with a 2.92 earned run av­er­age and 52 strike­outs.

He came out of the bullpen to pick up the win in Toronto’s 5-2, 11-in­ning vic­tory over Bal­ti­more in the 2016 Amer­i­can League wild-card game. He made just one ap­pear­ance af­ter that in the post-sea­son, al­low­ing two earned runs over a third of an in­ning in the Blue Jays’ 5-3 win over Texas in the AL Di­vi­sion Se­ries.

He had an up-and-down 2017 for the Blue Jays, post­ing a 6-5 record with a 5.88 ERA over 18 starts.

Liri­ano will add pitch­ing depth to an Astros team that had the best record in the Amer­i­can League (68-36) be­fore Mon­day’s games.

Smith, an Ohio na­tive re­turns to Cleve­land, where he was a big part of the team’s bullpen from 2009-13. He signed as a free agent with Toronto in Fe­bru­ary and had a 3-0 record with a 3.28 ERA in 38 re­lief ap­pear­ances with the Jays.

Pend­ing free agent righthander Marco Estrada, who had been brought up in trade ru­mours for days lead­ing up to the dead­line, stayed put. Atkins was OK with that.

“We’re in the busi­ness of mak­ing this or­ga­ni­za­tion bet­ter and if the deal doesn’t present it­self to do so then we’re happy to keep Marco Estrada a Blue Jay,” Atkins said. “We’ll start think­ing about not only how he im­pacts us now but how he could po­ten­tially im­pact us be­yond 2017.”

Toronto re­called left-han­ders Brett Ober­holtzer and J.P. How­ell be­fore Mon­day’s game in Chicago against the White Sox to fill up the ros­ter spots va­cated by the trades.

AP PHOTO

Toronto Blue Jays start­ing pitcher Francisco Liri­ano throws against the Los Angeles An­gels dur­ing the first in­ning of a game in Toronto on Satur­day.

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