Francisco Liriano pitching for the Blue Jays.

Francisco Liriano has the ability to be one of the better pitchers in baseball, the problem is he needs a very specific motivation for him to be at his best.

After Francisco Liriano was acquired by the Blue Jays last season in a trade with Pittsburgh, it was deemed a good move for Toronto even though the big southpaw was having an off-year up to that point.  For sometime now, Liriano has had a reputation as a pitcher who is at his best when playing on a winning ball club.  So the Blue Jays were risking very little in acquiring him because they knew he’d likely be a lot better for them (a winning team last season) than he’d been with Pittsburgh in 2016.

Unfortunately for Toronto, their winning ways haven’t carried over into 2017, and true to form, Liriano has also been mired in the worst season of his big league career.  The strangest thing is that Liriano can still pitch, and pitch incredibly well when provided with the right motivation.  Usually this good kind of motivation involves playing for a team with a strong chance of making the post-season.  Liriano isn’t selfish by any means, he just needs to feel challenged for him to be on top of his game.  Take for example what he did against the Astros in early July, when he made one of the toughest line-ups in baseball look very mediocre.

Seeing how dominant Liriano was in spring training this past March, it appeared as if he’d go on to have a strong year for the Blue Jays.  Sadly, his solid play in the spring didn’t carry over to the regular season.   In fact, in Liriano’s very first start of the season, he gave up 3 hits, 4 BB, 5 ER, and only recorded one out before being pulled.  It’s sad to say, but that awful pitching performance in his very first start of the season really set the tone for the miserable 2-11 record Toronto would put up to begin their season.

Despite Liriano’s lackluster performance for the Blue Jays in 2017, he still netted them prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez in the Pittsburgh trade, and Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez in the move yesterday with the Astros.  Aoki is a solid veteran presence who should be able to fill-in for Bautista in right field and give him some much needed days off.  The real prize of the trade with Houston however is the 24-year old Hernandez, who has a solid combination of speed and power as his 85 HR and 163 SB in the minor leagues attest to.  Hernandez is still pretty strikeout prone and his defense needs some refining in the outfield, but either him or Aoki will likely assume the starting duties in right field come 2018.

Had the Blue Jays been in contention this season, there’s little doubt we would have seen a different Liriano, a better Liriano. Unfortunately things just didn’t work out for Liriano and the Blue Jays this season.  The good news however, is that in exchange for taking a chance on an inconsistent and expensive Liriano, Toronto still managed to come away from things with three solid prospects and a good veteran in Aoki.

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