Aoki ready to help Blue Jays contend for WC

Aoki ready to help Blue Jays contend for WC

CHICAGO -- Norichika Aoki's world was turned upside down on Monday afternoon when he was sent from a legitimate World Series contender to a team that has shifted its attention to 2018. Despite the upheaval, the veteran outfielder insists there are no hard feelings.

Aoki was acquired by the Blue Jays alongside Minor League outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez in a deal with the Astros for left-hander Francisco Liriano. He joins a crowded outfield that already includes Jose Bautista, Kevin Pillar, Steve Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera with no clear path to regular playing time.

Considering the circumstances, Aoki would be forgiven by most people if he spoke out against the deal and the transition to a new city but that's not the approach he decided to take. Aoki was asked about his feelings about playing for a non-contender, and disagreed with the premise of the question.

"I don't feel that way at all, we still have a shot at the Wild Card," Aoki said through an interpreter. "I don't feel like we're completely out of it and I just want to be able to contribute to helping the team win and getting there."

Aoki isn't that familiar with the Blue Jays or the city of Toronto, but knows someone who is. Former Blue Jays infielder Munenori Kawasaki is a friend of Aoki's and the two exchanged text messages after the deal. Kawasaki messaged to say "Welcome to Toronto" and gave Aoki a brief review of the city.

"He said Toronto's the best," Aoki said. "I feel like his heart is still in Toronto."

Rotation plans set
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons confirmed on Tuesday that right-hander Cesar Valdez will make another start. Valdez allowed seven runs in just two innings during his last outing against the Angels but it wasn't enough to lose his spot in the rotation. Valdez is scheduled to start on Friday vs. Houston and will be followed by Marco Estrada on Saturday and Marcus Stroman on Sunday.

Toronto has an off-day Thursday and another following the weekend series in Houston. That will allow the Blue Jays to stick with a four-man rotation on a temporary basis and the club technically won't need a fifth starter until Aug. 13. The Blue Jays have yet to announce who will replace Liriano in the rotation but Gibbons hinted on Tuesday that stretching out reliever Joe Biagini remains an option.

"That's definitely a possibility," Gibbons said of Biagini, who made 11 starts earlier this season.

Worth mentioning
Left-hander Brett Oberholtzer was designated for assignment on Tuesday to make room for Aoki on the 25-man active roster. Oberholtzer was promoted from Triple-A Buffalo on Monday but his stint with the ballclub lasted just one day before he was cut loose. If Oberholtzer clears waivers, he'll likely return to Buffalo where he has a 4.48 ERA over 18 starts.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his pod,cast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.