Yesterday afternoon’s Toronto Blue Jays win marked the much anticipated return of Aaron Sanchez.
The big righty was activated off the disabled list prior to Saturday’s tilt with the Mariners, and tossed one scoreless inning out of the bullpen. I was listening on the radio so didn’t get to see him, but he didn’t walk anybody, though he allowed a hit and – at least according to Jerry Howarth – one of the outs was a fairly loud one.
Following Sanchez’ scoreless eighth, Roberto Osuna continued to be brilliant, striking out a batter in a scoreless ninth.
The team’s decision to move Sanchez to the bullpen isn’t one with which I necessarily agree. The relief corps. seemed to be sorting itself out, with Osuna excelling in the closer’s role, Bo Schultz emerging as a high leverage option, and Brett Cecil figuring things out (seriously, he hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 8.2 innings pitched). Over the past 30 days the bullpen has the eighth best FIP (3.26), seventh best ERA (2.71) in baseball with good strikeout and walk rates (8.25 and 1.77, respectively). They haven’t had a lot of shutdowns (13) but also, perhaps surprisingly, haven’t had a lot of meltdowns either (9).
So for me, the place for Sanchez is back in the rotation, which still has its issues, though it too has been better over the last month or so.
But the team made its decision and we have to live with it. It’s too late now to do anything about it anyway.
My question is, what happens next year?
There has been a bit of confusion over what this move to the bullpen means for the future of Sanchez. Is he now a permanent reliever? Will they give him another chance to start? After all, he was coming around as a starter before the injury. Some of the concern is that Sanchez’ frame can’t hold up to the rigours of a starting role. But that’s a touch ridiculous in my opinion. Outside of a battle with should soreness in 2013 I didn’t come across any injury concerns during his minor league career.
He should be given every opportunity to start, because Sanchez still has the upside of a very valuable starting pitcher.
You know who else who still has the upside of a very good starting pitcher? The aforementioned Roberto Osuna, that’s who.
Looking forward, the problem with both pitchers next year is innings caps. While the Jays don’t subscribe to a hard and fast limit for innings increases they absolutely closely monitor the workloads of their young starters.
After throwing 35 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery last year Osuna has thus far thrown 44.1 in 2015. He’s on pace to throw around 60-70 innings out of the bullpen. To throw him in the rotation straightaway next year is simply not going to happen. There is virtually no way the Jays could feel comfortable going into the season expecting Osuna to at least double this year’s innings total.
For Sanchez, the story is better in some ways, worse in others. He’s thrown 67 innings thus far, and will likely finish at around 85-95, depending on how he’s used. Last year, between the minors and majors, he threw about 140 innings. However, Sanchez went from a starter’s role to a relief role in July 2014, when he was originally called up to the big leagues. He’ll now spend the rest of this season as a reliever. That means, when next April rolls around he’ll have been a reliever for the majority of the past two years, having started only 31 games during that time. It’s not an insurmountable task for him to return to the rotation, but it’s something the Jays brass will have to keep in mind.
On top of all that, taking those two out of the bullpen leaves a gaping hole at the back end of the pen that will need to be addressed.
So, enter my somewhat radical solution: a mid-season switch. It would be unusual, for sure, but having Sanchez start for roughly half the season, and then moving him to the bullpen while stretching out Osuna to take over as a starter. Or vice versa, of course.
It’s tricky, we really don’t know if Osuna will succeed as a starter in the big leagues, he’s never started a game above high-A ball after all. But he has the repertoire and frame to potentially be a very successful starter.
However, both Sanchez and Osuna have shown they belong in the big leagues and keeping them in AAA to manage their innings – the only other realistic option to give them the chance to start – would be wasting bullets.
Since Sanchez is somewhat more proven as a starter, and could probably handle a bigger workload, it’d probably make sense to put Osuna in the rotation to start the season. That way, if he falters they can move to Sanchez early.
The biggest problem with this plan is stretching out the second half starter. Yesterday on The Fan Mike Wilner suggested it’d take three or so starts to stretch Sanchez back out at this point if the team decided to return him to the rotation. That’s two weeks. It would be problematic but certainly not insurmountable. The team could make the transition around an off-day or ideally at the all star break. With good timing, there would be only minimal impact at the big league level, perhaps as little as having one spot start from a Todd Redmond type.
I’m not sure if this has ever been done, intentionally at least. And there are certainly some optics issues around the fact you’d be telling your young pitcher that he’ll only be a starter for a couple months, no matter how he performs. But it could be the best way to utilize two young hurlers who can be valuable to the Major League squad.