Roberto Osuna Would Prefer To Stay A Reliever Long-Term

Roberto Osuna
Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

“If I would have the choice, I would stay in the bullpen,” says Roberto Osuna in a amazing, revealing piece on the Jays youngster from John Lott at Vice Sports. “Especially next year when we won’t have probably Storen or Cecil, so I probably have the chance to be the closer. I would take the closer over starter.”

Now, I’m not so sure that Cecil (and, to a lesser extent, Storen) is so likely to be gone after this season, but more importantly: could somebody remind Osuna the difference in earnings between starters and relievers!

The question, of course, isn’t quite so simple. Osuna has already missed a year with Tommy John surgery, and the image at the top of John’s piece, as well as this one, shows him in mid-motion, with his arms in a dreaded “Inverted-W” — an indicator of an overly stressful delivery, though it is debatable how predictive it is of future injury. (Then again, with Osuna having already required Tommy John, maybe that’s all the prediction we need?)

In light of that, maybe Osuna thinks the bullpen actually is the best place for him to make his money and keep himself healthy. Indeed, he tells Lott that he thinks it would be a “big risk” to simply declare him a starter in 2017 and let him loose. (Perhaps these sorts of concerns are behind John Gibbons’ assertion earlier this spring that the club isn’t terribly inclined to push Osuna to be a 100-inning Betances-like reliever).

But the Blue Jays wouldn’t simply ask him to go straight to 200-plus innings — and perhaps that’s what he bristles about, too. He would surely be on some kind of an innings limit and, as Lott suggests, they could build him up slowly with some time at Buffalo.

Osuna says that he just wants to pitch. “I would get bored if I pitch every few days. I think I’m the guy who wants to be out there every day and help the team in the most ways that I can.”

But he also seems resigned to the fact that it’s the Blue Jays’ plan to have him eventually be in the rotation. “That’s my plan for next year, be a starter,” he said, before admitting that he only said it’s his plan “because they want me as a starter.”

That’s good!

Or… maybe not great for a guy who genuinely fears he’ll eventually blow his arm out again, but it’s certainly the smart move on the club’s part, as they hope to get as much out of him as they can before that happens (i.e. while he’s cheap). That is, if it happens — though he’s a pitcher, so potentially dangerous mechanics or not, he’s already a ticking time bomb. And it’s not like guys with similar mechanics and with Tommy John on their CV haven’t had long and productive careers.

In other words, it’s not something they should run from — and they certainly haven’t on Drew Hutchison, who also has an Inverted W in his motion (albeit a less pronounced one), and a Tommy John — especially since Osuna has the body type and the arsenal of pitches that you look for in a workhorse starter. Keeping him in relief might mitigate some of the risk, but it hugely mitigates the reward, too. If Osuna really does want to help the team in the most ways that he can, eventually becoming a starter, and giving them something in the neighbourhood of 200 innings, instead of 70 or 80, is a much better way to do it.

Though I suppose there’s something to be said for having him do what he prefers, too. Especially because it’s not going to be easy next season, after a second straight year in relief, to build him back up again.

Whatever, though. It’s a moot point for now anyway. So let’s just enjoy what we’ve got — and with what he showed last year on the mound in some of the highest leverage situations possible, what we’ve got is something exceptionally good. (And that’s even before we recognize how awesome it is that he also talks about he and his friends laugh at the wall-building gasbag running for president!).

Seriously, though: he should start.

  • TGreg

    For the next couple of years we’ll have a rotation based on Stroman-Estrada-Happ-Sanchez(maybe), with Hutch & maybe Floyd hanging around. And we might be in a position to spend some of the Encarnacion and/or Bautista money on a top tier free agent SP next off-season. There’s no urgency on this … I’m good with leaving the just-turned-21-year-old Osuna in the pen for another year or two.

  • b4 the windup

    Seems to me that Osuna might know what he’s doing. He’s been pitching at a high level for a long while (for his age) if I recall the gist of a lot of what was written about him last season. And it’s apparent he has some concern for the health of his arm should he be required to pitch the many more innings that he naturally would if he was a starter. So why mess with it? It might be smart if they trusted what he knows or feels about his own physical abilities and limitations. He could be a guy who is just best suited to be a ninth inning specialist. I could see it.

  • 0noggin

    The biggest things Osuna has going for him (other than his talent) are his youth and the fact that he thrives pitching in those high-leverage situations. The biggest challenge, of course, is how to transition a guy like that from 50-60 innings per year to being a starter without injuring him.

    I suspect that if he makes the transition, he’ll be fine with pitching in the spotlight as a starter – he just hasn’t experienced that yet at the MLB level.

    Mechanically, aside from his inverted W, which is alarmingly pronounced, I also think his stride length is too short, and he will need to lengthen that considerably to make it as a starter. Shorter stride lengths put more stress on the shoulder to generate velocity, and that adds up once you’re in the rotation.