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Having Aaron Sanchez start the year in the rotation, then move to the bullpen towards the end of the season unquestionably worked out well for the Blue Jays in 2015, though it wasn’t by design.
We learned today that this season he’ll do the same, but absolutely by design.
That is, unless injury or performance issues derail the plan.
I’ve been vocal about the idea that the Jays shouldn’t have felt that they need to force a decision on Sanchez for Opening Day, especially if that decision was going to land him in the bullpen — thus making it even less likely that he’ll ever reach his elusive potential as a starting pitcher. But this wasn’t exactly the way I’d expected, or hoped, or thought they would do it.
Which isn’t to say that it’s necessarily a terrible way to do it, but they seem to have kicked the hard decisions down the road, which I think creates very real potential for headaches at a pretty crucial point in the season.
What if Sanchez is terrific as a starter?
What if no replacement candidate emerges by mid-season?
Granted, I don’t think it’s anything close to a slam dunk that Sanchez thrives in this new role the way that he has so far this spring — as I wrote last week, big league lefties killed him last season, and the ones he’s mowed down in the Grapefruit League so far aren’t nearly of the quality he’ll be facing once shit gets real.
I also think it’s fair to figure that Drew Hutchison, Gavin Floyd, Jesse Chavez, a pitcher from outside the organization that they trade for, or perhaps even a Conner Greene, look from afar as though they should be able to step in and fill the gap once Sanchez is asked to shift back to relief.
But what if Sanchez is genuinely carrying this rotation at a critical juncture in the pennant race when the time comes to dial him back? What if he’s merely OK, and yet the club’s depth is tested elsewhere and they simply don’t have the bodies to replace him adequately?
I mean, wasn’t a guy like Jesse Chavez brought in exactly so that he can make spot starts and lengthen the rotation in order to help manage the innings of some of the guys — read: all of them not named RA Dickey — who have never been asked to go 200 innings deep before? Couldn’t Gavin Floyd potentially do the same sort of thing?
It’s not nothing, but Marcus Stroman’s biggest workload as a pro is only 33 innings higher than Sanchez’s: 166.1 innings at AAA and in the majors in 2014, to Sanchez’s 133.1 across three levels that same year.
That’s the difference between the top starter on a team that expects to be playoff-bound and the guy who can’t be allowed to finish out the season in the rotation?
Maybe it is. Or maybe they’re just establishing right now that, if (when?) they make a big trade to add a starter — which is clearly beyond plausible — it’s going to be Sanchez who gets asked to step aside.
That at least makes sense. And it also makes sense to figure that we mostly only hear about the trouble with innings limits when they get messy — think Stephen Strasburg or Matt Harvey — and maybe there was no better way around this. It’s just… it’s… interesting.
The Jays have certainly at least given themselves some flexibility in punting on this decision. I felt a trip to Buffalo might have made the most sense, where Sanchez’s innings could be managed, his secondary stuff further refined, and where the club would have avoided entirely the problem of potentially watching him struggle and needing to be removed from the rotation for the good of the team — a move that could have ended with him in the bullpen early, likely cutting short his career as a starter before really giving it the chance to properly develop.
Such peril still looms under this newly agreed-upon setup, but it’s understandable if the club maybe didn’t think that demoting a guy who has been in the big leagues the last year-and-a-half and has produced superb results all spring would be the right move.
Is what they’ve done here the right move? Only time will tell. But at least it’s a move. And at least we can move on from the what-to-do-with-Sanchez debate. But I suspect only for a little while.