Looking at the impending pitcher logjam the Blue Jays will have when Mitch White returns

Photo credit:© Brent Skeen-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Shushkewich
11 months ago
Heading into the 2023 season, it appeared that there was going to be a battle for the fifth rotation spot between Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White, with both pitchers looking to bounce back after struggling in their first seasons with the Blue Jays.
In his first season with the Jays after signing a three-year, $36 million deal, Kikuchi struggled mightily, posting a 5.19 ERA with a 5.2 BB/9 that saw the southpaw be relegated to the bullpen in August to finish out the year. White was acquired by the Jays at the trade deadline, with the right-hander making 10 appearances (eight starts) and finishing the year with a 7.74 ERA and a 12.3 H/9, allowing five or more earned runs through four outings to finish the season.
Fast forward to today and Kikuchi has earned the rotation spot, not only dominating in spring training but pitching well to begin the season as well, authoring a 3.00 ERA through five starts with 28 strikeouts through 27.0 innings, going five or more innings in four of those five starts. White on the other hand had a late start to spring training after suffering a shoulder impingement during the offseason, which put him behind Kikuchi right from the get-go to begin the year. The former Dodger would suffer a separate elbow injury late in camp, putting him on the IL to begin the season.
After a month into the season, White has made one appearance in Single-A ball as part of his rehab assignment, going 3 1/3 and throwing 46 pitches (67.4% strikes) with three hits allowed to zero earned runs with two strikes. White was moved to Buffalo this past weekend and will make the start against Worcester, the Boston Red Sox affiliate, later today. The club currently has him being stretched out as a starter and is looking to have him slated to throw 50 pitches against Worcester, as the Jays look to give the right-hander some time to get some reps under his belt after his 30-day rehab window started last week.

Looking at Mitch White’s Impact on the Blue Jays Bullpen Picture When he Returns

Looking ahead, White’s roster status is going to make things interesting by the end of May, as the California product does not have any Minor League options at his disposal and will need a spot on the big league squad otherwise the Blue Jays will have to designate him for assignment, with it very unlikely that he makes it through waivers unclaimed.
In regards to his role, it would have been perfect if he indeed had another option available, as he would likely head back down to Triple-A and continue starting games and waiting in the wings should an injury or spot start be required at the big league level as the next pitcher in line. Depth-wise, the Jays starting pitching is certainly thin, as Drew Hutchison is the only starter with four or more starts to own an ERA below the 5.00 mark with Casey Lawerence, Zach Thompson, Yosver Zulueta, and Luke Bard all in the mix as well.
Once he is healthy, it is likely that White will slide into the long-man role in the Blue Jays bullpen, as the club does not really have an arm that can go out and eat innings should one of the starters struggle early in the game other than using multiple middle relief arms. While the Jays’ bullpen has seen its fair share of highs and lows through the first month of the year, there are only two players with options available down in the relief corps in Nate Pearson and Zach Pop. With Adam Cimber on the IL and the ability to reject an option to the Minor Leagues given his service time accumulated, once he is healthy, it would most likely be both Pop and Pearson having to go down to Triple-A for White’s return (Cimber’s return sends one of them back down already) unless another injury puts a relief arm on the shelf, opening another bullpen spot.
Alternatively, the Jays could also get a bit creative and DFA a different member of the bullpen if they want to keep Pop or Pearson up in the big leagues for the foreseeable future. While Trevor Richards has been an easy target for the DFA conversation on social media, the right-hander has excelled in his role far this season, amassing a 3.18 ERA through 10 outings with a 1.24 WHIP and 18 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .233 batting average, making it difficult to remove him from the relief corps. Erik Swanson, Tim Mayza, and Jordan Romano are also going nowhere, as they have been effective members of the Jays’ bullpen to start the year.

Blue Jays Bullpen Options Aplenty Once White is Healthy

On the other hand, veteran pitchers Cimber, Anthony Bass, and Yimi García have struggled out of the gate this year and while I don’t think the Jays will be quick to designate any of those three at this time, it will be interesting to see if the three of them can turn their season around before White is ready to return. This will also rely on how Pop and Pearson are doing as well, as the former top prospect has done well in his two outings so far this season while Pop owns a 4.38 ERA through 13 appearances, second on the team behind only Erik Swanson.
The Jays’ front office could also risk trying to move White through the waiver wire, although that seems unlikely given his controllable years (free agent after the 2027 season) and that Atkins and co. just traded for him last year, sending fireballer prospect pitcher Nick Frasso to Los Angeles, who is currently carving in Double-A to the tune of a 1.23 ERA through 22 innings.
It will be interesting to see what the Blue Jays choose to do once White is done with his rehab assignment, as there are a few arms that could be on the chopping block if they continue to struggle but also the added insurance of two relievers with options available that could be pitching better than their counterparts but get caught in the business side of baseball.


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