Is Aaron Sanchez a starter or a reliever? It’s a conundrum which has plagued the Blue Jays umpteen times over the past calendar year. And just when the organization reassured everyone Sanchez would be returning to the rotation, John Gibbons declared otherwise.
By week’s end, Aaron Sanchez will make his long-awaited return to the Blue Jays. But it won’t be as a member of the starting rotation, he will return to the role in which he broke into the Major’s last year – as a reliever.
It’s a bit of confusing decision by the Blue Jays’ front office as they’ve been adamant that Sanchez would be stretched out as a starting pitcher in his rehab stint. Now they’ve gone back on their word and admittedly that set off a lot of alarm bells.
Why exactly are the Blue Jays moving Aaron Sanchez back into the bullpen? Here are some of the best guesses, and it may actually be a combination of many of these things.
There’s a Trade on the Horizon for a Starting Pitcher
This was the initial reaction I had and it’s certainly the most exciting prospect if you’re a Blue Jays fan. Why else would the Jays suddenly declare Aaron Sanchez would return as a reliever unless they had already acquired (or were close to getting) another starter?
Just a few weeks ago, this was Alex Anthopoulos’ stance on the Aaron Sanchez starter/reliever debate, and up until yesterday, every indication was that Sanchez was being stretched out as a starter.
“If it doesn’t look like there’s a spot for Aaron in the rotation, sure, we know we can put him in the bullpen and he’d do a good job. What that role would be, obviously the manager would make that decision.
As we sit here today, Aaron will be stretched out as a starter; that’ll be the plan. Look, I hope we’re in a position that we don’t have room for him, and because the rotation’s doing so well and we’ve gone out acquired some guys and have that much depth.
Straight from the General Manager’s mouth, he says the club would look at moving Sanchez into the bullpen only if they didn’t have room for him. One would think Sanchez would automatically push out Doubront of the starting rotation, so may there be somebody else coming?
Unless the ink is drying on the deal and it’s pending a physical, it would be a presumptuous move by the Blue Jays to move Sanchez to the bullpen in the hopes they might acquire a starting pitcher by the July 31st trade deadline.
To Stabilize the Back End of the Bullpen
Aaron Sanchez may only have worked in 24 games out of the Blue Jays bullpen last year, but that may have been all some needed to see to be convinced that Sanchez’ future was as a relief pitcher.
Coincidentally, the back end of the Blue Jays bullpen has lacked any real stability since the beginning of the season. If Sanchez can produce similar results as a reliever to what he did last year, then that would in fact solve one problem.
At the same time, it would create another problem; replacing those quality innings from Aaron Sanchez might be a huge problem unless the Blue Jays go outside of the organization to get some help.
In Jon Heyman’s latest, one scout said that “Toronto has nothing to close the game”. With 15 blown saves in 29 opportunities, losing the late and close games has been an ongoing concern for the Blue Jays bullpen all year.
Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Rays may have been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, as the bullpen coughed up yet another lead which ultimately led to another missed opportunity for the Blue Jays.
Not that Aaron Sanchez has been the Blue Jays’ ace this year, but prior to his injury in early June, Sanchez was on the upswing and many of his numbers were beginning to turn around.
For the Blue Jays to suddenly turn around and say that they prefer to have Sanchez as a reliever, the need for help in the bullpen must be so much greater that they’re willing to move an impact arm out of their rotation and into the bullpen to fulfill that immediate need.
The Jays Don’t Even Need a Fifth Starter for a While
Thanks to @BlueJays_Stats for throwing out the most logical of reasons as to why the Blue Jays are moving Sanchez back into the bullpen; simply because they don’t need a fifth starter for a few weeks.
If my math is correct, if Doubront starts Wednesday, with another off day on the 27th, they don’t need a SP for that spot until August 1st.
— Blue Jays Stats (@Blue_JaysStats) July 19, 2015
Indications are that Sanchez will officially come off the disabled list later this week, and if that’s the case, it might be better to stash him in the bullpen and get him some work in relief rather than just sit on the bench until next Saturday.
When that fifth starter’s turn does arise in the next few weeks, it could just be Felix Doubront making his regular turn. Or perhaps a guy like Daniel Norris gets another shot at reclaiming his spot in the starting rotation.
This is a very remote possibility, but there’s another long shot candidate out there that could be earmarked to take Sanchez’ place (you know who).
The Jays Think Sanchez Isn’t Rotation-Ready
After his first rehab outing in Buffalo late last week, Aaron Sanchez declared he was ready to rejoin the Blue Jays. However, his coaches and the front office clearly think otherwise. Sanchez still has to make another rehab stint in Buffalo this week before he’s eligible to come off the DL.
It’s entirely possible that the club wasn’t pleased with Aaron Sanchez’ progress in the minor leagues and would prefer to see him in short stints out of the bullpen rather than go through the process of slowly stretching him back out into a starter.
They’re Limiting Aaron Sanchez’ Innings
This kind of plays into the previous one above; considering that Aaron Sanchez is still just 23 years old and he has yet to throw more than 130 innings in a season, the Jays could be looking to limit his innings in 2015.
After tossing 66 innings and experiencing a lat strain that’s sidelined him for over 6 weeks, keeping Sanchez’ innings down may not actually be a bad idea. Just last week, I wondered if there was cause for concern with Sanchez and this move certainly hints at it.
They Don’t Want to Lose Felix Doubront on Waivers
Admittedly, this is the most far-fetched of all the aforementioned reasons for the Sanchez move. The fifth starter on the Blue Jays has essentially been a revolving door since day one, and Felix Doubront was just the latest in the long line of replacement level starters.
It’s not like Doubront has pitched that well for the Jays that they can justify keeping him in the starting rotation over Aaron Sanchez. But Doubront was originally slated to be Wednesday’s starter anyway, and Sanchez wouldn’t be ready in time to take his spot.
In years past, Alex Anthopoulos has been guilty of being afraid to lose players without options, and I would sincerely hope that the front office doesn’t think that Doubront projects to be in the starting rotation anything beyond a few more starts.
Image via Darren CalabreseThe Canadian Press via AP