Bullpen Opinion

Closing the Book on Roberto Osuna as a Starter

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At the age of 21, Roberto Osuna‘s career as an elite reliever may be just beginning, but his career as a starter has come to an end … for now, at least.

In his end-of-season press conference with the Toronto media yesterday afternoon, Ross Atkins addressed which Blue Jays pitchers may or may \not be stretched out as starters next season. Roberto Osuna was not among them.

Although there has been some talk in recent years about converting Osuna back into a starting pitcher, it sounds like the organization has moved on from that game plan in the interim.


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Ordinarily, most would strongly advise against closing the book on a young pitcher as a starter. Young, cost-controllable starting pitchers are among some of the most coveted commodities in baseball. To say that a 21-year-old is “done” as a starter could be construed as a failure.

But the bullpen is inherently a hub for failed starters. I can’t recall a Major League pitcher that spend their entire career exclusively as a reliever.

Roberto Osuna may be the exception to the rule.

When a young pitcher is impressive as Roberto Osuna has been out the bullpen, the temptation is to add another pitch to their repertoire, develop it, and try to maximize that asset as a starting pitcher. Case in point: Aaron Sanchez.

There’s a lot of parallels between Sanchez and Osuna. How many people saw what Aaron Sanchez did as a reliever in 2014 and 205 and wanted him in bullpen this past year? There certainly wasn’t a consensus among the front office, but luckily Sanchez pitched so well in Spring Training, that he made their decision for them.

You would hate to see the Blue Jays give up on trying Roberto Osuna as a starter because he’s barely gotten an opportunity to start in the minors. Osuna only has 27 career starts in the Blue Jays farm system; hardly the body of work to sufficiently say he had a promising future as a starting pitcher.

Don’t forget that at age 18, Roberto Osuna underwent Tommy John surgery. TJ is fairly commonplace for pitchers these days, but that can be scary for a teenager with their entire career ahead of them to suddenly undergo major elbow surgery.

One wonders whether his arm would hold up over the rigors of a starter’s workload anyway. Osuna has tallied 161 innings these past two seasons combined (including postseason innings).


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Here’s the thing; Roberto Osuna wants to be a reliever. He wants to close. If he isn’t going to be a starting pitcher or the “ace” of this ball club, at least he can be the rock star closer of the Blue Jays.

More often than not, pitchers have to be talked into being converted from a starter into a reliever. In the case of Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays would have to talk him out of a role that he relishes.

In an industry where starting pitchers get paid the big bucks, Osuna content being a back-end of the bullpen guy. As his rate, he’s on track to hit free agency in 2021 at only 26 years old. And if Roberto Osuna continues at this pace, he’ll be paid handsomely as a reliever.

He’d make a lot more as a starter, but as Osuna continues to bank saves as a reliever, that will only benefit his cause as he enters arbitration in 2018.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”18″]Roberto Osuna wants to be a reliever. He wants to close. If he isn’t going to be a starting pitcher or the “ace” of this ball club, at least he can be the rock star closer of the Blue Jays.[/perfectpullquote]

If the last two seasons are any indication, we already know Roberto Osuna is a good reliever. We don’t know if he’d make a great starter. At this point, you wonder if it might be detrimental to Osuna’s development to flip back and forth between starter and reliever.


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I’m not saying the Blue Jays should once-and-for-all declare that Roberto Osuna will never start again. But considering the state of the Blue Jays’ starting rotation, the need for starters isn’t as dire as it once was.

Do the Blue Jays jeopardize what they have going with Roberto Osuna to make him the sixth or seventh guy on the starting depth chart? I really can’t foresee that happening, considering how entrenched Osuna has become as the Blue Jays’ best relief pitcher.

At the very least, the Blue Jays have five starting pitchers for 2017 and at least three starting pitchers for 2018. That doesn’t even include Joe Biagini as a starting candidate. If there isn’t a hole to fill, why mess with a good thing in having Roberto Osuna in the bullpen?

The Blue Jays still have Osuna under team control for four more seasons. A lot can change between now and 2020. The entire landscape of the Blue Jays’ pitching staff could look much different in the next few years.

However, with the emergence of Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman as starters and Roberto Osuna as a reliever, there’s the hope that at least those three will factor into the Blue Jays’ pitching plans for the foreseeable future.

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.


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