In a perfect world, the Toronto Blue Jays wouldn’t have to worry about moving one of their best starting pitchers into the bullpen. Ideally, that pitcher would be allow to finish out the season and accumulate as much experience and innings as possible.
But this is not a perfect world. There are many things to consider when protecting the young arm of someone like Aaron Sanchez. Workload is something that’s taken into account and will determine when not if Sanchez moves from the starting rotation to the bullpen.
None of this should really come as a surprise. Sanchez logged 100 innings total last season (regular and postseason combined), and as he is quickly approaching the 100 inning mark this season, it has many wondering what Sanchez’ innings limit might be.
Aaron Sanchez is averaging about 6.1 innings per start, which left in check, would see him accumulate somewhere in the neighbourhood of 180 innings. I’m not saying Sanchez can’t handle the increased workload, but too much of a spike may have drastic effects in the future.
The topic of Aaron Sanchez’ eventual move to the bullpen is nothing new. Just over two weeks ago, John Gibbons spoke to MLB Network’s High Heat, and when asked if Aaron Sanchez would stay in the starting rotation, Gibby responded: “I guarantee that’s not going to happen.”
John Gibbons reiterated that point a few days ago to Buster Olney on the Baseball Tonight podcast, telling Olney: “It’s gonna happen“.
Dave makes an excellent point here; maybe the Blue Jays (through John Gibbons) were just trying to diffuse this situation before it reaches a Stephen Strasburg-like level.
I have no evidence for this, but it feels like Gibbons is jumping on a grenade re: this "Sanchez will go to the bullpen" thing.
— Dave Church (@dave_church) June 15, 2016
So, if the high performance department comes to him and says "we're moving Sanchez for his health", he has to sell that to the media/fans.
— Dave Church (@dave_church) June 15, 2016
Whether it was by upper management, the Blue Jays’ new high performance team, or the coaching staff, this situation with Aaron Sanchez is something that’s clearly been discussed at length by the Blue Jays organization. They’re fully prepared to make this move when the time comes … which appears to be sooner rather than later.
If the Blue Jays were playing this season in a vacuum, then the logical move would be to keep Aaron Sanchez in the starting rotation as long as possible. But they have to think about protecting his arm for many years to come, as he’s arguably one of the organization’s most promising pitchers.
Normally, I’d say that Sanchez provides so much more value out of the starting rotation and it only stands to benefit the Blue Jays by keeping him in the starting rotation. But not only do they have the future of Sanchez to think about, they also have to remain a competitive team at the same time.
I’d much rather the Blue Jays at least have the ability to use Sanchez out of the bullpen late in the season and in the playoffs rather than not being able to use him at all. I’d hate to see Sanchez shut down in early September and not be able to pitch the remainder of the season.
In no way does this really stunt his development; it’s just a method to slowly throttle down Sanchez’ innings, while at the same time, having the ability to use him out of the bullpen as a late inning reliever.
Last July, upon Aaron Sanchez’ return from the disabled list, the Blue Jays announced he would return to the team as a reliever and not a starter. The news caught a lot of people off guard (myself included) because Sanchez had fared so well as a starter just prior to his DL stint.
That may have been the Blue Jays’ plan all along, as they promptly filled that hole in the starting rotation by acquiring David Price. Moving Aaron Sanchez to the bullpen allowed them to have the best of both worlds; a shutdown reliever in Sanchez and a rotation upgrade in Price.
The Blue Jays may not have a blockbuster acquisition under their sleeve the calibre of David Price, but perhaps they also didn’t anticipate Aaron Sanchez to perform this well and have this many innings under his belt in mid-June.
Regardless of how well the Blue Jays are playing, I think this was the plan all along for Aaron Sanchez all along. It just turns out the Blue Jays were much more transparent about it this year than last year.
Image via Getty Images SportTom Szczerbowski