Decisions on the Horizon about the Blue Jays Rotation and Outfield

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Well we’ve had another week of Blue Jays baseball to watch and to use to convince ourselves that the strengths of the Jays outweigh their weaknesses. Could the unconventional rotation consisting of a knuckleballer, a slopballer, and two rookies succeed? Will the gamble on rookie relievers pay off? Will the offence be pretty good, great, or amazing (my homer side may have showed with that last bit)? The homestand provided good and bad signs pertaining to all of these questions. Devon Travis has been stellar and is leading all AL second baseman and rookies in every major offensive category. Kevin Pillar has continued to make jaw dropping catches in left field, making it easier for everyone to be okay with the fact that Melky Cabrera is taking $14 Million from another team’s bank account. Pompey recovered from a rough skid to show signs of life and get his offensive numbers up into non-terrible territory (.215/.292/.385). Josh Donaldson has been the player that everyone had hoped they were getting in that Oakland trade as he hit 4 homeruns on the homestand including this walk-off bomb. Drew Hutchison threw a gem against the Orioles after two clunker starts against the same Orioles and the Braves. All of this on top of Russ Martin’s gains at the plate and the emergence of Liam Hendricks in the pen along with the continuing success of the 20 year old relievers.

It wasn’t all rosy though. Bautista and Edwin are hitting .149 and .191 respectively despite their decent power numbers. Also, the rotation’s issues have continued with RA Dickey getting off to his usual bad start. Daniel Norris is experiencing “dead arm” and hasn’t been able to go deep into ball games except for his last one (let’s hope its the start of something). Then there’s Aaron Sanchez, who’s spot in the rotation is getting a lot of attention from the media and the fan base after his command issues.

Let’s talk about Sanchez. Calling him erratic would be an understatement. He currently has a whip of 1.86 and he’s walked 12 in 14 innings. He seemingly alternates every inning between being unhittable with excellent pitch location and being unable to throw a pitch within a foot of the zone. In his last start, he walked seven batters and gave up two hits. It’s like Sanchez is the product of a lab experiment where Roy Halladay and Josh Towers were spliced into a single pitcher. His tantalizing potential and phenomenal stint last year (the one bright spot of last August) have convinced many to think that he should be given a longer leash. However, his lack of command this year and in the minors have many calling for his demotion to AAA Buffalo or to the pen. The question is how many more starts should they give him to show that he could succeed this year in the Show? Also, who would replace him in the five spot of the rotation?

I believe that he deserves at least 3 more starts to get everything together. The reason for this opinion has as much to do with Sanchez as it has to do with the Jay’s starting pitching depth in general. Simply speaking, they haven’t got much. After trading away JA Happ, Kendall Graveman, and Sean Nolin, the Jays are left pretty bare in the hurler department. After Sanchez, next on the depth chart is Marco Estrada who has had major league success including an ERA under 4.00 in 2012 and 2013 with the Brewers, but has performed better lately in a reliever’s role. Last year, as a starter, he lead the league in homeruns surrendered (29!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and now he pitches at a place where the ball flies out with ease. Also, his “stuff” and overall ceiling are lower than Sanchez’s. Todd Redmond, who was also an option to spot start, has performed badly and was designated for assignment earlier. Jeff Francis is doing alright as a mop-up guy in the pen and pushing him into the rotation at this stage in his career seems like a poor idea. How about Roberto Osuna in the rotation? It’s an interesting idea based on his fantastic performance so far this season, but he’s coming off Tommy John surgery and it appears highly unlikely that he’s going to be allowed to pitch the number of innings that he would need to pitch if he were to be a starter. Also, the thin relief core would be even thinner.

Another name that has been knocked around lately is Scott Copeland. He’s a groundball machine and has had a good start with the Bisons posting an ERA of 0.90 in 20 innings this season. That’s pretty damn good but he’s a 27 year old who has no major league experience. Overall, it’s most likely that he or Estrada would take the reins from Sanchez if he is taken out of the rotation by management. Given these unspectacular choices and Sanchez’s enormous potential for this year and beyond, I’d be really reluctant to make a change until he’s been given many, many shots. After all, the question isn’t “how good is Sanchez?” It’s actually “how good is Sanchez relative to his replacement?”

In addition to the rotation’s management, there is also genuine curiosity as to what will be made of the outfield when both Saunders comes off the disabled list (knee meniscus tear after sprinkler incident) and when Bautista returns to the field (shoulder strain making stupid throw). Wow, those are some very Toronto-like bullshit injuries. Anyway…not to use a cliché, but this is a good problem to have. Pillar has performed well so far and Pompey has been solid too. This gives the Jays four outfielders who feel that they are everyday players. Four outfielders is (ok let me do the math…) one more outfielder than can play at any given time.

The Jays can do a bunch of different things but I think the most likely scenario is that pillar becomes the fourth outfielder despite his positive start. The Jays like Saunders and he’s there to be their everyday left fielder. Pompey is seen as a high ceiling prospect within the organization and they will want to give him regular at bats to make sure he has the best chance to blossom into something special. Also, Pillar is a guy who was never figured to hold a big league job for long, certainly not as an everyday guy. Furthermore, despite his strong start, his numbers are starting to lose their early season polish as he’s posting an OPS of just .615 and a minuscule walk rate of 2.8%. His defensive numbers are still golden though as he’s leading baseball with 7 DRS (defensive runs saved). Pompey is actually outplaying Pillar with an OPS of .676 and he’s been getting on base more often. It’s true though that even if this scenario occurs, Pillar will still find his way into the lineup. They could put him in center against lefties to give Pompey a rest here and there. Also, Bautista is 34, Saunders can’t stay healthy, and the turf is turf, so I can see Pillar getting some of their starts as well. Now that Steve Tolleson is gone, this seems like the way things should/will shake out.

The Jays are in an interesting place with a few of their players so AA and Gibby will have some tough decisions to make in the coming days. Let’s all hope that they make the right ones.

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