This was just four days ago that Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said that Aaron Sanchez would be headed to the bullpen as a way to limit the amount of innings the right-hander would throw this year. That’s not happening anymore.
We are far removed from the era in which we saw pitchers like Nolan Ryan AVERAGE 232 innings for their entire career. Ryan was a freak of nature, and should never be used as a point of reference as to why pitchers should throw more innings in a season, just because they technically can. Sanchez just turned 24 a month ago, a former first-round pick in the 2010 MLB draft, and was rated as the No. 25 prospect in baseball coming into the 2015 season by Baseball Prospectus. Moral of the story, the Blue Jays want to protect this guy. He’s never thrown more than 100.1 innings at the professional level, and he’s up to 139.1 innings right now in the first week of August.
The original plan, as I mentioned, was to put Sanchez in the bullpen as a means to limit his innings. Toronto figured that the bullpen would be a more logical solution to Sanchez’s innings problem, rather than go the Stephen Strasburg route by shutting Sanchez down for the year, once he inevitably gets to around the 160-inning mark. This, of course, is what the Nationals did with Strasburg during his age-23 season in 2012, resulting in Washington getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
In the case of the Nationals and Strasburg in 2012, it was a big deal, but it wasn’t a crippling decision, given that Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann were both top 10 in the MLB in ERA that year. The line of thinking was that the team could absorb the blow that the loss of Strasburg would be, whereas Toronto does not have that luxury. At least, I don’t think they do.
Sanchez is the best starter they have. He’s the best starter that almost any American League team could have, actually. He’s the league leader in ERA coming into today (2.71). Not that the rest of Toronto’s rotation is garbage, though. Marco Estrada is sporting an ERA of 2.92, while JA Happ has been a pleasant surprise, going 15-3 with a 3.09 ERA. But the point is, I’ve gotta believe the Blue Jays’ time to win is now.
Sure, you have young pitchers like Marcus Stroman, and Sanchez, along with the reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson under team control through 2018, but Jose Bautista, who they’ll probably re-sign, is declining, and I highly doubt they’re going to re-sign Edwin Encarnacion. They need to win this year. And they knew they weren’t going to be able to do that if they put their best starting pitcher in the bullpen over the two most important months of the season, especially when they’re in a division race in which they’re tied for first with one team, and only have a two-game lead over a second team.
At the trade deadline, the Blue Jays acquired left-hander Francisco Liriano, who is having his worst season in four years by a pretty large margin. Liriano had 5.46 ERA and a league-leading 69 walks (nice) with the Pittsburgh Pirates, before coming back to the American League for the first time since 2012. The plan, for now, is to operate with a six-man rotation of Estrada, Sanchez, Happ, the forgotten man RA Dickey, Stroman and Liriano.
I guess, if you’re the Blue Jays, you’re not really looking at Liriano’s numbers. You just wanted a warm body who could give you innings, because the innings that Liriano eats for you down the stretch are innings that are not being added to Sanchez’s season total, and that’s the goal here.