Acquired by the Blue Jays on Friday, the versatility of Jesse Chavez makes him the Marco Estrada of 2016
The trade that brought starting pitcher Jesse Chavez to the Blue Jays in exchange for Liam Hendriks has brought about some mixed reviews, but the club has positioned themselves better for 2016 by addressing their greatest area of need. While Marco Estrada set the bar extremely high with his 2015 performance, his role entering the season should be similar to what we see with Chavez this coming spring.
Estrada entered last spring battling with Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris for a spot in the rotation, but after being slowed by an injury, fell just short of the fifth job and opened the season in the bullpen where he would make six appearances. His versatility allowed him to stay as a pivot point on Toronto’s roster before shocking the league with a breakout season following the demotion of Norris.
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That is what Toronto gains from this Chavez deal. Over the past three seasons in Oakland, Chavez has started 47 games while making 50 relief appearances. He’s by no means a shutdown relief option like Hendriks may have been, with a 5.02 career bullpen ERA that’s inflated by struggles earlier in his career, but he has the ability to chew up innings ahead of the back-end arms if needed.
It’s overwhelmingly likely that Chavez opens the season in the rotation, but regardless, it’s important to remain aware of his versatility and the added possibilites it brings along with it. This would enter the conversation more prominently if the Blue Jays are able to pull the trigger on a starting pitcher more talented than Chavez, because with a bullpen move out of the picture with R.A. Dickey, it would push Chavez to the bottom of the rotation and into a potential competition.
Drew Hutchison‘s 2015 performance left a sour taste, but he was a hot breakout candidate entering the year for a reason. The door is still cracked open to Roberto Osuna starting, and wide open to Aaron Sanchez starting, which could again leave Chavez in a role similar to Estrada one year prior. Fighting off the kids for a final rotation spot with a long-man role in the bullpen as a consolation prize.
At this point, any MLB-level starting pitcher added by the Blue Jays holds significant value due to the non-existent depth past the names just mentioned. The average season will see an MLB team reach well beyond their expected rotation for spot starts from the likes of Matt Boyd and Felix Doubront, so an addition like Chavez means the “next man up” will be a stronger option when needed. The Blue Jays were also relatively fortunate on the injury front outside of Marcus Stroman in 2015, so it’s key to have depth that is capable of plugging more than a one-game hole.
Essentially, this move raises the net floor of the Blue Jays pitching staff. Replacing Hendriks will be difficult, but if there’s one position where a savvy organization can strike gold in a cost-effective manner, it’s the bullpen. The $4.7 million salary that Chavez is expected to earn isn’t cheap, but if you take that money to the free agent market, it’s unlikely you’re able to sign a versatile veteran coming off a 2.3 WAR season.