Blue Jays: Evolution of 2016 rotation
By Jim Scott
After the 2015 season, the Blue Jays’ starting rotation was looking very thin. David Price, Mark Buehrle and Marco Estrada were all free agents, and it was far from certain that Sanchez and Osuna were ready to step into their places (or if the team could afford to let them do so, given the impact that would have on the bullpen).
Depth was also an issue. In 2015, the Jays had ten starts (combined) from Felix Doubront, Scott Copeland, Todd Redmond and Matt Boyd. The Jays went 3-7 in those ten games. And Doubront, Redmond and Boyd will not even be returning in 2016.
So the front office went to work. In the five months from October to March, they filled the rotation with a combination of trades, major and minor league signings, and waiver pickups. I thought it would be interesting to look at the chronology of these moves, and to see what that chronology might tell us.
The positions within the rotation are obviously a question which can be debated. I think most people would accept Stroman as the “ace”, but almost any combination of Dickey/Estrada/Happ as numbers 2-4 could be defended. And of course the question of which of Chavez/Hutch/Sanchez/Floyd will take the 5th rotation spot – or even whether the Jays would consider going with a modified 6-man rotation – has yet to be determined.
One interesting point is the timing of the Chavez trade. The Jays have been criticized for dealing Liam Hendriks – a reliever with high potential and several years of team control – for Jesse Chavez, who will be a free agent in 2017. But a look at the timing of that trade makes it easier to understand.
The Jays had just signed Estrada, but had not signed Happ or any of Diamond/Penny/Hernandez/Floyd. They were (possibly?) still in the market for one of the big pitching names, but given the failed 5/$125m offer to Lester in 2014 they had every reason to not put all their eggs in the free agent basket. If the Jays had not done that trade, it is very possible that they would not do it now. But it is also possible that the acquisition of Chavez accelerated the Happ discussions, by showing Happ’s agent that the Jays had other options.
The Floyd signing is another transaction which has an interesting timing. Floyd received a major league contract for $1 million, with incentives. Had he signed in October, it would have made perfect sense. But by February, the Jays already had three pitchers fighting for the #5 spot, with Penny and Hernandez as wild cards. Was this a case of familiarity (as Floyd played for Shapiro and Atkins in Cleveland in 2015), additional backup at SP (Shapiro stated that he needed a minimum of 7-8 mlb-calibre starting pitchers), or do the Jays see 2016 Floyd in the same light as 2015 Hendriks?
And, as always, I am a big fan of the minor league contract. It is very hard for players like Diamond, Penny and Hernandez (and Soriano, Aardsma and Domonic Brown) to disappoint, as expectations are so low. But the upside is there. Hernandez (as Fausto) and Soriano were all-stars in 2010, and Brown was an all-star in 2013. If they can deliver even a fraction of that value at minor-league prices, they will be a steal.
The bottom line
Most prognosticators rank the Jays’ starting rotation as roughly #20 in baseball. But most of those ranking are based on the top-5 pitchers alone. I wonder how the Jays would look if a similar ranking were performed, but looking at the top 8 starters for each team? Because the Jays’ starting depth is now very much an asset, even if it is one that many writers underestimate.