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The broken logic of the Aaron Sanchez bullpen argument

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Mar 18, 2016; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) pitches against the Houston Astros during the first inning at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2016; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) pitches against the Houston Astros during the first inning at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Blue Jays upcoming decision on Aaron Sanchez has benefits on both sides, but the leading argument to move him to the bullpen isn’t lining up

Aaron Sanchez versus Gavin Floyd. Sanchez versus Sanchez. Sanchez versus the organizational philosophy on building a young pitcher’s innings.

The last one isn’t as catchy, but it may be the 23-year-old’s greatest obstacle as he looks to earn the fifth spot in Toronto’s starting rotation. Again.

Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro has made several media appearances in recent days, most notably on The Fan 590’s Jeff Blair Show where, reading between the lines, he seemed to be tilted towards Gavin Floyd earning that starting role.

His standout argument, as it’s something that Sanchez cannot change, is the fact that the young right-hander has not pitched more than 130 innings in one season.

This is a fine argument from a developmental standpoint, but if this logic is used to relegate Sanchez to a bullpen role for the majority (or all) of the 2016 season, it is flawed. Is this not like saying “I’ll go on vacation next year when I have more money,” then asking for a pay cut?

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Sanchez’s career-high workload came back in 2014, where he rose from double-A New Hampshire through triple-A Buffalo and landed with the Major League club at year’s end. He didn’t exactly force his way up the ladder, but that’s another issue for another day. In total, he threw 133.1 innings over 46 games.

In an ideal world, Sanchez would have stepped up from that number even slightly last season, perhaps to the 150-to-160 range. This would have allowed Sanchez to conceivably chase 200 innings this year as a member of the starting rotation, especially with his added bulk.

Instead, between the rotation, bullpen, and a rehab stint, Sanchez threw 102.1 regular season innings with another 7.1 in the playoffs (109.2 total). This leaves him in a middle ground for young pitchers. Not quite stretched out enough to be handed 32 starts with a great level of certainty, but not exactly a 60-inning bullpen gas can, either.

Here is where the trouble with this logic enters. If Sanchez is held back from the rotation due to the fact that he hasn’t topped that much-discussed 130-inning plateau, how will that change next year? Even in a multi-inning role with the odd spot start, Sanchez could fall close to that 100-inning number from last year, producing the exact same conversation in March of 2016.

And so, time would march on with the annual tradition of debating Sanchez’s role.

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This is not to say, however, that the Blue Jays are in any way married to that logic. It is, besides, one quote extrapolated from one conversation, and could be a ‘friendlier’ way of saying that the Blue Jays are looking to max out their 12-man pitching staff as part of a “win now” season. Especially given the uncertain contract statuses of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

Perhaps this also leaves the door cracked open to Sanchez starting with the Buffalo Bisons and remaining stretched out. That possibility seems unlikely, however, given that both Shapiro and manager John Gibbons have discussed the potential advantages of having four back-end bullpen arms in Sanchez, Brett Cecil, Drew Storen, and Roberto Osuna.

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