Blue Jays manager John Gibbons suggested two of Toronto’s bullpen arms as candidates for the club’s next depth option behind Drew Hutchison
The Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation kept the team afloat for over two months, often single-handedly maintaining the near-.500 record with little help from the bats.
Health has been a key factor in that. Outside of a Drew Hutchison spot start, the Blue Jays have been able to roll their original starting five with Marco Estrada starting 16 games and the others starting 17 apiece. All five have topped the 100-inning mark already and the Blue Jays starters lead all of baseball with 540.2 innings pitched.
Assuming that will continue is to expect an extreme outlier from the norm. Not impossible, of course, but not likely either. Beyond Hutchison, the Jays are looking at a rather thin group of starters in their upper-minors with the recent departures of Wade LeBlanc (trade) and Roberto Hernandez (release).
The need for this spot will depend primarily on two known factors: the health of Estrada and the plan with Aaron Sanchez. Estrada recently had a cortisone shot, similar to earlier in the season, and could be ready to make his next start.
“I still feel it a little bit,” he told MLB.com, “but this is basically what I felt the last time we had the cortisone shot done. It took a few days for it to really kick in. So I’m hoping the same thing happens, because I felt pretty good after a few days.”
Then there are the unknown factors. Injuries do not warn teams of their arrival a week in advance, and it’s common for MLB teams to require 9+ starters in a season.
Chavez worked as a starter for the majority of the past two seasons with Oakland, making 47 starts in 62 appearances with a 3.83 ERA. He’s run into problems maintaining his velocity and performance through full seasons as a starter, though, and has developed into a legitimate bullpen piece for the Blue Jays in 2016. The second half of June was unkind to Chavez, but he gave Toronto three innings of perfect relief in Canada Day’s 19-inning marathon.
Biagini came up as a starter in the Giants rotation, topping out at double-A Richmond last season with a 2.42 ERA over 22 starts. He’s tossed around 130 innings in each of the last two seasons and has the build to handle a starting role, but again, moving one of Chavez or Biagini into a starting role in an emergency role creates another hole in their bullpen spot.
It’s also a difficult move to make if a rotation piece is needed immediately (for an injury). Without an opportunity to stretch out fully, that would force Biagini or Chavez to tax the bullpen with some short initial starts.
In a pinch, if only one start is needed, one could piggyback the other to give the Blue Jays six-to-seven frames in an ideal scenario.
The variables here are clunky. Chavez and Biagini involve some moving parts, and while having them as starting options is a very valuable piece of roster flexibility, trusted bullpen options are not lining up behind them.
Adding a seventh starter behind Hutchison, a full-time starter who’s being working as a starter, is the easiest road to a deeper rotation.