Blue Jays: Reflecting on a significant decision

Sep 3, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) looks on from the dugout during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 3, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) looks on from the dugout during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Last year at this time, we didn’t know if Aaron Sanchez would be used in the rotation, or return to his post at the back end of the bullpen. There were solid arguments on either side at the time, but thankfully for the Blue Jays and the young starter, the right decision was made.

The “What if” game in baseball is a slippery slope, especially when it comes to prospects. For every success story there are dozens of heartbreaks, and plenty of once-promising draft picks that leave the game asking themselves, “what if?”

In the case of Aaron Sanchez, the Blue Jays have plenty of “what if” scenarios that could have played out in his young career, and so far things have worked out swimmingly. At this time last year, the Blue Jays’ brass was debating whether the bullpen could handle his absence, or whether it was time to try him in the rotation again. Fortunately for all of us, Sanchez began the year as a starter and never looked back.

Gavin Floyd was the other serious rotation candidate, and he looked good in the spring and into the regular season, before succumbing to injury in May. It wasn’t until the final weeks of spring training that the Blue Jays admitted Sanchez had forced their hand, as he cut through the competition in a fierce manner, silently demanding to be placed in the rotation with his performance.

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Once he earned the job, it still looked like he’d end up in the bullpen at some point in 2016. For those who’ve forgotten, the initial thought was once he’d neared or reached his innings limit, he could be moved to the bullpen in order to save his arm, and strengthen the pen for the stretch run. When his performance as a starter was so dominant in the first half, Sanchez forced the club’s hand once again, as they creatively juggled his routine in order to “save some bullets” for the playoffs.

At one point, the rotation even featured 6 starters for awhile, when Francisco Liriano joined the team at the deadline, and an otherwise healthy starting 5. Instead of moving Liriano to the ‘pen, the addition allowed Sanchez to stretch his innings further, and afforded others a break, like Marco Estrada and his ailing back. The results were debatable, but the Blue Jays ultimately returned to the playoffs and Sanchez was able to pitch, so it’s hard to say it was a failure.

Looking beyond the “what ifs” of 2016 for Sanchez, there were plenty of teams who called about him as a trade piece. While many fans will lament the loss of Noah Syndergaard to the Mets prior to the 2015 (and justifiably so), that trade could have been a lot worse for the Blue Jays.

Thanks to Sportsnet 590’s Rob Wong for the fantastic tweet above.

With every trade there are going to be all kinds of reports floating through the media, but one of the rumours was the Mets were looking for TWO of Syndergaard, Sanchez, and Marcus Stroman. Obviously that didn’t come to fruition, but imagine if the Jays had given up Sanchez AND “Thor” in that trade? R.A. Dickey already faces unfair criticism from plenty of Blue Jays fans, mostly based on what the team gave up in order to get him. Imagine if it was a double whammy.

The Mets weren’t the only team to ask about Sanchez in trade packages either, which leads us back to the “what if” game, and the dangerous slope that comes with it. For every, “Did you know the Blue Jays once drafted Kris Bryant??”, (it’s true), there’s a “I can’t believe we got Jose Bautista for Robinzon Diaz“. What if Kris Bryant had joined the Blue Jays farm system? If he had, would Alex Anthopoulos have traded for Josh Donaldson? Probably not. See what I mean about the slippery slope?

Which is why in Aaron Sanchez’s case, it’s nice to finally have the “what ifs” be all negative, for once. He’s a budding ace who is doing exactly what he should be, leading a talented staff and looking for a 3rd straight trip to the postseason.

Next: Blue Jays' Stroman dominates Bautista & Dominican Republic

If his 15-2 and AL leading 3.00 ERA were the results of a innings-restricted season as a first year starter, the “what if” questions are all forged around the ceiling of the California native. That’s a lot more to think about than some of the other choices.