Blue Jays: The case against Biagini as a starter

Apr 8, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Joe Biagini (31) and catcher Russell Martin (55) talk during the eighth inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Joe Biagini (31) and catcher Russell Martin (55) talk during the eighth inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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With the injuries piling up to the Blue Jays’ rotation, there are many folks calling for Joe Biagini to be stretched out and utilized as a starter.

The Blue Jays entered the season with one of the more enviable 5-man rotations in baseball, but unfortunately the injury bug has bit them early and often in 2017. J.A. Happ won’t be available for awhile yet, and there are no definite answers on when Aaron Sanchez will be able to re-join the rotation either. To make matters worse, Marcus Stroman left the game against the Yankees with reported “tightness in his armpit”.

Mat Latos and Casey Lawrence have been the replacement starters for Happ and Sanchez thus far, and it’s hard to say if the club will look to either pitcher as an answer going forward. What started out as a great strength for the club has quickly become a potential gaping hole.

Because of everything’s that taken place with the starters, there are several baseball pundits suggesting that Joe Biagini may be stretched out and moved into the rotation. Using him as a starter was discussing during the spring as well, but Biagini has thrived as a member of the Blue Jays bullpen since coming over last year as the Rule 5 pick.

Before we go any further, here’s what the Blue Jays’ rotation currently looks like:

1- Marco Estrada

2- Marcus Stroman (if he’s not hurt)

3- Francisco Liriano

4- Mat Latos (assuming he’s not DFA’d?)

5- ???

When you look at that, it’s not hard to understand why Biagini may be considered as an option. There’s an obvious need, he has starting experience throughout his minor league career, and has been an important arm since arriving in Toronto, so it’s possible this could extend that value even further.

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The problem is, the Blue Jays have also faced significant struggles with their bullpen this year, and Biagini has been one of the lone bright spots. The 26 year old has a 2.12 ERA through his first 17 innings this year, and has earned increased trust and opportunity from John Gibbons. Some of that is due to his performance, and part of it is the struggles of the other members of the bullpen, but there’s no debating Biagini’s importance, in one role or another.

It’s hard to imagine that the bullpen can afford to lend Biagini to the rotation, as they’re ranked 19th in bullpen ERA with a 4.78 mark, and that’s with the second year Jay’s contributions. John Gibbons will likely turn to Biagini more frequently in the set-up role as well, as least for the time being, as Jason Grilli has struggled thus far in 2017.

In addition to the bullpen needing his talented arm, it may not be in the best interest of the pitcher to have him bouncing around in different roles within one season. Past pitchers such as Brandon Morrow have complained about not getting to maintain one routine and schedule, and by all accounts it’s not an ideal scenario to put a pitcher through. As Biagini’s role expands and his success continues, is messing with a good thing something the Jays can afford to risk?

The reality is that Sanchez will be back sooner than later, and Happ shouldn’t be terribly far behind him. By the time you’ve sent Biagini to the minors to get stretched out, he likely wouldn’t make more than a start or two before the rotation was back to full strength. This is obviously assuming that recoveries go well and Stroman’s injury isn’t anything serious.

Again, is this a situation where the Blue Jays shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken? They do need effective relievers after all, and Biagini has brought plenty of value in that role. They likely wouldn’t be able to use him as a starter for a couple weeks at the earliest, and again, he won’t be needed as a starter long, if at all if that’s the case.

Keeping these things in mind, I’d rather see Biagini continue to grow into the role as a late inning arm, and avoid having him yo-yo between the jobs in-season. I realize that doesn’t solve the situation in the rotation, but Biagini is proving to be a valuable asset, and you don’t use those as bandaids.

Next: Blue Jays released catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia

I’d potentially re-evaluate next year, but if it were up to me, I’d leave Joe Biagini right where he is.

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