Blue Jays: Biagini’s struggles may alter offseason plans

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 27: Joe Biagini
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 27: Joe Biagini /

As things stand right now, the Blue Jays will have two openings in their rotation in 2018, as Marco Estrada is set to be a free agent. It’s expected that the Jays will give Joe Biagini an opportunity to win a spot, but what if he’s just not a starter?

With about five weeks left in the season, the Blue Jays have some time left to evaluate their club before they head into the offseason. After letting the trade deadline pass without any major trades (with all due respect to Francisco Liriano, and Joe Smith), the Blue Jays are set to return the majority of their current roster in 2018, with hopes that they can stay healthier and by extension, more productive.

One of the immediate needs the Blue Jays will have to address is their starting rotation, as they’re currently set to have two openings from their 2017 stable. Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez both have three years of control remaining, and J.A. Happ enters the last of his three year pact he signed before the 2016 season. After that, Marco Estrada is set to be a free agent, but there have been reports of mutual interest between him and the front office. His performance will be monitored closely as the calendar comes to a close.

The other starter who will be closely scouted is Joe Biagini, who returned to the big league club and made a start against the Minnesota Twins. Unfortunately it didn’t go all that well for the big right-hander, as the Twins touched him up for five earned runs on nine hits and three walks, lasting just 3.2 innings. He’s expected to remain in the rotation for the rest of the year, mostly so the front office can get an extended look at him as a starter.

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The former Rule 5 pick has been an effective reliever since coming to Toronto, but he’s struggled to find much success since his first half dozen starts earlier this year. He had a promising start in the role, but things haven’t gone all that well since then.

As a reliever he’s posted a 4.26 ERA, and if not for a couple bad outings his numbers would look quite good, as they did in 2016 when he was an unexpected asset. As a starter, he’s now sporting  mark over 6.00 in 12 starts, and just hasn’t looked like the same pitcher.

My colleague here at Jays Journal, Clayton Richer, wrote an article just yesterday about how he believes the experiment with Biagini as a starter needs to end, and I wouldn’t exactly argue with him. However, if they 27 year old can’t hold down the spot, who will?

*Note- Starter’s numbers do not reflect Biagini’s outing on Sunday*

First things first, the Blue Jays will need to either re-sign or replace Estrada, or else they’re looking at two spots they’ll need to fill. Biagini may very well earn a spot out of spring training, but the front office would be well served to at least have some serviceable depth ready in case his struggles in the role continue next year. They do have some talent in the minor league system, but there aren’t a ton of pitchers that are major league ready enough to plug into the rotation. Someone like Chris Rowley is a possibility, but for a team with designs on competing next year, it’s probably best if Rowley and the others get more seasoning and serve as depth.

If Biagini struggles in September, there will be extra pressure on the front office to bring back Estrada, or at least find someone who could bring similar value to the fold. That pressure exists anyway, but knowing that Biagini is no guarantee certainly adds some interesting variables for Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro.

Hopefully he can provide some better performances down the stretch and boost the club’s confidence in him as a starter going into the offseason. If not, it may be best to move on from the idea and utilize his talents in the bullpen, while also planning to find another option. It would be easiest if he could take his pre-arbitration salary and fill one of those spots in the rotation, but it would also be a shame to force the issue and waste a bullpen talent.

For now, he’ll get his opportunity to show what he’s got in September, and you can bet there will be extra interest in his starts.

Next: Is it time for the Blue Jays to shift gears?