Blue Jays need a controllable fifth starting pitcher

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19: Aaron Sanchez
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19: Aaron Sanchez /

The Blue Jays should have a strong rotation next year, especially if they can enjoy better health. But what about 2018 and beyond?

The Blue Jays have plenty of offseason needs, including a replacement for Jose Bautista in right field, some middle infield depth, likely a back-up catcher, and the constant need for bullpen assistance. Then of course comes the question of who will be their fifth starter.

Assuming everyone is healthy and ready to go for spring training, the Blue Jays expect to sport a rotation of Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, and (fingers crossed) Aaron Sanchez. The fifth job in the rotation is seemingly up for grabs, and the front office has already indicated that they’ll look at options to upgrade the position for the 2018 season.

There are options in house as well, with the likes of Joe Biagini, Chris Rowley, and possibly Ryan Burocki, among others. However, none of those options feel like they’re clearly ready to take the spot, even Biagini, who made 18 starts in a season scattered between the rotation and the bullpen, and Toronto and Buffalo. It’s entirely possibly that either he or one of the others mentioned could hold down the fort, but if the Jays are serious about contending in 2018, they’ll need a lot more depth this time around. The rotation was an achilles heel in many ways this past season.

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It’s hard to say how the front office and ownership group see the short and long term future of the club, but I would argue that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro should have their eyes set on a controllable starter for their open spot. Not only is it important to shore up the group for next season, but things get even more interesting in 2019, when both Happ and Estrada will become free agents. If Sanchez can’t get back on track as a starter next year, that leaves Stroman from the group, and as talented as he is, you can’t build a rotation with one arm.

I’m not suggesting the Blue Jays should break the prospect bank and bring in an ace here, but someone who qualifies as a certifiable MLB starter would be a big boost now, and an even bigger one after the staff turns over a bit a year from now. It’s possible that one or both of Happ and Estrada stick around, but both men are in their mid-thirties and won’t be around forever, even if they stay beyond next year.



For these reasons it makes sense that the Blue Jays want to see Biagini succeed as a starter, but I don’t think anyone is confident that he’s fit for the role. I would argue that the best place for him is the bullpen, but if the club really wants him to start, then he would serve as solid depth in AAA, and hopefully have more time to work on his craft. We know he can be an effective reliever, but starting is a whole different animal.

Admittedly, I wrote about why the Blue Jays should bring back Brett Anderson not long ago, and while I still like the idea, my thoughts have changed quite a bit on the subject. Anderson is going to want to sign a “show me” deal at age 29, and hopefully re-establish his value. In addition, the idea of signing someone with a lengthy injury history like his to a multi-year deal, isn’t terribly smart either, even if I do like the pitcher a lot. Maybe a poor market brings him back to Toronto, but I’m not going to bank on it.

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To me, the right play is to find a solution that kills two birds with one stone, for 2018 and beyond. I could speculate on who that might be, but I’ll save that for another time. For now I’ll just say that I hope the front office has their sights on 2019 with that last rotation spot, almost as much for next season.