Blue Jays’ rotation has a lot to be motivated about


Each member of the Blue Jays’ starting rotation has plenty of reason to be motivated this year. That’s almost always a good thing.

The Blue Jays have a few decisions to make about their 25 man roster to open the season, but one area in particular is pretty much locked down, assuming everyone stays healthy. With a projected starting rotation featuring J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, and Jaime Garcia, there is a great deal of potentia.

Of course, with any MLB roster there is always the potential for disappointment as well, and that was largely the case for most of this group last season. With the exception of Marcus Stroman’s excellent 2017 campaign, you could argue that the other four all underperformed, to varying degrees.

Sanchez missed all but just eight starts, after leading the American League in ERA in 2016. Estrada had an absolutely brutal stretch in the summer, but pitched well enough down the stretch to convince the Blue Jays that he had figured things out. Happ spent over a month on the DL but was solid otherwise, and Garcia bounced between the Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, and the New York Yankees, finishing with an ERA of 4.41.

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For the reasons described above, each player has plenty of motivation to put their best foot this season, but that’s hardly all that should be pushing them to achieve their absolute best.

Starting with Estrada, the 34 year old was brought back on a one year, 13 million dollar contract, as both parties were interested in a short term deal. For the Blue Jays, it’s a calculated risk in that if Estrada can’t pitch anywhere close to the form that made him an All-Star in 2016, his contract will be up at the end of the year. If things go well, then he’s a solid starter at a reasonable cost. The change-up artist will be a free agent at the end of the season, and his performance will go a long way to determining not only his future earnings, but potentially also the length of his career.

Happ will also be a free agent, and he’ll look to perform the way he has since arriving in Toronto for his second go around. Despite making just 25 starts last season, he still earned 3.6 bWAR and finished with a 3.53 ERA. After winning 20 games in 2016 after going 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA, he could command a pretty solid salary for what will likely be his last contract. At 35 he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down when he’s healthy, so he’ll look to prove he can keep up the pace this year before hitting the open market.

Garcia was signed this offseason to a one year, eight million dollar contract with a club option for 2019. The 31 year old was a budding ace with the Cardinals earlier in his career before some injury issues, but has been mostly healthy in recent years. If he can pitch closer to his 3.69 career ERA than the 4.41 mark he posted last year, not only will the Blue Jays want to bring him back (they might either way), but he’ll be setting himself up nicely for the future as well.

With Aaron Sanchez the situation boils down to whether or not he can stay on the field. Watching him on the mound this spring, he looks like the frontline starter he became in 2016, and it’s hard to imagine he won’t perform well if he can avoid the fingernail/blister/tendon issues he had last season. Things have gone well so far for the 25 year old, and the hope is that he can put the nagging issues behind him, or at least get a better handle on them anyway.

Last but not least is Stroman, who was the top performer of the group in 2017 as I mentioned earlier in the article. He may have less to “prove” in this one particular season, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have any difficulty finding things to drive him. The former first round pick will look to continue to prove his doubters wrong, to earn his first All-Star appearance, and continue to establish himself among the elite pitchers in the American League, among other things.

If that isn’t enough, I have a feeling he’ll be gunning to put his best foot forward in pursuit of a future contract. Whether that’s a third round of arbitration next offseason with the Blue Jays, or a possible extension to avoid that scenario and/or keep him around longer than the three years he has left before hitting free agency. Stroman has been on the losing end of arbitration hearings two years in a row, and you can be sure he doesn’t want that to happen again. The situation appears to be mended between the two parties for now, but it’s not ideal to go back to the arbitration table year after year.

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Add it all up, and each member of the rotation has extra reasons to push for their best beyond the usual motivators like competitiveness, pride, and accountability to their teammates. It may sound simple, but personal motivation is a huge professional sport, and hopefully the Blue Jays will stand to benefit from just that this season.