Blue Jays: Bring on a Stroman vs. Sanchez competition in 2018

TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 5: Aaron Sanchez
TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 5: Aaron Sanchez /

In a season that could finally feature Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez both healthy and starting at the same time, bring on a friendly competition between the two for the title of staff ace.

Once upon a time the Blue Jays had arguably the best crop of minor league pitching in baseball. They had a dynamic group that included Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Daniel Norris, Justin Nicolino, Jeff HoffmanMiguel Castro, and many more in their minor league pipeline, which was the envy of many teams around baseball. I can fondly recall spirited debates about who the Blue Jays’ best pitching prospect was, and there were good arguments for a few of them.

We know how a lot of that ended up course, with Syndergaard ending up in New York in the infamous R.A. Dickey swap of 2013, Norris heading to Detroit in the David Price trade in 2015, and Hoffman and Castro ending up in Colorado in the Troy Tulowitzki trade. There were others too, like Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin, who went as part of the Josh Donaldson trade package, and more. The point is, there was a lot of elite pitching talent at one time.

As is the case with many minor leaguers, some careers have worked out much better than others, with “Thor” to the Mets being the only trade that could be considered a disaster, and that’s forgetting about the contribution Dickey made to the Blue Jays during his time in Toronto. While it may not have been Cy Young calibre, it wasn’t nothing.

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Back then I remember dreaming on a future rotation made up of these kids in much the same way many of us think about a future lineup with Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, Anthony Alford, and others now. I remember arguing with a couple friends about which of Stroman, Sanchez, or Syndergaard would end up as the future ace of the staff, or who could be spared in a possible trade, that hadn’t taken place yet at the time. Obviously the trades that did happen have kept that dream from becoming reality, but even the remaining pieces haven’t really worked as a unit all that much.

Take Sanchez and Stroman as the remaining duo, who have both developed into top of the rotation starters for the Blue Jays. In 2017 it was Sanchez who missed almost the entire year with fingernail, blister, and tendon issues on his pitching hand. Stroman missed almost all but four starts in his 2015 season, the year that Sanchez began his transition to the rotation.

They were both present in 2016, but I would argue that Stroman hadn’t come all the way back from the significant knee injury that took away his previous season. Sure, he’d managed to make it back to the team for the stretch run and the playoffs and  pitched well, but I truly believe his knee wasn’t quite ready for the grind the full season it was in for in 2016. Stroman finished that year with a 4.37 ERA in 32 starts, and made huge improvements from the first half to the second. After the All-Star break he had a 3.68 ERA, compared to the 4.89 mark he entered the break with.

If we’re talking about teaming up 2016 Aaron Sanchez with the Marcus Stroman of last season (or dare I say, maybe an improvement from one or both?), that’s a truly dynamic one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Have a look at their numbers, and imagine them doing this at the same time:

Stroman ’17:  13-9, 3.09 ERA, 201 IP, 1.308 WHIP, 5.9 bWAR

Sanchez ’16:   15-2, 3.00 ERA, 192 IP, 1.167 WHIP, 5.1 bWAR

Most big league rotations are lucky to have one guy perform at this level, and the Blue Jays are hoping that at long last they could have two of their homegrown pitchers starring in the same season. If that finally happens, the Jays are well positioned to battle against the likes of Chris Sale-David Price from the Red Sox, or Luis SeverinoMasahiro Tanaka from the Yankees.

It also has the potential to re-ignore a debate about who is the more valuable pitcher between the “Sanchize”, and the “Stro’ Show”. The answer to that question really shouldn’t matter as long as they’re both performing, but don’t kid yourself if you think it doesn’t matter to the talented Blue Jays starters. Every starter wants to be considered the staff ace, and these two have their sights set on great achievements like winning Cy Young awards, and being considered among the best in the game.

Being the best pitcher on your own team is generally a given for a Cy Young candidate, and if that drives the two former first round picks to outdo each other, then so be it. As long as the theoretical “competition” stays healthy between the teammates, it can only be seen as a positive thing to push each other into the best possible performance. We’ve watched that from successful rotation groups before, and it shouldn’t be any different for these two, whether they’re former best friends or not.

The fun part is having Sanchez healthy enough that we can start thinking about this question again, and hopefully he and Stroman can make it a tough call between the two. For what it’s worth, I’m fully aware that I’ve dodged answering the question for almost 1000 words here myself, as I’m admittedly not sure who has the greater potential. Hopefully 2018 will provide a healthy and even playing field for the two to give us a better answer.

Next: Stage is set for a series to remember in Montreal

And if we’re still arguing over the question a year from now, even better.