Blue Jays: A once exciting pitching core has lost it’s lustre

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 25: Roberto Osuna #54 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates their victory with Josh Donaldson #20 and Marcus Stroman #6 during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 25, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 25: Roberto Osuna #54 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates their victory with Josh Donaldson #20 and Marcus Stroman #6 during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 25, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

With Aaron Sanchez having to leave after one inning on Thursday, and Roberto Osuna’s suspension formally announced, things have been rough for the young core of the Blue Jays.

Throughout the winter, one of the most popular arguments about the Blue Jays among fans was whether or not the team should start a rebuild in 2018, or let the core of this team give it one more shot at playoff contention, and hope for better health than they had in 2017.

We all know how that’s worked out, as this year’s version of the Blue Jays has been a massive disappointment, both as a whole, and in many individual cases. We knew this team would have some question marks, and they would have to hope for some health from veterans, and growth from younger contributors. That said, I’d challenge anyone who claims they saw all of this coming the way it has.

It’s one thing to have predicted that the Blue Jays would be six games under .500 going into Friday night’s game with the Angels, but it’s another to have expected the individual disappointments. Take Josh Donaldson as a prime example, who as a pending free agent and former AL MVP was expected to have a big year. Unfortunately he’s been on the sideline for over half of it, and he’s only hit .234 with five home runs when he has been available.

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However, when the arguments for or against a rebuild came up, I would routinely point to the same three players on the big league roster as reason that this team shouldn’t commit to a full on tear down. Entering the 2018 season with three more guaranteed years of contract control on Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Roberto Osuna, to me meant that this team had to take advantage of a competitive window, even if Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and even Donaldson were no longer around. I argued that you don’t get potential twin aces and a lights out closer for this kind of bargain very often, and the front office would be fools not to try and build around them.

My how six months can change everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing off the trio completely at all, and they are all in very different scenarios, albeit all frustrating and disappointing.

If you missed the news, the MLB commissioner’s office formally announced that Roberto Osuna would be receiving a 75 game suspension, retroactive to May 8th. He’ll be eligible to return to the team on August 4th, but given the amount of time he’ll need to get himself ready for big league competition, it’ll be September at the earliest before we see him back in a Blue Jay uniform. It remains to be seen how the team will handle his case, but speculating on it at this point is futile. What we know for sure is he won’t be available until nearly the end of the year, if at all.

Aaron Sanchez was the biggest wild card of the group entering the season, simply because of the myriad of injury issues he dealt with in 2017. Due to a combination of blister, fingernail, and tendon issues on the middle finger of his throwing hand, Sanchez found himself on the sidelines for all but 36 innings last year. After leading the American League in ERA in 2016, the Blue Jays know the potential is there for him to be an ace-level starter, but his middle finger just wouldn’t allow it last season.

This year he’s managed to stay healthy, that is until he was removed from Thursday night’s game after one start. It was a curious exit, mostly because the team called it a contusion of the index finger on his pitching hand, but we didn’t see a play on the field that would have caused the injury. It certainly could have happened during warmups or even earlier in the week, but it was a surprising removal after just one frame. Hopefully whatever is ailing him won’t keep him out for very long, but it’s not a great sign after such a rough year last year. He’s also struggled to re-discover his 2016 form, as he’s just 3-5 with a 4.52 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP through his first 15 starts.

Finally, we’ll all collectively hope that the 2017 version of Marcus Stroman is coming back from the disabled list this weekend, rather than whomever that imposter was that was toeing the mound earlier this season. Stroman proved himself as one of the better starting pitchers in the AL in 2017, only to look completely lost on the bump at times this year. When he hit the disabled list he was 0-5 with a 7,71 ERA and a 1.714 WHIP in seven starts. He was consistently getting knocked around, and actually has a bWAR of -0.8 at the moment, which seemed unthinkable a few months ago. He’ll return to the rotation against the Angels and look to turn things around after time to heal up from shoulder issues, and re-set in general.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that these three are all write offs, and the Blue Jays should just dump them. Call me crazy, but I still absolutely believe in Stroman and Sanchez as potential frontline starters, and at worse they’re solid upside guys for the middle of a rotation. Osuna’s case is obviously a lot different, and it’s really hard to say where his career as a Blue Jays goes from here.

The question I’m asking myself half a year later, and already thinking about for this offseason is: Does this trio still represent a foundation to build on? I don’t know if that’s the case anymore.

Both Sanchez and Stroman have used up another year of contract control, and will only have two years remaining of club control as Blue Jays. It’s entirely possible that one or both could explore extension talks, and Stroman has even expressed an interest in such a thing awhile back, but their performances this year complicates that conversation quite a bit. For Osuna, he’ll actually still have three seasons of control after all the time he’s missed this year, but again, it remains to be seen if that’s relevant or not.

A lot can change in the next few months, but my guess is that if there’s a “core” being looked at to build the next generation of Blue Jays, I’m not sure any of the names included are on the big league roster. Complimentary pieces, absolutely, but as far as foundational pieces to a true championship contender, I’m not so sure.

My hope this past winter was that guys like Stroman, Sanchez, Osuna, and potentially even Donaldson, could serve as a bridge to the next generation, while keeping the team competitive in the next couple of seasons. That could definitely still happen, but I have no doubt that things have changed in Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins’ eyes. I know they have a little bit in mine.

Next: Roberto Osuna suspended for 75 games