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Blue Jays: An early projection for the starting rotation in 2019

TORONTO, ON - JULY 4: Marcus Stroman #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the first inning during MLB game action against the New York Mets at Rogers Centre on July 4, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 4: Marcus Stroman #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the first inning during MLB game action against the New York Mets at Rogers Centre on July 4, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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It’s hard to say what the Blue Jays’ roster could look like in 2019, but I’m pretty comfortable taking a stab at the rotation picture. Here’s how I see it playing out.

The 2018 season has been full of frustration, disappointment, and a lot of question marks for the Toronto Blue Jays. The hope was that this team would shake off the injury-riddled 2017 season and prove that they had enough gas left to compete this year. Unfortunately though, pretty much anything that could go wrong, has despite their latest win against the mighty Yankees.

As a result, I think it’s more than plausible that this team will look a lot different by the time next season rolls around, if not a lot sooner. There are a lot of veterans that could be on the trade block this month, and as the franchise finishes out the year and looks at the best way to build the next generation in Toronto, it will result in a much different 25, and 40 man roster.

For as many question marks as I’ve got about what the roster could look like in the coming years, let alone by the end of the month, I feel like the starting rotation is one of the few areas that is starting to solidify, at least in terms of the immediate future. Things can change in an instant, to be sure, but there have been some promising signs more recently, at least with the rotation.

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As much as I’m a huge fan of J.A. Happ, it’s one of the worst kept secrets in baseball that he’s on the trade block. Heck, even the division-rival Yankees are serious players for the left-hander, and could be a realistic destination for the 35 year old. The same goes for Marco Estrada, who is currently employed on a one year deal. The problem with him of course is that he’s dealing with a possible DL stint after a left glute strain, something both the club and the change-up artist will hope to avoid.

I wouldn’t be opposed to the Blue Jays approaching Happ about a new contract in the offseason, but it’s hard to say if that’ll make sense or not. He may very well want to pursue a more immediate competitive opportunity, which may not be something the Blue Jays can provide next year.

They also have the luxury of having a few talented arms on the roster, and in the minor league system. Happ and Estrada make up just 2/5’s of the current rotation, when healthy of course, and the Blue Jays could choose to keep the 60% around for the foreseeable future if they see fit.

Unless they get blown away with a trade offer in July, it’s a virtual lock that the 2019 rotation will be lead by Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. Both pitchers have two years remaining of club control at the end of this season, and will continue to be relative bargains for the Blue Jays, regardless of whatever raise each could earn. Neither has had an ideal season by any means, but both right-handers will be counted on to eat a lot of innings, and to lead the pitching staff. As long as they’re healthy, I’m very confident that both will rise to the occasion.

Beyond that, the Blue Jays could choose to exercise Jaime Garcia‘s option for 2019, but I’m guessing that won’t happen. It’s not that the southpaw doesn’t have value, but as the franchise transitions into a rebuild, I’m not sure if his fit makes a lot of sense. If this season had gone better for him, I would expect the Blue Jays would be shopping him before the non-waiver deadline, but he could be a tough sell at the moment. Perhaps that will change in August, and he could be a candidate to get moved later in the season if the chips fall in the right places.

https://twitter.com/PitchingNinja/status/1012865537599303680

That leaves three spots in the rotation, and while there are no guarantees by any means, I’d almost be willing to lay money down on how the rest of the rotation will shape up for next year. Right now the Blue Jays are featuring two of the most likely candidates in the rotation in Ryan Borucki, and Sam Gaviglio. While Borucki was expected to eventually develop into a big league starter, the latter has been a pleasant and welcome surprise, and for a likely rebuilding team the opportunity is perfect for the pair of youngsters.

To round out the rotation, I’m admittedly taking a bigger guess here than for the top four. That said, I do believe that the team will go with a youth movement and give their organizational arms an opportunity to prove themselves as the highest level. For that reason, I’m going to go with Sean Reid-Foley as the final arm to start the 2019 season. He was outstanding in Double-A with a 2.03 ERA in eight starts before a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo. He hasn’t fared as well at the next stop, but there is a lot of season left for the hard-throwing righty, and I’m a lot more confident in his developmental path than I was a year ago.

Anyone who follows baseball with any regularity knows that a 162 game season requires more than five starters, so don’t expect that these five will cover the whole season, even if I’m bang on with my prediction. I have no doubt that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro will sign a few cheap veterans to compete for a rotation spot, and it’s entirely possible one of them beats out a guy like Reid-Foley for the Opening Day spot on the team. It’s also possible the Blue Jays choose to keep Jaime Garcia around for another year, which could help the rotation depth, especially if he has a better second half.

Next: The rationale for stockpiling middle infielders

As I said above, going through a likely transition like what the Blue Jays are facing at the moment requires a lot of change, but I’m guessing most of the answers for 2019 are already in house. Feel free to point to this article in nine months and laugh at me too though. Baseball is weird that way.

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