Blue Jays: What a healthy rotation could mean in Toronto going forward

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 30: Aaron Sanchez #41 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the fourth inning during MLB game action against the Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre on March 30, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 30: Aaron Sanchez #41 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the fourth inning during MLB game action against the Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre on March 30, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

There is a lot of talent in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation, and if the group can stay healthy this year and beyond, it could change a lot in Toronto.

The vast majority of baseball fans have very short memories (myself included), so it’s no surprise to me to see the optimism around the Blue Jays after their first three games against the Detroit Tigers. Those games produced two wins, but more importantly, three very solid appearances from their starting rotation.

So far we’ve watched Marcus Stroman, Matt Shoemaker, Aaron Sanchez, and Trent Thornton take a rotation turn, and the results couldn’t have been much better. In fact, through the 24 innings posted by the rotation so far, the Tigers failed to score a run against the starting pitchers.

More importantly, we’ve witnessed all of the first three in particular is that they look healthy and near the top of their respective games. It’s early in the year and a lot can happen over the course of 162 games, but the health of that trio will make a massive difference in how this season goes for new manager Charlie Montoya, and it could make a big impact on how the Blue Jays build this roster going forward.

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Anyone who has been following the Blue Jays over the last year or two is well aware of the position player talent on the way. We’ve already watched a few arrive like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, and Rowdy Tellez, but the best is yet to come, and the excitement around minor leaguers like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and many others is palpable. It’s been very easy to dream on the future of the Blue Jays’ lineup with so much young talent in the system, but things aren’t quite the same in the pitching ranks.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of talented pitchers kicking around too, but the top prospects like Nate Pearson and Eric Pardinho are a few years away at least, and the more major league ready options don’t rank among baseball’s top 100 prospects in the same way that Vlad and Bo dominate the charts.

The Blue Jays will have to grow their pitching stables in order to build a true World Series contender, however, the path to get there could be a lot different depending on how this year goes, again, especially if the Blue Jays’ best pitchers are healthy and performing at the top of their potential.

Baseball has been undergoing a great deal of transformation in the last couple of seasons, and right before the regular season got underway we watched a significant flood of contract extensions get signed around the league. Mike Trout signed a historic deal, but there were plenty of others as well such as Nolan Arenado, Justin Verlander, Paul Goldschmidt, Eloy Jimenez (a rookie deal!), and even Xander Bogaerts signed a new deal yesterday. It used to be pretty standard that the best players in the game would want to become free agents, but that could be changing before our eyes, and it could have an effect on Ross Atkins’ plans as well.

Let’s face it, after a winter that was full of Stroman trade rumours, and even Sanchez’s name came up as well, I think many of us expected that as soon as either pitcher showed enough that they could provide a good trade return, Atkins would pull the trigger. I know we’re just one start in the 2019 season, but I can’t help but wonder if that rash of extensions might have changed some perspectives, and if a healthy year from the staff could make a difference in the long term plans. Shoemaker is on a one year deal so his case is a little different, but both Stroman and Sanchez are due to be free agents after the 2020 season, so a decision will have to be made sooner than later.

Instead of it looking and feeling like a guarantee that the Jays would try to deal their pair of former first round picks this year, suddenly it feels like that might not be automatic. Again, a lot can change over the course of 162 games, and both pitchers (especially Sanchez) will have to prove they can stay healthy and produce, but what if they do? Are the Blue Jays really better off dealing those two rather than signing them to extensions?

We can’t answer that question without knowing the return they would fetch, their potential contract demands, and most importantly, how productive they’ll be going forward. Right at the moment, there’s more optimism around Sanchez and Stroman than I can remember in quite some time. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re getting along now, or maybe it’s just that they’re both healthy (and performing well) at the same time, which has been an extremely rare thing over the last few years.

It could even be the good vibes around the start of a new season, or maybe some combination of everything I’ve mentioned. Whatever it is, we’re already getting a small glimpse into what the Blue Jays have been waiting and hoping for, for several years. If this rotation can stay healthy there’s a lot of potential to surprise folks around baseball this year, and it might be reason enough to reconsider the path forward as well.

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Atkins and company won’t have to make those decisions for at least a few months at the earliest, but if their rotation manages to stay off the injured list and performs at the top of their potential, it sure makes those moves a lot more difficult to make.