Blue Jays: Hopefully the “opener” is a 2020 back-up plan

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 14: Sean Reid-Foley #54 of the Toronto Blue Jays is pulled from the game by Manager Charlie Montoyo in the fourth inning during a MLB game against the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre on August 14, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 14: Sean Reid-Foley #54 of the Toronto Blue Jays is pulled from the game by Manager Charlie Montoyo in the fourth inning during a MLB game against the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre on August 14, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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After a long season of patching together a pitching staff, here’s hoping that Charlie Montoyo has more legitimate rotation options in 2020.

With just 18 games left in the 2019 season, we’ve had a chance to see a lot of different players in a Blue Jay uniform this year. In fact, there have been 59 different players to record at least one at-bat on offence, or one out on the mound as a pitcher.

The pitching staff in particular has been a revolving door, with 36 different hurlers making an appearance in a Blue Jays’ uniform in 2019. Some are now playing on other teams such as Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, and more, and there have been plenty of short stays this year. The starting rotation has been particularly thin at times this season, and as a result Charlie Montoyo has had no choice but to get creative, frequently using the “opener” strategy.

Let me be clear, I have no problem whatsoever with Montoyo having used an opener so much this season. I’m not a huge fan of the concept, even if I understand the rationale for why it can be effective, but in Montoyo’s case he literally had no other choice. There were times that the Blue Jays only had two legitimate starting pitchers on their roster.

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I’m really hoping to see that change by the time we get to 2020, and hopefully the Blue Jay skipper will be able to line up a group of starters for the majority of the time. That was the intention when this season started out, but health has been a major issue for the Blue Jays. Matt Shoemaker was lost for the season with a freak knee injury, and there have been repeated problems for Clay Buchholz, Clayton Richard, and Ryan Borucki, all who were supposed to be major contributors in 2019. Those four and Stroman/Sanchez had the potential to be a reasonably effective rotation, but obviously it didn’t work out that way.

Looking ahead to 2020, the Blue Jays will reap some benefits from the long grind through this season. They’ve had an opportunity for starters that may not have had one otherwise, and some of them have worked their way into the conversation for next year’s rotation. Guys like Trent Thornton, Jacob Waguespack, and more recent additions like Anthony Kay and T.J. Zeuch could all be vying for a spot in next year’s group. There could be more help on the way in the form of a quickly evolving ace in Nate Pearson, but relying on that in 2020 is probably unfair to the minor leaguer.

Instead, the Blue Jays really need to consider adding some serious depth to their starting rotation this off-season. We’ve talked about a few ideas here at Jays Journal over the last month or so, and now that we’re almost through the season I don’t think anything has changed in that regard, even if there has been some success by utilizing the opener strategy. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, but hoping to do that 2-3 times every trip through the rotation isn’t realistic.

In the big leagues today, a team needs at least 10 viable starting options to make it through a full 162 game season, and the Blue Jays should have quite a few arms to help. A group that includes Thornton, Kay, Borucki (if he’s finally healthy), Waguespack, and Zeuch, and eventually Pearson will likely be better next year than they were in 2019, but they’ll need more reinforcements. Hopefully they can bring back Shoemaker, which should be doable given his current contract, and even add another starter or two over the winter. They took some low-cost swings at guys like Richard and Buchholz last winter, and unfortunately it just didn’t work out very well.

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I have no doubt that the opener strategy is here to stay in today’s MLB game, and I don’t even really mind, especially in certain matchups. However, I look forward to the Blue Jays having a much stronger group of starters next season, and hopefully that will make Charlie Montoyo’s job a little easier.

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