The bullpen is one of the few question marks for the Blue Jays as they enter Spring Training, and an old transition plan used in the 90’s could work well to help them fill things out.
The Blue Jays are in a much different position this year as they enter Spring Training. A year ago there were a ton of question marks around who would make the team, and even how many more veterans would be traded before season’s end.
A year later the picture is a lot more clear. Long gone are holdovers like Marcus Stroman, Kevin Pillar, Aaron Sanchez, and more, and a new era has begun in Toronto. A new core led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and more has taken over, and there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
One of the biggest differences is the quality of the projected starting rotation, especially compared to a year ago. Assuming everyone is healthy they’ll enter the year with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Matt Shoemaker, Chase Anderson, and likely Shun Yamaguchi, with Shoemaker the only one that’s a returning face, and even he missed most of last year with a season-ending injury. Yamaguchi could also end up in the bullpen, but he’ll look to earn the fifth starter’s job this spring if possible.
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If that’s the starting five, that leaves a few pretty solid options on the outside looking in. That could include worthy young starters like Trent Thornton, Ryan Borucki, Anthony Kay, Jacob Waguespack, and more. They could all be bounced one spot further down the depth chart if and when Nate Pearson makes his MLB debut as well, which gives the Blue Jays an enviable stable of starting pitchers.
While discussing the situation on a recent appearance on the Bat Flips and Maple Dips podcast, I got thinking about an option that the Blue Jays used in the 90’s to introduce their young starters to the big leagues. If you look back at the bullpen numbers from their championship seasons in 1992 and 1993, you’ll notice that there were several relievers who eventually went on to have successful careers as MLB starters. They’ll need most of them to serve as depth in Triple-A and be ready at some point during the 2020 campaign, but would it be worth bringing back this older idea?
I suppose you could say the Blue Jays did something similar with Aaron Sanchez in the early part of his career as well, but it was a lot more prevalent back in the early 90’s. Back then the Blue Jays eased guys like David Wells, Pat Hentgen, Al Leiter and others into the league by using them as relievers during the early part of their careers. And with a bullpen that could use a bit of a boost, coupled with a rotation that’s full of veteran options, it could be worth exploring.
I’m generally a bigger fan of letting a pitcher develop and build up their innings count properly, but the Blue Jays could solve a couple of problems by considering this option. First, it’ll help their fill out a bullpen that may need some reinforcements. Secondly, it could also help them do that without juggling their 40-man roster too much, something they would need to do in order for any reliever on a MiLB contract to make the team on Opening Day. They just finally made room for Rafael Dolis by designating Breyvic Valera for assignment, and there aren’t many players left that they’ll want to leave unprotected.
The third reason would be that the Blue Jays may need to be creative if everyone is healthy, which isn’t all bad. I say that because even with a full MLB rotation, their Triple-A rotation in Buffalo will arguably have too many options as well, depending on how they want to roll them out. Right now that list could include Thornton, Borucki, Kay, Pearson, Waguespack, and others like T.J. Zeuch or even Sean Reid-Foley. Perhaps they want to protect the innings count for Pearson or even Borucki returning from injury, but it could be hard to give everyone an opportunity to start that they’d like to. There’s a good chance that Alek Manoah could push for a spot on the Bison’s roster at some point as well, and he may not be the only one.
Add it all up and there’s a pretty solid argument to be made for using one of two of these young starters as relievers in 2020. Whether or not the Blue Jays will go that route remains to be seen, but it’s sure nice to be thinking about too much depth (at least in the rotation) rather than wondering how the hell Charlie Montoyo is going to piece together a pitching staff.