Blue Jays: Will there still be a rotation spot for Tanner Roark in 2021?

BUFFALO, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 09: Tanner Roark #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the second inning against the New York Yankees at Sahlen Field on September 09, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Blue Jays are the home team and are playing their home games in Buffalo due to the Canadian government’s policy on the coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 09: Tanner Roark #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the second inning against the New York Yankees at Sahlen Field on September 09, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Blue Jays are the home team and are playing their home games in Buffalo due to the Canadian government’s policy on the coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /
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It hasn’t been a great season for Tanner Roark with the Blue Jays, and unless things change there may not be a guaranteed rotation spot for him in 2021.

It made all the sense in the world when the Blue Jays signed Tanner Roark to a two-year deal this past winter. After a season that saw a revolving door of young starters go through the rotation in 2019, the veteran was brought in to provide some steady innings, and hopefully a stabilizing presence.

Unfortunately things haven’t gone all that well for the right-hander in his first season with the Blue Jays. To be fair, the circumstances have been anything but normal while playing a shortened season during a pandemic, but there isn’t much time for excuses in the big leagues, especially while playing for a team pursuing a playoff spot. At the time that Roark was signed, it looked like he was joining a team that would be in the latter stages of the rebuild they’ve just gone through. That’s still the case in some ways, but the emergence of several players this year has sped up the process, both in the lineup and in the rotation.

As the Blue Jays enter the stretch run of this season, I’ve already read and heard talk about Roark and whether or not there will be a place for him on the playoff roster should they qualify. That remains to be seen, but it got me thinking about another question. Will Roark still have a place in the Blue Jays’ rotation by 2021?

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The 33-year-old was signed to a two-year deal, so he remains under contract next season. That said, the Blue Jays might already have enough options to consider bumping him out with a healthy group, and that’s before they may even look to upgrade again this off-season. Assuming the in-house options are healthy heading into next year, the list of available options could include:

  1. Hyun Jin Ryu
  2. Nate Pearson
  3. Ross Stripling
  4. Trent Thornton (expected to return for 2021)
  5. Anthony Kay
  6. Julian Merryweather
  7. Thomas Hatch
  8. Ryan Borucki
  9. Jacob Waguespack
  10. Roark, and more

As we’ve been reminded this year, it’s very important to have plenty of starting pitching depth, and that’ll especially be the case once baseball has returned to a 162-game season. To that end, don’t be surprised if arms like Kay, Hatch, Merryweather and more end up returning to a starting role after pitching out of the bullpen in 2020, even if that means they begin the year in Triple-A. In fact, I suspect that at least those three could compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training next year.

That said, I fully expect to the Blue Jays to look for another arm to slot near the top of the group. Perhaps that means they’ll try to re-sign Taijuan Walker, or maybe they’ll pursue someone else in free agency or through a trade. Perhaps things go well for Robbie Ray and he returns to further re-establish his value. Whatever it is, I sincerely doubt that Ross Atkins will enter next season without another rotation upgrade, especially after the success we’ve seen from the team in 2020. That adds another option, and if we’re filling out a top five:

  1. Ryu
  2. Walker (or another free agent)
  3. Pearson
  4. Stripling
  5. Ray?/Kay/Thornton/Hatch

In this case, I didn’t include Roark, and I’m wondering where the Blue Jays would see him fitting next season. If they do bring in/retain two starters, that would likely bump a lot of options with upside out of the equation like Thornton, Kay, Hatch, and Merryweather as well. If not, any one of those four could be used as a fifth starter, and I’m not sure there could be a downgrade from what Roark has given Charlie Montoyo, at least so far. He’s currently sporting a 5.60 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP over eight starts and 35.1 innings, and he may only have a handful of starts left to make to leave a different impression.

I honestly can’t see the Blue Jays moving Roark to the bullpen, and I sincerely doubt the eight-year vet would accept that role either. He was pulled after just 4.0 innings on Wednesday night after allowing only two runs, and was critical of the decision in the post-game Zoom call with the media. Publicly questioning your manager is never a good look, even if you may have a point, and I doubt it was well received. It also makes me wonder if this relationship is going to work out, or if both parties may want a fresh start after this season concludes. That’s purely speculation on my part at this point, but it’s not hard to envision things going in that direction.

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Roark is set to make 12 million in the last year of his contract in 2020, and for a starter with his track record, I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find a few interested parties. His signing made plenty of sense at the time that it happened, but unfortunately it just hasn’t worked out as good as it looked on paper, and as a result, don’t be surprised if the plans change for next season.

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