The Blue Jays added to their starting depth last week with both Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard acquisitions. Does it give them enough depth to be able to make a trade?
One of the biggest needs for the Blue Jays this offseason, even in a year when they are embarking on a rebuild, was some starting pitching depth. Consider that situation at least partially addressed.
Ross Atkins started by making what I would consider to be a risk well worth taking by inking former L.A. Angel, Matt Shoemaker to a one year deal or 3.5 million. If he can stay healthy and pitch like the starter he was from 2014-16, it’ll look like an excellent signing, especially because he has one more year of club control the Blue Jays could theoretically use. Not long afterward, they also made a small deal with the Padres, acquiring Clayton Richard.
Let me be clear, neither guy is a big upgrade to the rotation, even considering that the Blue Jays depth chart is full of question marks and inexperience. What they do bring to the table though is some badly needed depth, which is needed over the course of a long 162 game season.
Prior to the trade the Blue Jays depth chart included Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Borucki, and then a couple out of a group featuring Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, Sam Gaviglio, or maybe new acquisition Trent Thornton. If the season began today, it’s likely that Shoemaker and Richard would fill out the back of the rotation behind Stroman, Sanchez, and Borucki.
Those three do have a great deal of potential, but the key will be health in 2019, especially for Sanchez, and also for Stroman to a lesser extent. Neither of the “veteran” arms pitched to their potential last year, as Sanchez once again dealt with issues on his pitching hand, as he had in 2017, and Stroman had blister and shoulder issues of his own. The result was the two of them making just a combined 39 starts, with a disappointing 5.54 ERA and 1.476 WHIP from Stroman, and an equally unimpressive ERA of 4.89 and a WHIP of 1.576 for Sanchez.
It is those disappointing numbers that have made it seem unlikely that either could be traded this winter, and yet there have been plenty of rumours to the contrary, especially when it comes to Stroman. Right now it doesn’t sound like anything is imminent or even likely, but there’s no denying that there’s been chatter so far this offseason. That’s also where Shoemaker and Richard factor into the conversation, indirectly.
Another reason I didn’t think that Atkins could trade Stroman or Sanchez is quite simple: the Blue Jays need arms for the 2019 season. It might be a rebuilding year and one that the front office is willing to accept as a losing campaign, but they still need enough personnel to get through the grind. I’m all for the idea of giving the youngsters the experience they need, but the pitching staff is a little different that way. Keep a young pitcher in the rotation or in the bullpen as long as they are performing reasonably well, but when things go sideways for a prolonged period, there’s no shame in sending them back down to get their confidence back and work on their craft.
Generally speaking, a team needs roughly 10 or more starters to get through a 162 game season, unless they’re lucky like the Jays were in 2016. If you include Stroman, Sanchez, Borucki, Shoemaker, Richard, Reid-Foley, Pannone, Gaviglio, and Thornton that makes nine, and you could also add guys like Jacob Waguespack, or maybe even David Paulino, Hector Perez, and Julian Merryweather for a total of 13. The question then becomes, can the Blue Jays now afford to move Stroman and/or Sanchez?
I still say no for a number of reasons. I believe that if the front office is dead set on trading them that they would be better off to let them pitch in the first half of the season and try to rebuild their market value. I also think there is great value in having them around to mentor the younger arms, especially because there’s no guarantee that Shoemaker will stay healthy, or that Richard will perform well enough to keep a rotation spot.
However, if Atkins signs one more veteran pitcher, perhaps someone like a James Shields, Ervin Santana, or a reunion with Marco Estrada, then it’s probably because another move is coming. I don’t know that for certain, but it just feels like that would be the only reason the front office would pursue more starting depth.
In my opinion the Blue Jays now have enough starters to comfortably start a rebuild season, and hopefully it can be a year of bounce back health for the veterans, and positive developmental season for the young guys. I’m also hoping that both Stroman and Sanchez are still in Toronto to be a part of it.