After two mostly lost seasons in 2017-18, and just two years of control remaining on Aaron Sanchez’s contract in Toronto, another injury filled year can’t be an option.
Thinking back to last winter/spring, I was with several Blue Jays fans and writers that believed the team could be sneaky good, and had the potential to have one of the better starting rotations in the American League. Obviously that’s not how things worked out.
J.A. Happ did his part before he was eventually traded to the New York Yankees, but otherwise it was pretty much a universal disappointment from the starting five to begin the year. Marcus Stroman started the campaign battling some shoulder issues and later a serious blister, Marco Estrada never got on track for any extended period, and Jaime Garcia was flat out atrocious in his short stint in Toronto.
However, perhaps the biggest disappointment of all would be Aaron Sanchez‘s season. He was coming off a year that saw him make just eight starts around a whole host of fingernail, blister, and tendon issues with his pitching hand, and we were all hopeful that 2018 would bring a big bounce back with his performance, and more importantly his health.
It was an improvement, as he made 20 starts and threw 105 innings, but that’s obviously not all the Blue Jays were looking for from one of their most talented players. Back in 2016 he was one of the best pitchers in baseball, leading the American League in ERA, and looking like he would be a perennial Cy Young candidate as he hit his peak. So far his peak has been nothing but frustration and disappointment.
That does not mean that all is lost though, and both Sanchez and the Blue Jays know this. He has two years of contract control remaining in Toronto, and that’s enough time for him to prove that he’s an elite pitching option, and that he can stay healthy. If things go well, it should be enough time for him to prove what he’s worth to the Blue Jays if they choose to entertain extending him, or if they can’t or don’t want to do that, hopefully he can be traded sometime before the 2020 season to maximize his value.
According to reports from Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, there are already teams that are interested in acquiring him this winter, but I can’t imagine the Blue Jays would sell this low on him, especially knowing their needs for the rotation next year. When the talent is as high-end as Sanchez’s, teams are willing to give the benefit of the doubt and provide as many chances as needed to re-capture the magic that we saw in 2016. The Blue Jays will do just that this year, and will hope and pray that his fingers/hand don’t cause the issues they have over the last two years.
However, if they do, and there’s a decent chance they might, I hope both Sanchez and the Blue Jays consider a somewhat drastic alternative. It might be time to move him back to the bullpen.
I don’t think that’s going to happen in 2019, but if he has another lost season because of injury, then why not consider it? We know that the stress of pitching is causing his blister issues, so perhaps a shorter stint where he’s throwing 20-25 pitches instead of 90-100 as a starter would help keep him on the mound. I’m fully aware that Sanchez wants to be a starter and it’s where he can make the greatest impact for his team, and his bank account. However, being a reliever isn’t the negative that it used to be in either facet.
As we’ve watched the game shift toward stacking bullpens and arms that can throw up to triple digits, I can’t help but think that Sanchez would make for an excellent closer or 8th inning guy, as we saw him used in 2015. Granted, that was back when he was a rookie and the Blue Jays had other options ahead of him in the rotation, but his skill set was well tailored for the role, and I’m confident he could thrive there if he were put back in the ‘pen.
As I said above though, I can’t see this move being made unless he incurs another mostly lost season, and any good baseball fan doesn’t want to see that. Both the Blue Jays and Sanchez ultimately would prefer him as a starter, and especially because his agent is Scott Boras, he’ll want to maximize every bit of leverage in free agent negotiations in the winter of 2020. Boras won’t want to see him moved away from being a starter unless he can also concede that it’s in his client’s best interest.
However, if he can’t stay on the mound as a starter again next season, the best way to maximize his value might be to start marketing him as a closer. As big of a bummer as it would be to see Sanchez have to give up on starting, it would be better than watching him waste away on the disabled list year after year. Here’s hoping the discussion is moot, and he has the season we’ve all been waiting for in 2019. It’s going to be a big year for the 26 year old.