Blue Jays Need to Lock Sanchez in 2016 Bullpen

The Blue Jays believe Aaron Sanchez can be a dominant MLB starter. However, in 2016 Sanchez needs to focus solely on being a dominant reliever.

When the Blue Jays were dispatched from the MLB playoffs in October, Toronto fans flocked by default to the side of the National League Champion New York Mets. They were the last hope of preventing those hated Royals from claiming a title they deserved but no one wanted to see. It helped that there was some Blue Jays influence on the Mets roster. Not only did Travis d’Arnaud pass through in two separate trades for Cy Young pitchers, but the Blue Jays saw their contribution to New York’s stable of young stud pitchers smolder his way into the hearts of the masses with his flowing locks and blazing fastball. Noah Syndergaard was the expendable arm in the eyes of Alex Anthopoulos, and as Blue Jays fans watched him keep the Mets in the series, the question asked was “So when will Aaron Sanchez be this good?

2016 would be the logical year for the survivor of the Three Amigos to join his ex-compadre in that upper echelon. (The other member of that trio, Justin Nicolino, was uninspiring in his 12 starts with Miami last season, posting a K/9 of 2.8). The splits would suggest that so far the greater success has come in the bullpen. 11 career starts has yielded a 3.55 ERA but with a WHIP of 1.43. Sanchez‘ inability to properly command his secondary pitches led to his downfall last year, and when he returned from his DL stint as a reliever, he focused on pounding his 95 mph heater in the zone, and hitters couldn’t catch up to it. In 54 career relief appearances, his WHIP is cut in half, a paltry 0.77 combined with his K/BB ratio climbing from 1.14 to 2.88.

There has been talk about stretching Sanchez out from the one-inning role he took over last year following his demotion to the bullpen. Should he fail to win a rotation job outright in spring training, he would pitch two or three innings at a time in his appearances to build up arm strength and he would make his bid for the starting role in 2017.

This is a foolish and unnecessary idea, and is detrimental to a 2016 team that is built to win now.

It’s no secret that the Blue Jays want to make their run this season. The fear pieces showing Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in Red Sox uniforms in 2017 are already being trotted out. The Blue Jays want to make this run while that fearsome lineup is still intact at a cost-controlled price. The fans know that and it’s why the thought of losing Jose and Edwin without any kind of additional success fuels the scorn at Rogers and Mark Shapiro for not doing more. But Sanchez was at his most effective when called in to pitch one solid inning. In only one instance did he pitch more than one inning of relief in the regular season, and that was the September 15th game against Atlanta, where he gave up the winning run on the eighth batter he faced.

Stretching out is also not necessary if the team still has plans to use Sanchez as a starter next season once the contracts of Jesse Chavez and R.A. Dickey expire. The transition has been made seamlessly in the past. Looking at those hated Red Sox for positive reasons, they had Derek Lowe as an All-Star closer for two seasons. Once the team acquired Ugueth Urbina at the 2001 trade deadline, Lowe made the transition later in the season to return to the starting rotation. It took him twelve days and he was back in the fold, only allowing two runs in three starts. The next year, he won 21 games, finished third in Cy Young voting and started a streak of ten consecutive seasons with a minimum of 32 starts.

For a more recent example, the Texas Rangers had their own top-notch reliever in lefty specialist C.J. Wilson. He lost the closer’s job to future former Blue Jay Frank Francisco in the 2009 season. During the off-season he stretched his arm and returned to the Rangers rotation as their number three starter in 2010, despite averaging just under an inning per appearance in 2009 (73.2 IP in 74 games). In 2010 he pitched over 200 innings and had a 4.4 WAR before making the next two All-Star teams.

Now both Lowe and Wilson made their transitions at the age of 29, and asking Sanchez to do such a thing at 24 in 2017 may be asking too much. But the Blue Jays won’t need the kind of all-star performances Boston and Texas got, and Sanchez has a better injury record than Wilson, who had Tommy John surgery at 23. Sanchez still has plenty of time in his career to become the crown jewel starter that the Blue Jays envision he’ll be. For now, with the glaring need of the team being the bullpen, it’s best to give Sanchez a defined role in Spring Training. It’s hard enough to succeed in one aspect of professional baseball. Trying to succeed in two facets at once will lead to failure in one if not both.

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A.J. Andrews

Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since she could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX Sports.com’s blogs , her independent Tailpipe Sports blog and Jays Journal prior to joining JFTC. The 30 year old has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. She brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program. She will talk about all sports, most Nintendo games, and trans issues for way too long if you give her an opening.