With lots of questions surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2020 pitching staff, one possible answer may already be with the team.
Is the Blue Jays rebuild ahead of schedule?
It’s an exciting thought for fans to even consider.
Jays fans knew that the plan was to get younger in 2019, to evaluate their young talent in MLB. So far, so good.
Their young position players have been exciting to watch. SS Bo Bichette, in a small 28 game sample size, has been on fire with a 1.027 OPS. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. after a slow start to the season that saw him demoted to AAA looked like a completely different hitter upon his return. He seems to have found a home in LF, and has a very good .879 OPS for the season. Hopefully he will be able to come off the IL before too long and finish the season strong.
3B Vladimir Guerrero jr has been somewhat inconsistent but his .821 overall OPS is quite good especially for a rookie. He has been heating up lately, with a 1.009 OPS in August.
Speaking of August, Vlad has plenty of company as far as hot hitting Jays teammates. Most of these guys got off to slow starts to the 2019 season with the bats but here are some impressive August OPS numbers: Randal Grichuk .867, Billy McKinney .852, Teoscar Hernandez .838, Reese McGuire .835, Danny Jansen .825. The Jays are building for the future and the future looks bright.
The most obvious area the Jays need to improve upon is pitching, particularly the starting rotation. The 2019 Blue Jays are a perfect example of reasons why you can never have too much pitching. Going in to the season, it appeared they had an abundance of rotation options.
Fast forward to August. Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez have been traded. Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard are on the injured list. Sean Reid-Foley and Thomas Pannone are in AAA due to inconsistent results. Toronto’s rotation currently consists of Jacob Waguespack, Trent Thornton, Clay Buchholz and two scheduled bullpen days.
Looking ahead to 2020, who do the Jays have as starting rotation options (assuming they don’t acquire anyone significant via free agency or trade)? There is Matt Shoemaker, who is under team control and arbitration eligible in 2020. He and Ryan Borucki need to return to health, and pre-injury pitching success. 2019 rookies Waguespack, Thornton, Reid-Foley and Pannone should all be in the mix. All have had some success in MLB but they have all been inconsistent. Time will tell which of these, if any, will ultimately be good MLB pitchers.
Down on the farm, the Jays have an intriguing trio of starting pitchers currently at AAA Buffalo. Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch and Nate Pearson are all helping the Bisons with their late season playoff push. Any or all of them could see time with the big club in 2020.
However, one issue with this is that none of them have an abundance of experience in high MiLB. Kay has the most, pitching in 13 games between the Mets AAA team (before being acquired by the Jays) and the Jays, Zeuch has gotten in to 12 games after missing the early part of the season on the IL, and Pearson started 2019 at A ball in Dunedin has rocketed through the system, pitching his last 2 games at AAA. Best case, even if all of them succeed in MLB, it may be that they would benefit with some more AAA experience to start 2020, to be called up as needed and as performance warrants.
So back to Buchholz.
The 34 year old, 13 year MLB veteran, has pitched reasonably well over the last couple of seasons when he has been healthy. He had a very fine 2.01 era in 16 games in 2018. He had one poor start in 2019 on May 5 when he surrendered 7 runs in 4 innings, and went on the IL soon afterward. Other than that he has given up 4 runs or less in each of his five starts in a Jays uniform.
His biggest issue in 2018/2019 has been staying healthy. He is eligible for free agency after 2019. The Jays might want to seriously consider bringing him back next season.
It was reported that the Jays were the only MLB team to offer Buchholz a contract for 2019. Given the amount of time he spent on the IL this season, that could very well be the case again this off season. The Jays might be able to sign him to another 1 year contract, with a low (relatively by MLB standards) guaranteed salary and incentives based on innings pitched. If he spends significant time on the IL again in 2020, it wouldn’t cost them much money. But it would give them another option.
Effective pitching isn’t the only way veteran Buchholz could potentially help the young Blue Jays. Trent Thornton credits Buchholz with giving him lots of helpful advice earlier in the season when they were both on the IL, down at the Jays’ facility in Florida. Toronto figures to field a very young team in 2020. Bringing back a veteran who is both willing and able to help young players would be invaluable as they continue building for the future.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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