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Blue Jays and Long-Term Pitching

One of the most obvious holes right now for the Toronto Blue Jays is their lack of long term pitching depth. With their new young core emerging between 2019-2021 and a more realistic competitive arrival around 2020/2021 they have a gap between present and future. As well their farm system is not exactly bursting with top end pitching talent close to arrival. They do have promising arms in Nate Pearson (4th/30 & 90/100 MLB) and Eric Pardinho (7th/30) and only 17 years old, however both are not likely available until 2020 and more likely 2021-2022 for Pardinho. Those are two encouraging arms but they also have a ways to go before their time comes at the highest level.

The two higher end arms currently on the roster Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez both only have 2 years of control remaining. Sanchez also has a lot to prove in 2019 to show that he can be healthy. After a very promising start to his career as a dominant reliever in 2014 and transitioning to a top of the rotation starter by 2016, injuries and ineffectiveness have derailed his career. We can dream on him returning to the 2016 starter that the the AL in ERA, started 30 games, 192 IP, an ERA+ of 142 and despite his 3 BB/9 held hitters to a 1.167 WHIP. However after two years of finger issues a BB/9 rate of 5 and less than stellar overall results, his value right now as a trade asset is low. We might even have to discuss idea of him being used as a reliever again which for the record has always been my preference. For now however it appears Aaron will be in the rotation with the Jays hoping he can regain that 2016 form and he becomes a valuable trade chip.

While Stroman also lost value in 2018 it not nearly to the same level. Marcus suffered through an injured plagued season. In all likelihood he should have never started the season as his shoulder was not ready to go, he soldiered on until he was forced to face the DL once again in May. Once he returned near the end of June he put up a 7 start run (3.04 ERA) which made it seem like Marcus was back, but as we know he also was plagued with finger issues. He again played the tough guy role, with every start being an ongoing finger watch, it wasn’t good. In all he finished with an ugly 5.54 ERA, failed to reach 200 IP for the 3rd year in a row and was well below the expected result. If there was hope from his season it would be that his 3.91 FIP, told a much better story and his overall pitching metrics were not too far off from his career norms. I am pretty comfortable to write his season off due to his injury struggles after 2 solid previous seasons.

Ross Atkins has made it know that many teams have called on Stroman & Sanchez and with good reason. I have to agree with Sanchez’s super agent Scott Boras that right now the most important thing for Aaron is to be healthy, put up a good season and then discuss the next steps. I don’t see many scenarios where you can sell high enough on Sanchez and with 2 years of control at a cost effective salary, he likely will be here longer. On the other hand Stroman is the starter they could in theory get enough today to make a move. There have been several rumours that teams are looking at Stroman and the suggestion is that the Blue Jays are asking for a James Paxton like return.

The Jays will have to decide, are either of these two part of the long term future or are they trade chips. I have been a firm believer in the concept of extending Stroman on a 6 year type of deal, however it looks more likely that he will be a trade chip. If they do in fact decide to move them, they will have to weigh the option of trading them now or wait to see if they have more value in July or next offseason. For Sanchez I firmly believe they will hold off until at least July, on the other hand its a 50/50 chance that they will get enough in return for Stroman this offseason vs July. Love it or hate it, right now when you are rebuilding, having 2 years of control likely means you are not part of the future plan.

If they do decide to move on even from one of them there will be a lot of rotation holes to fill with not a ton of in-house options ready. As of today here are the names to keep a close eye on.

Ryan Borucki LHP, 25 (2019 season age)- If you paid any attention you would have heard Atkins praise Borucki over the last year or so as an arm they loved and was coming quickly. He might not have been a cant miss prospect but internally he got a lot of praise. He rocketed through the system between 2016-2017, started 2018 in AAA and after 13 starts with solid results made his way to Toronto and never looked back. After 17 MLB starts Ryan had a tidy 3.87 ERA (3.79 FIP), 109 ERA+ and moderate SO/BB ratios. He started so well, that he easily became something to cheer about in a not so great season.  With Ryan how he does in 2019 could be telling, he did well with his fastball and changeup mix but will need to improve on the slider to be successful. He has earned his 2019 rotation spot, but its also is no lock if he struggles out of the gate. I am a little mixed on Ryan, being a lefty helps. My best guess is long term he is a solid #3.

Sean Reid-Foley RHP, 23 – Currently ranked 10th/30th (MLB Pipeline) of Blue Jays prospects SRF gets mixed reviews from future stud to potential back end starter. His stock took a hit by falling out of the top 100 prospects in 2017 after struggling in AA with a 5.09 ERA, a 1.49 WHIP over 24 starts but still only 21 years old in his fist try at the level. However in 2018 he made 24 excellent starts between AA/AAA to a much better 3.26 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP and a 10.4 SO/9. This lead to his eventual promotion to Toronto in August where he made 7 starts with mixed results. His 5.08 ERA, 1.56 WHIP and 5.7 BB/9 are all things he will want to improve on. If you were looking for some positives it’s that he excelled at SO with a 11.3 SO/9 and 5 of his 7 starts came with 3 or less ER, even if he didn’t go very deep. SRF has quality “stuff” and has the pitch mix to be a quality starter. He likely will start in AAA but should find himself back in Toronto soon with an outside chance of making the rotation. With his stuff he can live with a 3-3.5 BB/9 ration but will need to cut back on the walks and trust that stuff next time around. My best guess is that he can be a #2 starter but likely a 2-3 range.

Hector Perez. RHP, 23 – Currently ranked 10th/30th (MLB Pipeline) of Blue Jays prospects and most recently spent nearly a full year in AA between Toronto & Houston. Perez came as the top prospect in the Roberto Osuna trade from Houston. Perez finished 2018 with a solid 3.76 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and 133 SO in 115 innings. If there was a red flag it was his 64 BB or 5 BB/9 ratio that causes some concern. Perez can dial it up to around 100 MP and with that speed he needs to harness his command. He had a solid year overall but you would expect him to start in AA next season and with success move up to AAA where a call up to Toronto could potentially not be too far in the distance. My best guess is right now he is a potential #3 or a future closer type.

T.J. Zeuch, RHP, 23 – Currently ranked 15th/30th (MLB Pipeline) of Blue Jays prospects. Zeuch with the 1st round draft pick status recently had been seen in the top 10 of Blue Jays prospects. I am not entirely sure why some evaluators have dropped him lower, if that is a result of the system improving or some mix of performance and some health issues. Overall after just 3 full season of pro-ball Zeuch has climbed to AA and put up a very respectable 3.08 ERA in 21 starts in 2018. His career SO/9 sit at 6.8 (6 in 2018) which is not as high as you would like for his stuff but he also has limited walks to a 2.3/9 ratio. He has all of the classic projection you would like in a starter with the big body, good fastball, solid command and so forth. You would think he likely starts again in AA, as typically that’s where your best arms stay and he moves up to AAA before making his way up North later in 2019 or 2020. I likely am a little higher on Zeuch than most and see some glimpses of a potential #2. My best guess however right now is a reliable #3 type.

The next tier of arms includes: David Paulino RHP, 25 (19/30) who came in the Osuna deal, he showed well in the pen last year in a brief stint. Trent Thornton, RHP, 25 (22/30) who recently came from Houston in the Aledmys Diaz deal who also recently hilariously got thrown into a Stroman/Sanchez valued asset category from Atkins. Thomas Pannone, LHP, 25 (27/30) the former Cleveland product the FO scooped up as they had been seemingly high on. He had a respectable 43 innings last year and his minor league stats have also been fairly good. Julian Merryweather, RHP, 27, the man who will forever be know as the Josh Donaldson. Right now these guys are the depth in AAA, maybe some make the pen. With a more advanced age or lack of pedigree you can not expect them to be high end arms, however out of the group there might be some quality relievers or back end starters.

What the Blue Jays lack right now is top end starting pitching. They have a very nice group of arms to fill in a pen and spots 3-5 of a rotation. I am not sure of the names above there is a true #1 and getting a #2 might happen but its not guarantee. It is no secret that with Pearson & Pardinho being their best arms and still a ways away their goal has been to add to their high end talent. It really circles back to Stroman & Sanchez who have at times been higher end #2 starters but have lacked consistency and health and only have 2 years of control remaining. With the goal of being competitive in the next few years the Jays will have to maximize returns on players with limited control such as Sanchez, Stroman, Ken Giles, Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar, Randal Gritchuk, Russell Martin, Ryan Tepera, Devon Travis and any other they move.

In 2-3 more seasons the team will have fully transitioned but you would expect them to look at adding more pitching and outfield assents with some of the names mentioned above.  The cupboards are by no means bare when it comes to SP, there are some quality arms that could turn out in time but the opportunity exists to add more depth and high end arms.