Yesterday, R.A. Dickey signed with Atlanta, formally ruling out a return to the Blue Jays in 2017. As I noted earlier this week, in just four years in Toronto Dickey pitched 824.1 innings, leaving him 10th overall on the franchise leaderboard for innings pitched as a starter, and 12th overall.
In the now 40 season history of the Blue Jays, there have been 7 pitchers pitch 1,000 innings as a starter for the Blue Jays. If relief innings are included, David Wells is an eighth. Depending on how one does the math (it wasn't even possible for the franchise's first few years), on average a pitcher has crossed this threshold every five to six years. But it hasn't been so frequent in recent years:
It's been over a decade since Roy Halladay became the latest Blue Jays pitcher to join the club, and before him it's two decades since Pat Hentgen crossed the 1,000 innings. Some of this is the changing role of starters, they don't pitch make as many starts or pitch as many innings as they used to. But since 1997, 89 pitchers have pitched 1,000 for a team, or about three per team. So the Blue Jays are lagging, which likely reflects a lot of factors.
Ricky Romero looked like a shoo-in after 2011, with 613 innings in the bank over just three seasons as he approached his age-27 season and under contract through 2015. In the end, he didn't even get to 800. With no active Blue Jay even at 500 starting innings, it's going to be at least a couple years before we see the next 1,000 Blue Jay starter. Let's take a look at the candidates and assess the likelihoods.
2017 will be Happ's 5th season with the Jays, and he's the active leader at 474 innings (ranking 26th overall). He's never pitched 200 innings in a season with 2016 representing his career high at 195. So he's at least three full seasons away, and in fact would need to average a level (~175 IP/year) he's only achieved once.
Control wise, he's only under contract for 2017-18, so it would require an extension or him re-signing for 2019 and probably 2020. Then there's the fact that he just turned 34, though he doesn't have a ton of mileage on his arm and like a fine wine seems to be getting better with age.
Verdict: Unlikely (under 20% likelihood)
CHiPs enters 2017 with 346.1 innings started as a Blue Jay (39th overall). That puts him at least four seasons away as he enters his age 33/34 season, and even that might be optimistic given his back issues. On the plus side, his success is about changing speeds, so there's reason to think he can be effective well into the future. His contract only goes through 2017, so even if he has 650+ innings left in his career, there's no guarantee it'll all be with the Jays. Never say never, but....
Verdict: Very unlikely (less than 10%)
Stroman is one slot above Estrada on the franchise leaderboard, with 351.1 innings as a starter. Assuming he stays reasonably healthy, this is very doable in four years (~165 innings/year), which is coincidentally the number of years of control the Jays have left. And there's always the potential for an extension. Had he not missed most of 2015, he'd probably be above 500 innings and both very likely to pitch 1,000 innings for the Jays, and be the next to get there.
The major risks? Injuries and ineffectiveness of course. Some smaller pitchers - think Tim Lincecum, Tom Gordon - were done as effective starters before their 30th birthdays. But the biggest risk is probably that the Jays enter a rebuilding cycle in 2-3 years, and Stroman gets moved before hitting the mark, if not extended. There's also a plausible chance he gets there, but he's not the first.
Verdict: Decent (35-50%)
With his breakout 2016, Aaron Sanchez is now a cornerstone for the future of the rotation. He's only at 258 starting innings (enough to rank 43th overall), so even at 200+ innings a year it's not going to happen until 2020. Like Stroman, he is controlled for the next four years, so that's not an issue. Overall, the odds look really good he gets to 1,000 innings, and pretty good he does so as a Blue Jay, whether in the next four years or beyond (which would require and extension).
But he may not be the next member of the club, thanks to the guy above him who has 100 innings on him, which will require the kind of things we don't even want to contemplate. If both stay reasonably healthy and effective, Stroman has the inside track to get there first.
Verdict: Very good to reach 1,000 innings with the Jays (greater than 50%); decent (25-50%) to be the next one
If none of the above four get there, the best candidates would be current prospects. In no particular order, Conner Greene, Sean-Reid Foley, Jon Harris, T.J. Zeuch all have shots to be decent MLB starters. Each is a longshot on his own, but cumulatively the chance one of them reaches 1,000 innings probably approaches 50%.
Dark Horse: R.A. Dickey
To close where we started, Dickey cannot be completely ruled out. He only needs 175.2 innings, which would be doable in a season. Of course he's already 42, signed elsewhere for 2017 and possibly 2018, and probably not terribly inclined to Toronto (or the AL). But if he had a good 2017, the Braves could look to flip him in 2018, or he could even sign back for 2019 and potential be the first there. Who knows