As we draw nearer to opening day the big question is what the organization will do with Aaron Sanchez. For many there seems to be only two options. The first is to let him start and place Gavin Floyd in the bullpen. Option two is to have Gavin Floyd assume the role as the fifth starter and Aaron Sanchez moves back to the bullpen where he has played a large role for the Jays in recent years. Here's a look at the two options.
Option 1: Let Sanchez start
This is where most fans seem to be falling right now. It's definitely the sexier option as Sanchez seems to have the stuff to be a good starter and the organization has made it clear that their eventual plan is for Sanchez to be a big piece of their rotation. The downside to this option is that Sanchez's career high for innings pitched came two years ago when he threw for 133.1 innings across 3 levels. Last year, Sanchez started the year in the rotation. But, an injury and weak bullpen eventually placed him back in the pen for a grand total of 102.1 innings (109.2 including the playoffs). If Sanchez were to move to the rotation he would see a great rise in his innings. Even if the Jays were to utilize their off days, and skip him in the rotation from time to time, Sanchez would still be looking at 150-160 innings. But, the Jays have serious dreams of making the World Series so it's not out of the question to see that number rise to the 175-185 range. This would be a major jump for any player, but especially for one who the franchise is looking at as a future cornerstone of the rotation.
The Jays could put him on an inning limit and either shut him down at a certain point in the season or move him to the bullpen. But, that brings up it's own set of issues as you would be removing a potential top of the rotation starter from your team and would need to find a way to replace that. Pitchers as talented as Sanchez are hard to find and would cost the Jays quite a bit to acquire. Anybody remember Stephen Strasburg in 2012.
Option 2: Sanchez moves to the bullpen, Gavin Floyd assumes role as fifth starter.
This option definitely seems to have some merit. For some of the reasons listed above this option would seem to make a lot of sense. Sanchez has been a key part of the Jays bullpen in the second half for the last two seasons. Adding Sanchez to a bullpen that already includes Drew Storen, Roberto Osuna, and Brett Cecil could form one of the strongest back end bullpens in the majors. Given that the Jays have question marks at the other spots in the bullpen the idea of Sanchez there is certainly appealing.
To this point Gavin Floyd has pitched well in the spring as he supports a robust ERA of 2.19 in 12.1 innings pitched. While Floyd would also be looking at a large jump in innings, he's a veteran starter and probably doesn't have many years left. The problem is that while Floyd has pitched well now there is no guarantee that he continues pitching this way during the season. Floyd made no starts last year and only 9 in 2014. Additionally, this would really hurt Sanchez's development as a full year in the bullpen would limit him to less innings than last year and delay him even further.
So these seem to be the two major options and what most of us seem to be debating. The main points are listed above and all warrant a place in this conversation. But, I believe that there is a third option that not many people have been talking about. Why not have Sanchez do both?
Option 3: Sanchez starts in the pen and moves to rotation
The third option is for Aaron Sanchez to start the year in the bullpen and then at some point transition into the rotation. Under this plan the Jays would have Sanchez start the year as a key piece in the bullpen before eventually becoming a starter. The Jays need a way to let Sanchez throw more innings without making a huge leap. The ideal range for Sanchez this year would probably be the 150-160 innings range (including playoffs). If the Jays were to wait until the end of May or early June they should be able to come pretty close.
This plan is a little unconventional and certainly isn't perfect. But I do believe it has some merit. The reason I like this option to starting him in the rotation is that this allows the Jays to ride Gavin Floyd's hot hand to start the year. I don't believe that Floyd can maintain this level of pitching throughout the year. Sanchez provides a much higher upside than Floyd and should get his chance to start this year.
You could limit Sanchez by starting him in the rotation and then moving him to the bullpen at some point to effectively do the same thing. But, as mentioned earlier, this could end up leaving a hole in the rotation of a team with serious playoff aspirations at the end of the season. If you let Sanchez pitch in the bullpen first then it's like adding a potential front line guy to your rotation to end the season. This also allows him to be available during the playoffs and if push comes to shove who would you rather have available in the post season? Aaron Sanchez or Gavin Floyd?
The hardest part of this is the logistics of stretching Sanchez out. But, even that can be overcome. It could be done in a similar way to spring training. Sanchez would start a game and after a few innings a guy like Gavin Floyd or Jesse Chavez would come in. Each start you would let him stretch it out a bit more and in 2-3 weeks Sanchez would be able to give you a starter's innings. This admittedly puts a strain on the Jays roster as they would essentially be carrying 6 starters for a while. The bullpen can be shuffled or have one less guy on the bench for a while.
There isn't a clear option on what to do with Sanchez. Personally, I like the idea of option 3. I think Sanchez needs to hit to get to roughly 160 innings this year to continue his development. And the Jays will benefit from having a starter with Sanchez's stuff at the end of the year.