Roberto Osuna has been the definition of stunning since joining the Blue Jays last April. On Saturday he recorded his 45th save of his professional career, tying the record for most saves by a pitcher before their 22nd birthday.
Now, depending on how you look at that fact, it can leave you with a feeling of inspiration or a sense of bewilderment at what could have been. What I mean by this is, without a doubt you have to accept and revel in the fact that Osuna has been as good as he has been since becoming a major leaguer. But at the same time, with that success accompanies the fact that Osuna has not been able to reap the full rewards of his value, becoming a starting pitcher, and may realistically never get that chance.
Starting with the good, it's hard to make the argument that there has been a more consistent reliever over the past two seasons. Look up the statistics and you'll see that Osuna has accounted for the 9th most fWAR over that time period while accumulating a 2.31 ERA. He's in the same company or better than pitchers like Hector Rondon and Craig Kimbrel with the luxury of costing far less than either of those options. Let's face it, the Blue Jays could most certainly be spending a lot more at the closer's position for a player with inferior talent.
However, Osuna, for the rest of his major league career, will likely be regarded as an eternal question mark if he remains in this role. A player you may always ask yourself, "I wonder what he could have done if he just pitched every five days?" For some fans, this means a lot. As good as Osuna has been this year, his value will never touch that of a pitcher who can pitch every five days, accumulating over four times as many innings as he does in a typical season.
For others, this fact doesn't matter. "We need a reliable option in the 9th inning," they say. "Why break what's already working so well?" they plead.
For now anyways, it seems Osuna is locked in this latter camp. This fact is mutually destructive to not only Osuna as a pitcher but the Blue Jays in general. Sure, as a writer behind a keyboard, I can only imagine the excitement you can get from pitching in front of 50,000 fans screaming your name with the game on the line. You matter to everyone. You hold the future in your hands. It makes sense why, sentimentally, you'd enjoy the role of the closer. But there's no doubt that you could be leaving millions of dollars on the table. Take a glance at the current contracts for relief pitchers from around the league. According to Spotrac, Jake Peavy is the highest earning relief pitcher, making $15 million with guys like Kimbrel and Arnoldis Chapman making in the neighbourhood of $11 million. To put this in perspective, J.A Happ, R.A Dickey and Marco Estrada all make more than Chapman and if that doesn't convince you, try and name the last relief pitcher to sign a $100 million contract.
You can't. It doesn't exist. The paragon of this situation would be none other than Chapman. When the Reds first got their hands on Chapman in 2010, they tried making Chapman a starter. In 13 games in AAA he was a respectable one too, earning himself a 3.61 ERA before being called up and watching his starting days evaporate like a puddle on a mid-August afternoon. To date, Chapman has earned a very respectable $21 million for himself and is entering free agency this off-season. While his domestic violence incident may play a role in the amount of zeros on his cheques next season, a larger detriment to that will be the fact that he's just a relief pitcher. Expect him to become the highest paid relief pitcher in the league next season no doubt, but don't expect him to earn the $200 million contract he could have received had he been anywhere near as talented as a starting pitcher in his career.
And that's where we get back to with Osuna. The thing is, maybe that's okay. Maybe Jays fans can accept that if Osuna too is willing too. Accept the fact that if he stays in his current role, they have a cost effective closer until the year 2018 before he becomes arbitration eligible while not entering free agency until 2021. There's some peace in that thought for the Blue Jays front office and for Osuna who may easily become the best reliever in the league by then. Maybe that's the legacy he wants to write. Of course, that's not for writers, pundits, talking heads or anyone else to define. That's up to he and the front office.
But that doesn't change the feeling of ambiguity any time Roberto Osuna's name is mentioned. The feeling of jubilation as you cheer on him in the closing moments of a playoff game. The feeling of hopelessness as you unconsciously assume there's no going back from here.
That may take a while.