The debate is as old as the year is long. Aaron Sanchez is going to the bullpen. No, wait now he's not. But he should to save his arm for the future. But we're winning now, so...?
This argument has literally been going on since the day he was named as a starter out of spring training. Since then we've all been yelling at our TV screens with our opinions claiming that we in fact know what is best for our star Aaron all the while he has quietly moved himself into the conversation for the AL Cy Young this year. Today he's sitting tight with an 11-1 record to go with a 2.71 ERA 139.1 innings pitched. Note this 139.1 innings pitched is the fire stoker that brought this whole conversation to the forefront of baseball as it's August 4 and he's already exceeded his highest ever innings pitched of 133.1 set over three levels in 2014.
When Francisco Liriano made his way North of the border on Monday afternoon in exchange for Drew Hutchison, most assumed this was the last nail in the Sanchez coffin. The final hurrah. The writing on the wall. That is until pre-game Wednesday night when manager John Gibbons dropped the tiny bombshell that the Blue Jays were still debating the decision to move him out of the rotation but declined to get into specifics.
So you're saying there's a chance?
If there is a chance, I think it would be best to explore the four most likely options at how the front office will manage this headache going forward.
Sanchez stays in the rotation for the season and the playoffs
This one, at least right now based on the rhetoric from Gibbons, Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro, seems highly unlikely. Shapiro is quoted as saying that he won't allow Sanchez to reach the 220-230 inning mark this season, which is around what it would take for him to pitch throughout the rest of the season and into the playoffs.
But, as the argument goes, he's the Jays' best pitcher and the Jays are winning so how can they possibly punt their chance at winning a World Series for the possibility of saving Sanchez's arm in the future.
I stress the word possibility because there is just no credible information out there that would suggest that, first, Sanchez needs to go to the pen based on velocity or spin rate or that, second, putting inning limits on any pitcher who's making a significant increase has the ability to prevent future arm injury. There's just no evidence out there to suggest that and Atkins and Shapiro both have acknowledged this in the past.
So why do it? Is there a better chance of winning the World Series with Sanchez in the rotation than the bullpen? I'd like to believe so as he will arguably get the ball in game one (if they get there) of a postseason series. But is there a better chance that he will incur a significant arm injury in the future if they go this route than winning that coveted World Series?
We just don't know. Give him the ball, let him pitch in the rotation and sit another starter who's value is not as high (R.A. Dickey perhaps) and make a run at this thing. Flags fly forever, or something.
Put him in the bullpen within another two starts, the sky is falling!
Aaron Sanchez is the ace the Blue Jays have been trying to build for years. Let's not ruin him for a lottery ball chance at raising a banner. They don't ask how, they ask how many and that many can become really short if he all of the sudden gets hurt in subsequent seasons. According to FanGraphs odds predictor, the Jays have just an 9.1 per cent chance of winning the World Series. Is it really worth jeopardizing the future's best arm for a 1/10 chance at best?
Also, the Blue Jays rotation already has five starters. There's J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman and the aforementioned Liriano and Dickey so to keep Sanchez in the mix, you'd have to sit down one of those names or move someone into a role in the bullpen doing something they've aren't as comfortable with. That right there could be playing with fire.
Lastly is the fact that Aaron Sanchez is both a dominant reliever and one the Jays beyond the left-field fence would welcome in a heart beat. In 59.1 innings pitched as a reliever he owns a 1.67 ERA, holding batters to a .149 batting average. What more could you ask for?
With a playoff rotation of Happ, Estrada, Stroman, and Liriano, you don't really need Sanchez in the rotation. You'd be better off using him as the third piece of a Jason Grilli, Roberto Osuna triumvirate at the end of ball games. Wouldn't that be something?
Let's be progressive and go to a six-man rotation
To me, this is the route to go. It's the best of both worlds really. I know it's unconventional and change is hard but it's a hybrid of the two extremes.
It would work exactly like it is right now. Pitch with all six of your current starters and see what happens. If Sanchez starts to show regression or fatigue you can give him some time off before putting him in the bullpen for the rest of the way and into the playoffs. If he doesn't, let him pitch and evaluate where he maximizes the team's value come the postseason.
Doing this allows the Blue Jays to get the most amount of value out of their ace this season to finish with a high seed and avoid the possibility of bringing up this disaster again in 2017.
The Stephen Strasburg Shutdown
This one is the most drastic and unlikely of the group. In 2012, the Washington Nationals made the highly controversial decision to shut down their youngster after making the jump from 24 innings pitched in 2011 to 159 the following season. Ask any Nationals fan if they still support the decision and I'm sure the answer is a clear and emphatic "no way".
Not only did the Nationals not make it as far as they could have with Strasburg in the postseason, Strasburg himself was no better off the next season by limiting his innings. In 2013 he made just two more starts than he had the previous season with a decline from 4.0 fWAR to 3.3.
But if you're willing to admit that you have no idea how to handle the situation and would rather hide under your desk in hopes of protecting a sacred arm, this is the avenue for you. Put a hard limit of a 25 per cent increase, totaling in the neighbourhood of 162.6 innings pitched, and be done with it. If the Blue Jays win it all, great. If not, well at least we didn't kill the team's best arm for years to come, right?