Is It Time to Move Aaron Sanchez to the Bullpen?
There is no denying the fact that Aaron Sanchez is one of the more talented members of the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff. With a 6”4 210 lb frame, Sanchez is a dominant presence on the mound, and sports a mid to high 90’s tailing fastball with a great off-speed arsenal. His command, when on, allows him to be one of the more dominant pitchers in the game, as evidenced by him winning the American League ERA title in 2016 as a starter.
However, since then, Sanchez has struggled to find himself in the Blue Jays rotation. This is not strictly due to performance. Sanchez has struggled with finger and nail injuries consistently on his throwing hand, which cause him to constantly spend time on the disabled list. Sanchez, who is currently 0-9 with a 7.98 ERA since the start of May 2019, is currently mired in the worst slump of his career. A pitcher who the Jays had hoped would outperform expectations in order to boost his trade value has sunk so low, that they would be lucky to get a PTBNL (Player to be Named Later) for him at this point.
Due to this, it is wise to envision Sanchez in a Blue Jays uniform for the foreseeable future. As the Jays should very likely be trading Ken Giles, their closer and #1 bullpen arm by the trade deadline, the Jays don’t have a back end bullpen arm they can trust. To be fair, they don’t have many starters that they can trust right now as well.
The Jays have had very good luck in recent years with the back end of their bullpen. Roberto Osuna and Ken Giles have been lights out and dominant in their closing role, and Osuna was instrumental to the Jays two deep playoff runs to the ALCS in back to back years, pitching some big innings down the stretch in the regular season and in the playoffs. A big moment that not a lot of people think about instantly is him coming into the game after Bautista hits the biggest home run in current Blue Jay history and recording a 5 out save. Who was that pitcher he came in for? Oh that’s right, Aaron Sanchez.
Sanchez started his career with the Blue Jays out of the bullpen. In 2014, strictly operating out of the bullpen, he pitched to a tune of a sparkling ERA of 1.09 through 33 IP. After Stroman tore his ACL in spring training at the start of 2015, Sanchez moved into the starting rotation, and made 11 starts over the course of the season, compared to 30 relief appearances. His respectable ERA of 3.22 that season showed the potential he could bring to the table for the Blue Jays. He appeared in all 5 games as a reliever against the Texas Rangers, pitching 5 1/3 innings without allowing a run. In other words, Sanchez dominated out of the bullpen, especially when it mattered as a very young pitcher.
Yes Sanchez has had that dominating 2016 season where he finished 7th in Cy Young voting and was named an all star, but injuries have rendered a once dominant pitcher a shell of his younger self. Sanchez is consistently battling command and injury issues, and to be completely honest, is getting lit up like a Christmas tree in December. He’s clearly not working out as a starter anymore. So, what’s next?
In my mind, a return to the bullpen would do wonders. Sanchez still sports an arsenal of pitches that allow him to go through the batting order two or three times in a game. He still has a fastball that can hit the upper 90’s that moves as much as some guys’ sliders. He can be an absolute weapon out of the pen, and the Jays will need a new closer they can rely on. Not having a trusted closer is dangerous. Remember when we had Casey Janssen and Brett Cecil closing out games? The Jays need someone who has proven they can be the guy in late innings, and Sanchez did that when he was a rookie and a young pitcher.
Sanchez can also pitch more than one inning out of the pen too. With the new rule coming into place where a pitcher must face 3 batters, the specialty pitchers (see Aaron Loup) are likely finding themselves out of a job. Hence, you need a guy that you know can give you at least one quality inning out of the pen. Sanchez can give you two or even three! Don’t use him in long relief though. Instead of having a 7th inning guy and an 8th inning guy, why not make Sanchez your 7th and 8th inning guy? Or have him come into the game in the 8th with the intention of closing it out?
Sanchez could utilize every pitch in his arsenal when only throwing two innings. He doesn’t have to save pitches for a second or third time through the lineup. When the Jays are a contending team again, they need a solid presence in the back end of the bullpen. That solid presence currently exists as a liability in the current starting rotation. The Jays will be able to find starting pitching by the time they are contenders, but finding big name clutch relievers to do the job is tough for a smaller market team, and is the difference between a hopeful and a contender.
Also, by moving Sanchez to the bullpen now, you’re allowing him to take ownership of the bullpen. He can be the captain down there, mentor the young guys, and be the one you give the ball too when you need a win with a one run lead. He’s been the 8th inning guy before all the way to the ALCS. He knows how to pitch in high pressure situations. The Jays need to realize that the Sanchez starting era is over, but his potential as an all star reliever is still very much there.