After months of debate surrounding emerging Blue Jays ace Aaron Sanchez, the team has made the decision to deploy a six-man rotation featuring Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey and newly acquired Francisco Liriano, per Toronto GM Ross Atkins (via Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi).
As Davidi points out, the solution isn’t perfect, as even with a six-man structure, Sanchez figures to make another eight starts or so, which would push him to 180 innings even if he tossed only five innings per outing. That wouldn’t factor in the postseason, either, and an ideal scenario for Toronto would include Sanchez starting well into a deep postseason run. It’s a similar conundrum that the Mets faced with Matt Harvey last season, though Sanchez isn’t coming back from Tommy John. Rather, he’s simply looking at a massive increase in his workload after throwing a total of 133 1/3 innings in 2014 (a career high) and an even smaller total of 102 innings in 2015. President of baseball operations Mark Shapiro recently told the media that there’s “no scenario” in which Sanchez would be allowed to pitch 220 to 230 innings, and indeed Atkins said that the team plans on avoiding such an extreme spike in his innings.
Atkins suggested to reporters that in addition to the six-man rotation, the Jays will be able to leverage expanded rosters in September in order to perhaps further limit Sanchez’s innings in advance of what the Jays hope will be a deep playoff run. He also implied that Sanchez’s ability to continue bouncing back from starts will impact the plan for the remainder of the season, stressing the importance of remaining “fluid and flexible” in this type of situation. “We have all the math, of course,” said Atkins in reference to various innings projections for Sanchez. “Like I said, we’ll get into an area, hopefully we get into that area. He feels good, he’s recovering well, we’re not seeing fatigue in any way and (if) we get into an area that’s unprecedented, we’re hopeful that happens.” Davidi goes on to report that the Blue Jays have been extensively studying dramatic innings increases from years prior, specifically examining Noah Syndergaard and Jon Lester, among others.
Of course, keeping both Sanchez and Liriano in the rotation comes with other roster construction implications. With six starters on board, the Blue Jays will have to either utilize a three-man bench or a six-man bullpen between now and Sept. 1, when rosters expand. The former of those two options is the current alignment, as can be seen on the Blue Jays’ depth chart, leaving the club with a bench consisting of light-hitting Josh Thole, defensive specialist Darwin Barney and a resurgent Melvin Upton Jr. With Troy Tulowitzki attempting to play through a chip fracture in his thumb and Jose Bautista fresh off the DL due to a foot injury, the possibility exists that the Blue Jays could be stretched thin on the position-player front, though rookie right-hander Danny Barnes could be optioned back to Buffalo should the need for an additional bench player arise.
In 139 1/3 innings this season, the 24-year-old Sanchez has pitched to an American-League-leading 2.71 ERA with 7.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 57.5 percent ground-ball rate that trails only his own teammate, Stroman, among qualified Major League starters this season.