The Great Aaron Sanchez Debate of 2016 is finally coming to a close. The Blue Jays regular season opens up this coming Sunday against Tampa, so Toronto will have to very quickly decide who fits into the rotation plans. The overwhelming majority of fans want Sanchez to start, the front office seems to want him to relieve, and John Gibbons’ opinion changes daily. However, one thing seems to have come into focus: if Sanchez starts the season in the bullpen, he’s not coming out.
Gibbons admitted today what I've always believed, if Sanchez starts year in bullpen there's a chance that's where he'll be his entire career
— Gregor Chisholm (@gregorMLB) March 27, 2016
Gibbons on Sanchez: "I've always been a believer, if he ends up a reliever full time this season, there's probably no going back." #BlueJays
— Gregor Chisholm (@gregorMLB) March 27, 2016
You’ve probably already read two or three dozen pieces arguing for Sanchez to be in the rotation or the bullpen. This isn’t going to be one of those pieces. I should say that I’m more in favour of sending him to the minors if he isn’t going into the rotation – as outlined by our own Matt Gwin last week – but Pete Walker dismissed that notion. With that in mind, and if Aaron Sanchez would really be stuck in the pen forever if sent there, I believe that the Jays should do one of two things: Either start Aaron Sanchez or explore trading him.
That may be a shocking suggestion, as Aaron Sanchez is a fan-favourite, best friends with Marcus Stroman, and still under control for the 2017 season and beyond. But if you’ve been paying attention to what has been going on this offseason, things start to become a bit clearer.
I think we can all agree that, at minimum, Aaron Sanchez has been an elite relief pitcher in the major leagues. In 59.1 career innings out of the pen, the Californian righty has a 1.67 ERA (which ranks 5th among relievers with 50+ innings), and has held hitters to a line of .151/.221/.191. So let’s start by taking a look at some of the packages that teams have picked up for their ace relievers this offseason:
Included in that group are three monster packages, with three different types of returns. Dickerson is a power-hitting, controllable outfielder, the Phillies package contains a bunch of MLB-ready, talented players, and the Padres group is all extremely high-ceiling, if farther away prospects. While these trades all seemed like possible overpays at the time, the fact that three of them occurred in a short amount of time suggests that this in fact the new market price. Storen only required a return of Ben Revere, but he’s a pending free agent to whom Toronto is paying more than $6M, so he doesn’t really fit as a perfect comp. Heck, even Liam Hendriks was able to help the Blue Jays pull in a guy who, at the time, was supposed to be a member of the 2016 rotation in Jesse Chavez. Top relievers clearly have trade value.
Even then, Aaron Sanchez isn’t only a top reliever. The industry seems to see something a bit bigger for the 23 year old.
- A scout who is tracking the Jays laughed at Rosenthal for even asking him which option he preferred, saying that Sanchez would be the Opening Day starter for half the teams in the majors.
- “If they have five guys better than Aaron Sanchez and he does not fit their rotation, they are going to win 150 games,” said one NL scout.
- “Sanchez is their best starter right now, not the best No. 5 candidate, but No. 1 and that includes Marcus Stroman,” said a seasoned scout.
Clearly there are some out there who see Aaron Sanchez as not just a starter, but as a guy that could pitch at the front of a rotation. When we expand our offseason trade search to include starters, we see even more interesting trade packages. Jon Niese brought back Neil Walker, a solid second baseman, and Shelby Miller brought back the monster package of Encer Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, and Aaron Blair.
Once again, teams are willing to pay extreme premiums for controllable pitching. Sure, the Miller trade was panned across the league, but even a package half that good would be a huge return. Then when we look at the Niese deal, we see a guy that was having trouble sticking in the rotation, and is making $9M this year, with club options for 2017 and 2018 at $10M and $11M, respectively. Aaron Sanchez makes $511K this year and next, and will then be under control for three more years after that. Sanchez is arguably better in performance and payment, and Niese still brought back a player that should absolutely help the New York Mets in 2016.
Most importantly, every single one of these types of trades would outweigh the value the Blue Jays will get from Aaron Sanchez pitching out of the bullpen. That may seem confusing, given the previously outlined packages teams are willing to pay for relievers, but the Jays aren’t using Aaron Sanchez as a closer. They aren’t even using him as a setup man, or even the second set up man. Aaron Sanchez would be the fourth reliever on the Toronto depth chart, behind Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil, and Drew Storen.
Brett Cecil was one of the very best relievers in all of baseball last year, and he only threw 54 innings. Roberto Osuna was the closer all year and didn’t make it to 70. It’s a basic truth that at some point, there just aren’t enough innings left. Even with some of the question marks in the Jays rotation, if Sanchez is the man responsible for the sixth or seventh innings, he doesn’t add anything close to the value he can return in trade. Jesse Chavez can absolutely handle that role. Heck, Joe Biagini, Steve Delabar, and Ryan Tepera can handle that role. It just isn’t that important.
Now, as many have pointed out, this is a big, go-for-it year for the Blue Jays. But take a look at those packages again, and then remind yourself what happened last July. Even if the Jays don’t get “right now” help like Dickerson, if they trade Sanchez for prospects, think of what they can do with them at the deadline. As it stands right now, the Jays don’t have the prospect depth to pull off those kind of trades. If they pull in a couple more high ceiling guys, they can make moves for real impact going forward.
By trading Sanchez, the team either gets tremendous assets now, or tremendous assets in the future, and all of them outweighs his contributions as a reliever. So do the right thing Blue Jays: start Aaron Sanchez. If you’re not going to do that, at least get some value for him.
We’d miss him, but it’s the right thing to do.
UPDATE: Sanchez has officially been named to the rotation. They did the right thing after all, so they didn’t need the second best option.
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