DUNEDIN, Fla. — With just one game remaining on the Grapefruit schedule, the Toronto Blue Jays’ brass has had some tough decisions to make in regards to the makeup of their roster, with no one really having played himself out of a job.
A team can’t really be 17-5-3 in the fake standings without pretty much everybody playing well, and that’s how it’s gone. Not that you ever want anyone to get knocked around, but at least it makes your decisions easier.
The Blue Jays seem to be down to one major decision to be made as far as the pitching staff goes. They’ll name a closer Wednesday morning, but both Drew Storen and Roberto Osuna are going to be in the bullpen regardless. Brett Cecil, Jesse Chavez and Gavin Floyd will join them back there.
CLOSER TO HOME: Watch Stephen Brunt’s TV special Roberto Osuna: Sinaloa to the Show on Sportsnet, April 2 at 4 p.m., following Red Sox vs. Blue Jays in Montreal
With the club leaning heavily towards starting Marco Estrada on the disabled list in order to give him one extra start to make up for the time he lost earlier in spring with a back injury, that would leave three spots left in the bullpen with four candidates to fill them: Joe Biagini, Arnold Leon, Ryan Tepera and Pat Venditte.
Biagini and Leon are relative locks to make the club, because if they don’t, the Blue Jays will lose them, and right now the club is about not only trying to win the whole shebang this year but also trying to hold onto as many arms as possible.
Biagini was selected in the Rule 5 draft from San Francisco this winter, and if the Blue Jays don’t keep him on the 25-man roster (or disabled list) all season, he must be offered back to the Giants for half of the original draft price of $50,000. San Francisco would surely take him back. Leon is out of options, and he’s impressed enough this spring that the Blue Jays would have a hard time getting him through waivers if he didn’t make the team.
That leaves Tepera and Venditte for one spot. Both have options, both have pitched well and both are very intriguing. Tepera is the known commodity, which may give him an edge, as may the fact that Venditte is seen as a gimmick guy, though a look at his big-league numbers last year suggests he can be an incredible weapon if he’s kept away from switch-hitters.
The decision between those two could come down to the wire.
As far as the starting rotation goes, we know who’s in it and we know who will start on opening day, April 3, when the Blue Jays face the Rays in St. Petersburg. What hasn’t been revealed yet is how things will go from there.
A team likes to give its opposition as many different looks as it can, and the Blue Jays have two power guys in Marcus Stroman, who earned the opening-day assignment against Chris Archer, and Aaron Sanchez, a change-up specialist in Estrada along with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and the lone southpaw, J.A. Happ.
Not that Stroman and Sanchez are similar, but they’re the most similar of the five starters, so ideally they shouldn’t pitch back-to-back, which gives us another clue, as does the way the Blue Jays arranged the pitching schedule the last couple of weeks.
By all indications, Dickey will follow Stroman and pitch in the season’s second game. He’ll be followed by Sanchez and Happ to round out the opening series in St. Pete. With Estrada on the disabled list, the Jays will take advantage of the April 7 off-day to have Stroman come back and pitch the home opener against the Boston Red Sox on April 8 (but not against David Price, who will pitch on the 9th or 10th for the BoSox) on his regular day. Dickey would follow, also on normal rest, and Estrada can be activated from the disabled list to pitch in the series finale on the 10th.
There’s another day off for the Blue Jays on April 11 before the Yankees come to town, so the Jays can go to Sanchez for the opener with the Bronx Bombers while still keeping an eye on his workload, because he’ll be pitching with an extra two days rest, as will Happ the next day. Stroman gets the series finale, on an extra day of rest.
With only one starter having a 200-inning season on his resume, the Blue Jays will be very careful to give everyone as much extra rest as they possibly can throughout the season. It wouldn’t surprise if the first week is the only time all year that they use a day off to skip a starter.
Once things get rolling, it looks as though the order of the Jays’ rotation will settle into Stroman followed by Dickey, Estrada, Sanchez and Happ. Of course, nagging injuries and rainouts could change all that, but that appears to be their perfect-world scenario.