Why shutting down Aaron Sanchez provides more questions than answers

Aaron Sanchez talks about being shut down for the rest of the 2017 season and how he is already preparing for the 2018 campaign.

The blisters have become just part of the issue for the Toronto Blue JaysAaron Sanchez, who was told just days ago by Dr. Thomas Graham, a hand specialist, that he has damaged a ligament in his right middle finger, likely the result of compensating for the blisters and fingernail issues that have plagued him this season.

Great, eh?

So it’s no surprise that the Blue Jays have decided to shut down Sanchez for the remainder of 2017, shelving any thought of having him make an appearance or two to leave the regular season with a bit of optimism.

Not only is Sanchez restricted from throwing a ball because of what he said was damage to annular or ‘pulley’ ligaments in his finger, he has been told to not use his right hand to grip anything, for example, during workouts. Sanchez shrugged Sunday when asked if he’d been given a timetable, and almost made it sound as if his goal was to resume throwing in the first week of December – when he would normally begin preparations for spring training.

To say Sanchez is frustrated would be an understatement. He’s tired of people asking to see his finger – which looks more or less normal, after having half the nail sawed off earlier this season. "I’m tired of sitting here and doing this," he said, staring intently at the fingernail – a shot that was a mainstay of television coverage this season.

He’s visited a couple of specialists and heard a lot of suggestions, going back to last season when he decided to try the "pickle juice" cure from back in the day that is espoused by pitchers such as Al Leiter who dealt with the issue during their career. "Pickle juice," Sanchez said with a chuckle. "Did that last year."

You can put Sanchez down as one of those who absolutely believe there is a difference between baseballs being used this season and last season, and who wonders whether that is a contributing factor. Last week, in an interview on my show, Sanchez’s agent Scott Boras said that: "Some of my clients have raised issues with the ball. I have heard of a number of very serious abrasions on tips of the fingers that didn’t exist last year."

In a locked drawer at the bottom of this locker in the Blue Jays clubhouse Sanchez has two balls, one with ‘2017’ on it and the other with ‘2016’ on it. Sunday, he asked me to see if I could determine a difference – the seams felt rougher on the 2017 ball – but that’s irrelevant. This is a tactile thing and reporters and broadcasters don’t have the feel for it unless they’re former catchers or pitchers. So Buck Martinez and Joe Siddall, the Blue Jays broadcasters who are both former catchers, took turns with the two balls. Both of them and Sanchez agreed there was less give on the hide of the 2017 ball.

The damned sport is tough enough at the major league level without having the amount of free time to think about things that Sanchez has had this season. Naturally, he’s second-guessed some decisions, even though Boras lauded the Blue Jays for "clear and concise" communication with himself and his client. This is a political issue for Blue Jays management, which spent much of the spring trumpeting its investment in a high performance department, then looked on as several of its players fell to injury while rightly urging folks not to look at two-plus-two equalling four. That, of course, has only led to suggestions of wholesale rear-end covering, because … well, because two-plus-two, right?

And so now Sanchez can finally bury 2017. One season removed from a 15-2 (3.00) campaign that saw him earn both All-Star recognition and Cy Young votes, Sanchez’s major league line for this season will read: 1-3 (4.25) in eight starts, averaging less than five innings per start. It’s been stillborn almost from the end of spring training, and now the question is how do the Blue Jays, he and – yes – Boras deal with it.

The Blue Jays have Marcus Stroman and J.A. Happ under contract and – knock on wood – healthy heading into the winter. In addition to Sanchez, Joe Biagini is under their control, and they’ll get first crack at both Brett Anderson and Marco Estrada. Estrada is eligible for free agency but the Blue Jays are bullish on their chances of bringing him back. Truth is, this is a team with so much to do to its lineup – two everyday outfielders, more robust support for Russ Martin, and possibly settling on a lead-off hitter and second baseman instead of rolling the dice again on Devon Travis – that the ideal scenario is to simply hold serve with the pitching in hand.

Yet what do they make of Sanchez? Boras and general manager Ross Atkins have both acknowledged that there is an element of learning as they go along the rehabilitation route with Sanchez – there is no ‘one size fits all’ cure. But surely the unspoken concern is that at the age of 25, Sanchez’s blisters eventually turn him into another Rich Hill: a guy you pencil into the rotation instead of marking him in with ink. The Blue Jays should have better pitching depth at Triple-A next season – Ryan Borucki gives them a bona fide prospect as part the Buffalo Bisons’ rotation, something they haven’t had for a couple of seasons – but let’s be honest: a fully healthy and productive Sanchez will be better than any other option.

Boras is the most powerful agent in the game and is known for being proactive when it comes to the health of his pitchers as well as their wealth. The Blue Jays renewed Sanchez for the major league minimum ($535,000) after his breakout season, exercising all the leverage available to them with a first-year arbitration eligible pitcher, and that got Boras’ attention, fast. Teams generally pay at some point for getting that type of attention from Boras, and while it’s difficult to see any financial revenge being exacted after this kind of season, it’s going to take a light-fingered bedside manner to figure out how much Sanchez will be paid next season. Boras believes that "professional negotiators" should be able to square this particular circle and you’d like to think that’s the case.

It’s in the interest of everybody to get Sanchez back to what he was: the type of pitcher whose on-field performance is so good and so dominating that it creates contractual issues.