Many scenarios in play as Blue Jays contemplate rotation setup

ryan_borucki_throws_a_pitch_against_the_orioles

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Ryan Borucki throws to the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a baseball game, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Baltimore. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Within a couple of days, the Blue Jays’ pending deals with Clay Buchholz and Bud Norris should become official, but it will likely take weeks before real clarity emerges on the structure of the team’s pitching staff. In the meantime, many scenarios remain in play for a team that needs improvement after posting a 4.85 ERA in 2018.

Could Ryan Borucki open the season in the minors? Could Clayton Richard move to the bullpen? Could Marcus Stroman trade talks start up again? At this point, all of those outcomes are imaginable to varying degrees. The Blue Jays would welcome tough decisions if it means their pitchers make it through the spring healthy.

At Dunedin Stadium Saturday, Stroman worked two hitless innings in his second spring outing, striking out three without walking a batter. One day earlier, Aaron Sanchez looked similarly sharp in his spring debut. So far so good, for the team’s highest upside pitchers.

“(Stroman) looks pretty good to me,” Charlie Montoyo said. “Sharp. It’s good to see. We’re going to need Stro to compete. Sanchez was good and Stroman was good. That’s a good sign for us.”

At this point, the Blue Jays don’t appear to be actively discussing Stroman trades, although the starting pitching market could shift when Dallas Keuchel signs. At that point, the teams that miss out on the free agent left-hander could theoretically re-engage with the Blue Jays, who listened to offers for both Stroman and Sanchez over the winter. While many teams checked in on Stroman during the off-season, it doesn’t appear that any offers have truly tempted the team.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

When Buchholz’s deal becomes official, he’ll join the rotation, pushing Borucki down the depth chart and creating the possibility that he’ll open the season at triple-A. Even if that happens, Borucki will get chances to contribute in 2019. Realistically, all pitching staffs encounter injuries, and the Blue Jays appear more vulnerable than most given that all five members of their projected rotation dealt with injuries last year.

Plus, there’s a chance that the Blue Jays could open the season with Richard in the bullpen, giving them a second left-hander along with Tim Mayza. In the meantime, Richard’s preparing to start and welcoming the addition of Buchholz.

“He’s a championship pitcher, a professional starting pitcher that I think any club would be fortunate to have,” Richard said. “We’re excited to have him. Whenever you can add talent like that, it’s a good thing.”

Even if the addition of Buchholz means one more starter’s in the mix for playing time, Richard welcomes the challenge.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “It’s major-league baseball. It’s the best of the best. To shy away from something like that is sort of foolish. The more talent we have, the better we’ll be as a team and at the end of the day that’s what’s important.”

If completed, the Blue Jays’ agreement with Buchholz would be a big-league deal, meaning someone will have to come off of a 40-man roster that’s now full.

Meanwhile, the contract for Norris could be completed by Tuesday, and no corresponding move will be needed since it would be a minor-league deal.

STROMAN APPROVES OF HARPER’S DEAL

Count Marcus Stroman among those who were pleased to see Bryce Harper land a 13-year, $330-million deal with the Phillies.

“Bryce is a legend, man,” Stroman said. “Huge congrats to him and his family. There’s no one more deserving. He’s been the legend from time. It’s hard to be that chosen guy from birth, pretty much, and pan out. So all power to him, man. I can’t wait to see what he does in Philadelphia.”

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The Blue Jays are comfortable using Cavan Biggio at first, second, third and even in the outfield, but it’s not just Biggio’s bat and versatility that have caught Montoyo’s eye.

“I like his intangibles,” Montoyo said. “He knows how to play the game and I think he learned that from his dad (Hall of Famer Craig Biggio).”

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