The Toronto Blue Jays were exceedingly fortunate with their rotation in 2016, sending just seven different starters to the mound after needing 12 or more in four of the preceding five seasons.
Earlier this week, T.J. House joined a growing group of potential depth starters. Bullpen roles remain possible for these arms, too, and after the Blue Jays opened 2016 with Jesse Chavez, Gavin Floyd, and Arnold Leon on the roster, it’s conceivable that space exists for multiple long relievers again.
Here’s a closer look at the collection of potential depth starters:
T.J. House – LHP, 27 years old
In 2014, House looked like a promising piece of Cleveland’s future at just 24 years old with a 3.35 ERA over 102.0 innings. Shoulder issues cost him the majority of his 2015 season and he spent most of 2016 with the triple-A Columbus Clippers, posting a 3.98 ERA between 12 starts and 21 relief appearances. He’ll enter spring training 2017 as a starter, and if opportunities don’t present themselves in the MLB rotation or bullpen, will then be slated to open the year in the triple-A Bisons’ rotation.
House faces few restrictions on his minor-league deal with option years still remaining. His control was inconsistent in 2016 with 5.4 walks per nine innings in triple-A, but he’s shown stronger ratios in the past (1.9 BB/9 at MLB level in 2014) and produces ground balls at an encouraging rate. His ability to be a movable No. 6 starter from Buffalo would allow Toronto to be much more flexible with someone like Joe Biagini.
Joe Biagini – RHP, 26 years old
Biagini is now free of his Rule 5 restrictions from 2016, so if the Blue Jays so choose, he can be freely optioned back to triple-A and stretched out as a starter. There is an understandable temptation to do this given Biagini’s physical build, and with Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano entering the final years of their contracts, a transition year could align Biagini with an open rotation spot in 2018.
The needs of the 2017 bullpen currently outweigh the needs of the 2018 starting five, however, and the Jays could comfortably return Biagini to a late-inning role alongside Jason Grilli. Biagini did take some encouraging steps as a starter in double-A as a 25-year-old before being selected by Toronto, but maintaining 2016’s 94-95 MPH fastball velocity with an effective slider as a starter could be challenging.
Mike Bolsinger – RHP, 28 years old
Bolsinger is out of options, making him a less flexible piece for the Jays. The right-hander looked strong over 21 starts for the 2015 Dodgers with a 3.62 ERA, but was moved to a triple-A bullpen role in 2016 and then traded to Toronto.
In theory, Bolsinger could stick as the long man out of the bullpen with an ability to make spot starts, filling the role the Blue Jays envisioned for Chavez entering 2016. That would allow Toronto to address a small part of their 2017 relief corps while holding on to a piece that might hold some value in 2018.
Brett Oberholtzer – LHP, 27 years old
Oberholtzer joined the Jays on a minor-league deal after splitting 2016 between the Phillies and Angels where he posted a 5.89 ERA over 35 relief appearances and a pair of starts. This was Oberholtzer’s first season as a primary reliever, but without experiencing a spike in fastball velocity or demonstrating strong splits against lefties, it’s possible he provides starting depth from Buffalo.
Glenn Sparkman – RHP, 24 years old
Toronto’s Rule 5 pick has a high bar to meet following Biagini’s breakthrough season, but with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s and encouraging walk rates in the minors, he’ll have a shot at a low-leverage bullpen role. After returning from Tommy John surgery in mid-2016, Sparkman made 16 starts covering 60.1 innings with a 5.22 ERA and 9.5 strikeouts per nine. If the Jays do not keep Sparkman on their 25-man roster, he must be offered back to the Royals.