Can Sanchez close? Yes, but don’t try it

BC@Noon discussion on the Jays closer situation, with Casey Janssen struggling mightily in the 2nd half, and becoming a free agent at season's end, how would you feel with Aaron Sanchez in that role?

Don’t you dare. Don’t even think about it.

As tempting as it might be when you see Aaron Sanchez effortlessly blow a 98 m.p.h. fastball past an over-matched Ben Zobrist with two on and two out as was the case Saturday; as tempting as it might be now that Casey Janssen’s on the verge of what will likely be his final month with the Toronto Blue Jays, do not for a second think of Sanchez as a future closer.

“He could do it,” manager John Gibbons said matter of factly. “But when you see that easy velocity come out of that arm, you have to keep reminding yourself: ‘Do I want 45 innings of that as a closer or 145 as a starter?”

There is a sense around the organization that Janssen and the Blue Jays are tired of each other; that it was the case even before Janssen criticized the organization for lack of activity at the trade deadline.

Janssen has been miserable on the field. He has an earned run average of 6.75 in the second half and he has given up 16 hits in 13.1 innings, striking out seven and walking five while giving up five home runs. He lasted just nine pitches in Sunday’s 2-1 loss. On Saturday, he gave up two hits and a run with a walk.

Janssen is eligible for free agency and has a hankering to return home to California. The list of long-term, free-agent deals for closers that have exploded in a team’s face is lengthy. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos won’t commit long-term to Janssen – nor should he, since Janssen is short stuff-wise and has a razor-thin margin for error – despite the Blue Jays internal options not being very exciting. The Jays like Aaron Loup, their deceptive left-hander, in his current role. The organization doesn’t think Brett Cecil or Dustin McGowan have it inside them to close. Sergio Santos’ $6 million option won’t be picked up and while Brandon Morrow will get a short relief stint once (if?) his rehabilitation is over, his $10 million option for next season won’t be exercised.

Steve Delabar, anyone?

Anthopoulos was clear on Sunday: Sanchez is, indeed, capable of closing, “but I don’t ever see us considering him for that role. Depending on the off-season there is a chance he starts in the pen next year to watch innings, and then moves back to the rotation.”

Right now, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman are in line for the rotation in 2015. J.A. Happ, too. It’s possible that the Blue Jays will move either Buehrle or Dickey – they’d have to eat some salary on Buehrle’s $19 million expiring deal, while Dickey’s $12 million per year over the next two seasons might be viewed as good value by some teams – to land an everyday player and create an opening in the rotation for Sanchez.

But what if at the end of the winter the Blue Jays need to use some type of closer by committee in what will likely be a return to the days of the big, bad American League East?

In the meantime, just as the rookie Stroman was at one point this season the Blue Jays best bet as a starter, so, too, is Sanchez now the best bet out of the bullpen.

“This has been unbelievable,” said Sanchez, who has struck out 15 and walked three with four holds since being promoted, and who has held right-handed hitters to a .081 average.

The Blue Jays were clear with Sanchez when they told him at triple-A Buffalo that he’d be going into the bullpen because they wanted him available to pitch through September.

“I told them if I went to the bullpen, I didn’t want to get shut down,” he added. “So, everything just kind of fell in place. They told me I’d finish off the year in the bullpen and be a starter next year. We’ll see how it plays out.”

In the meantime, worry less about who will close in 2015. Worry more about who will close tonight. Just like John Gibbons.


The NFL will never do away with pre-season games because of the free labour and revenue it generates for owners, but it’s clear by now that some of its coaches would just as soon see more joint practices and fewer games.

There will be no less than 13 teams holding joint scrimmages during training camp this year and some teams – the New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens – have practised against multiple opponents, as a means of getting around the 2011 collective bargaining agreements that eliminated two-a-days in full gear. It’s easier to match up first team units against each other and a different uniform sure has a way of snuffing out any boredom.

On Saturday, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was penalized for taunting Texans safety D.J. Swearinger after a touchdown pass. Swearinger sent Wes Welker to the sidelines earlier with another concussion, but the root of the disagreement was in some spirited set-tos doing joint practices leading up to the game.

Given the strength of the NFL’s pre-season TV ratings (I know, don’t ask!) you won’t see the pre-season disappear, but with head coaches such as the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick pointing out that his team can work on more red-zone plays in one joint scrimmage than it can in four pre-season games combined, the popularity is destined to increase.

Especially when you can charge for them.

The things you learn in a week hosting a sports call-in show

(*)“I don’t think there’s a regret (about drafting Johnny Manziel) because of the way the selection came about. The fact is they (the Cleveland Browns) got the No. 1 pick they really wanted in (cornerback) Justin Gilbert and picked up a No. 1 from Buffalo for next season. They felt at No. 22 he was a value pick, and if it didn’t work out, they were armed with picks to go after a quarterback next year.”

– Bud Shaw, Cleveland Plain-Dealer columnist, on why the Browns don’t regret drafting Johnny Football despite his on and off-field issues and why they’re not afraid to show him some tough love. Full segment here.

(*)“Last season, we had 37 percent of our players not have one fight. Sixty-seven percent of our players had one or less. You really see the trends and why it allows us to attract the Connor McDavids and Aaron Ekblads of the world.”

– David Branch, commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League and president of the Canadian Hockey League, commenting on new safety initiatives aimed at cracking down on staged brawls and recidivist cheap shots—the league’s “work towards eliminating the one-dimensional player,” in his words. Full segment here.

(*)“Their challenge will be filling up the stadiums… as technology disrupts that experience. How do you get them into stadiums? Make them more social. How do you get young people into stadiums? More kids playing the game … and engaging young fans through all the different technologies. I don’t see as many big home runs—the (next) TV deal is five or six years away… a lot of it will be tactical and a lot will focus on young people.”

– CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, who this week told the league’s board of governors he was stepping down, on some of the challenges facing his successor. Full segment here.

It’s telling that the first phone call made by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd., chairman of the board Larry Tanenbaum after Tim Leiweke had his hand forced by the board was to Tim Bezbatchenko, general manager of Toronto FC. Also telling? That Richard Peddie is turning down interview requests until after Leiweke’s replacement is named. It shouldn’t surprise anybody if Leiweke is shoved out the door before Christmas and an interim CEO put in place …

Andrew Wiggins’ trade to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love has some lengthy coat-tails. In a radio interview, Mychal Thompson, the father of Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, said that his son was destined for the T-Wolves as part of a Love deal but Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and senior advisor Jerry West nixed it despite general manager Bob Myer and owner Joe Lacob pushing for it. The Warriors have been one of the NBA’s trendy, fun groups for the past two seasons. Here’s hoping they’re not mucking up a good thing …

Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post caught our eye this weekend with his piece detailing how the Nationals’ Bryce Harper uses “borrowed” bats from a list of players – including the Blue Jays Melky Cabrera – during games. “I mean, I swing everybody’s model,” Harper said. “Unless I’m playing against their team.” Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Buster Posey, Todd Helton, Chase Utley, Michael Morse, Yasiel Puig and Troy Tulowitzki’s bats have also been used in games by Harper. Hopefully, none of them are corked or full of power balls or whatever.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan and Baseball Central from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET on the Sportsnet radio and television network.

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