Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna and the "human element"
By: Nick Ashbourne
Canadian Baseball Network
There are countless ways to enjoy baseball from hardcore year-round fandom, to taking in the odd ballgame when the sun is out and you've got a free Sunday afternoon.
Although the game has more prominent and ubiquitous numbers than any other, there's no arithmetic to quantify the joy it brings-and no wrong way to enjoy it. People with different baseball worldviews find themselves butting heads at times, but ultimately they are arguing over a game for children. No matter what anyone says on Twitter, none of your baseball opinions will make or break you as a human being.
That being said, there are certain ways of looking at the game that can limit you at times. Personally, my interest in baseball stems primary from my fascination with the big-picture team construction strategies and on-field tactics. Like anyone else, I can be wowed by feats of athleticism, but I am more impressed by forward-thinking trades or perfect bullpen deployment.
Through this prism I have extracted joy and writing material out of baseball in equal measure. However, sometimes it forces me to see baseball players as pieces on a chess board as opposed to human beings. While essential for clarity and objectivity, sometimes you can miss the forest for the trees.
Right now, the Toronto Blue Jays are in a predicament where the human element and the optimal use of resources are coming into conflict. After an off-season where he invested a great deal of time into bulking up, and preparing himself for a heavy workload, understandably Aaron Sanchez would like to start.
With some dominant spring outings under his belt, and primary competition in Gavin Floyd who's thrown less than 100 big-league innings since 2012, you can see why Sanchez feels the job should be his.
When you put in extra work towards a particular career goal it's frustrating not be rewarded. This is a scenario that's not hard to relate to. Many of us have been up for a job only to see it go to someone else and that could easily happen to Sanchez.
There's a strong argument to be made that it should. Sanchez is already a dominant reliever at the big-league level and 2016 is an especially important year with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion possibly on the way out. It would be difficult to fault the Blue Jays for going with the safe bet.
Also, there's an argument to be made that Sanchez's repertoire simply plays better out of the bullpen. His plus velocity would be dampened by a starting role, and he struggles with left-handed batters because he's basically a two-pitch pitcher at this point in his career. One of those pitches, his curveball, can't always be counted on.
Using Sanchez as a reliever makes sense for the Blue Jays, and you simply can't give people the jobs they want because they want them. But you have to wonder how doing that might affect Sanchez's morale, and as a result, his performance.
We tend to assume ball players are professionals immune to performance fluctuations based on internal factors, but they have emotions like anyone else. Sanchez would have good reason to feel very displeased with management if he ends up as a reliever. How that affects his production is anyone's guess.
Strangely, the Blue Jays are dealing with the exact opposite issue with Roberto Osuna. The 21-year-old right-hander has made it very clear he has no interest in being a starter. It's an interesting position to take because taking the ball every fifth day is generally more lucrative than closing, but he's made this opinion known multiple times.
Something about the way the young hurler is wired makes him prefer pitching often to going deep into games. It's unusual, but it's understandable.
The irony is that Osuna has a repertoire that would play perfectly as a starter. Not only does he have a big fastball and a dynamic hard slider, he also has the all-important third pitch: the changeup. Osuna's changeup is absolutely dastardly, tumbling well out of the zone to baffle left-handers:
The Blue Jays' long-term plan is to feature the Mexican right-hander in their rotation for years to come, and rightfully so. That's where he can provide the most value to the team, and with his combination of command and raw stuff there's little reason to believe he can't excel there.
Ultimately, having difficult finding the right place for two young, cheap, power pitchers is a good problem to have. However, if it weren't for the particular temperaments of the players involved, there would be no problem at all.
If Sanchez had Osuna's love of short max-effort stints he could be placed in the bullpen without incident. If Osuna had Sanchez's determination to start he'd be telling reporters how excited he was about the prospect of starting as soon as next year.
Instead, the Blue Jays are probably going to be stuck selling two pitchers on jobs they don't want to do. That's no guarantee they won't thrive in roles they wouldn't choose for themselves, but employees tend to be more productive when they're satisfied.
From a purely strategic standpoint, it's easy to map out a route that works for the Blue Jays. Unfortunately, it's far trickier to arrange real people than chess pieces.