By Cole Shelton
Canadian Baseball Network
For the second spring training in a row, the Blue Jays are wondering what to do with pitcher Joe Biagini.
The Blue Jays are stretching him out as a starter, and it's quite clear Biagini wants to be a starter, but his path to the major league rotation is a hard one, so he may have to be in triple-A Buffalo. However, Biagini is quite capable of pitching in the big leagues, so some are hoping for Biagini to be in the bullpen, and be the set-up reliever he was in 2016.
Now, there are benefits to having Biagini starting in triple-A, or in the bullpen in the majors. So, what will the Blue Jays do?
Have him start in Buffalo
Biagini has made it very clear he wants to start, however, he also said pitching in the big leagues is something he also wants to do.
“I think I’ll always prefer starting, but I’ll also say that pitching for this team and trying to help this team win in any capacity would probably trump the starting thing,” Biagini told Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith.
Not only does Biagini want to start, but Ross Atkins also wants him to start whether that's in triple-A or in the majors.
“We feel like we could start the season with a very good team, with a very good triple-A team behind it, a strong system behind it,” Atkins told Nicholson-Smith.
There are many reasons why this make sense, as the Blue Jays have five solid starting pitchers, but after that, the depth is simply not there. Toronto would be looking to rely upon Thomas Pannone, Ryan Borucki, and Taylor Guerrieri, not exactly the most recognizable names.
Sending Biagini to triple-A would allow the Blue Jays to feel comfortable with having six capable major league starters, as Biagini would be the first to come up when Toronto needs another starter. There's no going around it, that Toronto and every other MLB team, will need seven, eight, nine starters if not more throughout the season, as injuries happen and if the Blue Jays are needing five starts from each of Pannone, Borucki, and Guerrieri, the season may not go as many Toronto fans are hoping.
Having Biagini start in Buffalo would allow the Blue Jays to have more overall pitching depth, which no team can truly have enough of. While the bullpen is so hit and miss that Toronto could get a huge season from a relatively unknown reliever, similar to Dominic Leone last season.
Truthfully, starting pitching is more important than the bullpen, and having more starting pitchers in the organization is a good thing, that Toronto should definitely consider doing with Biagini.
Have him in the MLB bullpen
Yes, after all that there is a reason to have Biagini in the Blue Jays bullpen instead of having him in the Bisons' rotation. One main reason is that the success of the big league squad is more important than organizational depth and success in triple-A.
If Biagini is in the bullpen, he immediately strengthens the club's relief corps and gives manager John Gibbons, six solid relievers, in Roberto Osuna, Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Seung-hwan Oh and Biagini. Having six capable relievers will be huge for the Blue Jays, as they can then fill out the final one or two spots with pitchers looking to rebound, but on any given night, Gibbons will feel comfortable turning to any of the six in the final two or three innings when his team has a lead.
Also, Biagini is a much better pitcher in the bullpen then he was as a starter. In 2016, when Biagini was a reliever, he pitched in 67 2/3 innings, while having a 3.06 ERA, a 2.95 FIP, and only walked 19 batters compared to 62 strikeouts. While when he was a starter in 2017, Biagini had a 5.73 ERA, with 30 walks compared to only 70 strikeouts in 88 innings. A marginal increase in strikeouts but much more walks. Therefore, Biagini was more effective out of the bullpen and had a much better strikeout to walk ratio, something that is crucial to any pitcher, especially starters.
Yes, Biagini didn’t get stretched out properly and had to bounce back from the bullpen to the rotation and then back to the bullpen. But Biagini was much better as a reliever and made more of an impact as a reliever then he did as a starter last season.
“If he’s not our starter, I think he’s very valuable to us coming out of the ‘pen,” Gibbons said to Nicholson-Smith. “(Dominic) Leone’s not here. That’s a hole to fill and he’s shown us he can do that.”
It's clear Gibbons is on the train of having the best major league roster possible, while Atkins and Biagini are both in favour of starting. Now, moving forward it will be very interesting to see what the Blue Jays do with Biagini, as there are reasons for why he should be starting in Buffalo, but also reasons why he should be in the big league bullpen.
It will ultimately come down to health. If a starter gets hurt in spring training, Biagini will then be back in the rotation, but if everybody is healthy, that's when it will get interesting for Toronto to decide. The front office wants him starting in the minors, while the manager wants him in his bullpen. It may be up to how Biagini pitches in spring training as they stretch him out, and how the Blue Jays value the other starters in their system.
For the second spring in a row, a major question is what to do with Biagini, and for the second year in a row, the answer is not an obvious one.