Toronto Blue Jays: Could Joe Biagini secure a long-term spot in the rotation?

Apr 20, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Joe Biagini (31) delivers a pitch against Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 20, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Joe Biagini (31) delivers a pitch against Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Manager John Gibbons confirmed that Joe Biagini will start Sunday for the Toronto Blue Jays, replacing Matt Latos in the rotation.

As reported by Sportsnet‘s Ben Nicholson-Smith, Joe Biagini will start for the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, versus the Tampa Bay Rays. The decision was made, after Matt Latos was designated for assignment on Friday.

Although the move may be temporary, the Blue Jays should use this opportunity to examine Biagini’s future with the team as a potential starter. The 26-year old has become a valuable commodity in Toronto’s bullpen.

Biagini excelled in his rookie season last year, sporting a 3.06 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, while striking out 62 in 67.2 IP. However, in an era where good middle relievers still make significantly less than mediocre starters, it is in the organization’s best interests to see if he can be a starter.

Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons discussed the pitcher with the Toronto Sun‘s Steve Buffery and other members of the media:

"“We were gearing him up possibly in spring training (to start). We were playing with that a little bit,” Gibbons said. “And who knows what will happen with it, who knows how long it will last? He threw 40 pitches the other night (against the Yankees). He can’t throw a lot more than that on Sunday but there’s a chance we can build him up if we keep him in that role.”"

Toronto’s decision to keep him in the pen for 2017 made sense for a team set on competing for the playoffs. With a solid starting-five and a relief corps weakened by the departures of Scott Feldman, Brett Cecil and Joaquin Benoit, there was a greater need for him as a reliever.

Moving him to the rotation, or down to Buffalo was not a luxury the Jays felt they could afford. But after flopping out of the gate with a 10-20 record, the team can now take the time to experiment with Biagini.

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The Blue Jays must pick their poison with where to put their big righty. Toronto is currently 19th in bullpen ERA (4.57) and subtracting Biagini’s solid 3.38 ERA from the mix will only makes matters worse for a group that has already blown eight saves this season.

But with Aaron Sanchez on the DL for the second time this season and J.A. Happ having been sidelined since April 11, the once solid-looking rotation is in disarray.

According to Sportsnet’s Arash Madani, Sanchez could return as early as next week, while Marcus Stroman says he should be fine for his next start. However, the uncertainty surrounding Happ creates a perfect chance to test Biagini in the rotation.

He serves as the best short and long-term replacement for the rotation. As we all saw, Latos (0-1, 6.60 ERA in 3 starts) and Casey Lawrence (0-3, 8.78 ERA in four games) were not up to the task of pitching at the big league level.

Biagini has had success as a starter before, albeit never above Double-A. In 2015, he went 10-7 with a 2.47 ERA in 23 games (22 as a starter). However, there is no guarantee he’ll be able to shift back to being a successful starter now, especially at the major league level.

This debate is similar to the one that went on last off-season with closer Roberto Osuna. After a successful rookie campaign, the organization debated whether to shift him back to the rotation or continue utilizing him as a late-inning weapon. Ultimately Toronto chose to keep Osuna in the pen for 2016, as they did with Biagini for 2017.

However, with two impending free-agents in Francisco Liriano and Marco Estrada the debate over Biagini and even Osuna may open up again. If the Jays find themselves out of contention in July and decide to trade either Estrada or Liriano, the need for a reliable starter could become a permanent gig.

For Sunday’s start, Biagini will just be expected to keep the team in it. Gibbons has said he’d “be more than pleased to get four” innings out of him, as his pitch limit has been set at 60.

With the Blue Jays seemingly out of contention 30 games into the season, this is the time to address bigger issues concerning the future of the team.

Next: Should Aaron Sanchez have an Extended Break?

Biagini may not be able to replicate his 2015 Double-A stats as a starter. He may just be another decent reliever that doesn’t have the skill set to make it as a starter, but the team will never know until they try.