Around the Horn: Assessing Toronto's rotation

Stroman to headline staff, with former Blue Jays Happ, Chavez returning for depth

Around the Horn: Assessing Toronto's rotation

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have kept most of their 2015 roster intact, but the one area of major turnover can be found in the starting rotation.

David Price is gone and Mark Buehrle is moving on, with a pair of familiar faces taking their place. Former Blue Jays J.A. Happ and Jesse Chavez returned to the fold this offseason, but only time will tell whether that's enough.

In MLB.com's Around the Horn series, we examine each area of Toronto's organization. The first installment centers on the starting rotation:

The locks

Marcus Stroman: The right-hander has never been scared of the spotlight, but the pressure he faces this year will be at an all-time high. Stroman takes over as the club's ace, even though he has yet to pitch a full season in the big leagues. The 24-year-old was Toronto's pitcher of choice during the 2016 postseason, and his upside is among the best in baseball. The Blue Jays need a breakout year from Stroman.

Stroman's winning start

Marco Estrada: The righty defied the odds at every turn last season, but he'll need to prove himself all over again in 2016. There were plenty of skeptics leading up to the postseason, and they'll be back wondering if Estrada was a one-year wonder. The reality is that Estrada was one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball last year, and it secured him a lucrative two-year deal. The Blue Jays would be ecstatic with more of the same.

R.A. Dickey: The veteran knuckleballer is far from perfect, but his 654 2/3 innings over the last three seasons have been instrumental in keeping Toronto's staff afloat. Dickey is not the Cy Young Award winner he was with the Mets, but he did have a 2.80 ERA after the All-Star break in 2015, and he's always there when the bullpen needs a rest. That asset will be even more crucial in '16 without Price and Buehrle to share the burden.

Happ: The veteran southpaw's first tenure in Toronto from 2012-14 was rocky at best. There were extended runs of success, but there also were periods of ineffectiveness and controversies in Spring Training over roles and guaranteed jobs. Happ went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA for the Pirates in 2015, and with a three-year deal valued at $36 million, the Blue Jays are gambling this latest trip will have more highs than lows.

The contenders

Chavez: The right-hander made 47 starts over the past two years for the A's, but he has enough versatility to begin the year in the bullpen. That could actually hurt his case for a starting job, but even if he does begin the year as a reliever, he might not be one for long. At the very least, Chavez is Toronto's first line of defense in case of injuries, and he's a bit of a wild card on this staff.

Aaron Sanchez: Sanchez might have more upside than anyone on this list outside of Stroman, but Toronto needs him in the bullpen. Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil and Sanchez form a solid trio, but the entire group would take a major hit if one was removed to fill a need elsewhere. That could be enough to keep Sanchez in relief.

Sanchez pitches perfect 8th

Drew Hutchison: The expectations were high for Hutchison as he began 2015 as the club's Opening Day starter. Unfortunately for Toronto, the right-hander was plagued with inconsistency and a bizarre home/away split that saw him post a 2.91 ERA at Rogers Centre and 9.83 ERA on the road. Despite the struggles, Hutchison has a legitimate shot at a second chance if he pitches well in Spring Training.

Roberto Hernandez: Hernandez is a long shot to make the rotation, but he does have the most experience. He has logged 1,349 1/3 innings at the big league level, and most recently, he went 3-5 with a 4.36 ERA for the Astros. A more plausible scenario would see Hernandez begin the year at Triple-A Buffalo.

The depth

Toronto had almost no depth to speak of when the offseason began. President Mark Shapiro joked that Buffalo's starting rotation consisted of five pitchers named "blank." Since then, the club has made some moves to address those concerns, and more names likely will be added in the coming weeks.

Some of the starting depth with come from the pitchers mentioned above, but outside of that group, Brad Penny, Scott Copeland, Scott Diamond and Arnold Leon are among the veteran additions who could enter the mix at some point. Eighth-ranked prospect Conner Greene is the closest to being Major League ready, but he will ideally receive additional time to develop.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.