TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have several intriguing roster decisions to make when Spring Training gets under way later this month, but perhaps the most interesting one of all will take place at the back end of the bullpen.
The Blue Jays' roster from last season has remained mostly intact, but one of the major additions was right-hander Drew Storen, and now the club must decide how to use him. He has proven ninth-inning experience, but Roberto Osuna did just fine as last season's closer, and the risk here is messing with a recipe that works.
There are pros and cons for both sides, and the debate will likely linger deep into Spring Training. There's no rush to make a decision. So far, the Blue Jays have yet to publicly indicate which direction they will go, and the uncertainty should only add to this compelling case.
Why Storen should be the closer
Storen has more late-inning experience than anyone else in the Blue Jays' bullpen. He amassed 95 saves over parts of six seasons with the Nationals, and while it wasn't always smooth sailing, when Storen is on, he's one of the best relievers in baseball. He averaged a career-high 11 strikeouts per nine innings last season, and the ability to miss bats is something most teams crave in this role.
Another point that works in Storen's favor is that he seems to pitch best when used in a clearly defined role. He experienced a well-documented midseason collapse after the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon prior to last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, and some of Storen's issues could be tied to workload. Storen admitted that frequently warming up in the bullpen and not knowing when he would pitch as factors in the late decline.
Proper usage from manager John Gibbons can alleviate a lot of those concerns, but Osuna could prove to be the more versatile arm that would be best suited in a setup role. Osuna, who did spend his limited Minor League time as a starter, has the ability to throw multiple innings, and if Gibbons gets creative, he could find a way for Osuna to increase his 69 2/3 innings from 2015. The ability to get two or three innings from Brett Cecil and Osuna prior to Storen in the ninth is hard to resist.
Why Osuna should be the closer
One of biggest arguments in favor of Osuna as the closer supports the old-school theory that a player shouldn't lose his job without cause. Osuna surprised just about everyone last season, and even though he had never pitched above Class A, the Mexico native recorded 20 saves in his rookie season.
An argument easily could be made that Osuna helped salvage Toronto's 2015 season. The Blue Jays previously auditioned Cecil and rookie Miguel Castro for the closer's job, but neither worked out, and when the club was desperately searching for answers, it was Osuna who stepped up. The 20-year-old went on to post a 2.58 ERA while striking out 75 batters and displayed an ability to bounce back after a rare rough outing.
The Blue Jays know what they're going to get from Osuna, and he has openly expressed his love for the role in the past. Osuna doesn't seem like the type of pitcher who would take offense to having the job taken away from him, but at the same time, he has done everything the club could have asked for and more. Picking Storen over Osuna could seem like a slight, even if that's not the intended purpose.
Who the Blue Jays will likely choose
So far, the Blue Jays aren't saying anything, but it does seem like the closer's role will ultimately end up with Storen. He has the experience, an $8.375 million contract and last year's controversy in Washington working in his favor. An argument could easily be made there's more value in having Osuna available for multiple innings of work, and odds are it's going to be the veteran that wins this job.
The dark horse candidate here is Aaron Sanchez, but it seems like he will get every opportunity to make the rotation during Spring Training. Even if that were to change at some point, Sanchez seems more likely to pitch in a setup role while Storen, Osuna and Cecil seem pretty set at the back end of the bullpen to start the year.