Should Nate Pearson Be the Toronto Blue Jays’ Opening Day Starter?

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Nate Pearson, photo credit: Kristin Basnett

Nate Pearson has been utterly dominant in his two brief outings this spring. He’s struck out six of the nine batters he’s faced and hasn’t walked anyone or given up any hits. He’s handled big league hitters like Josh Bell (a 2019 All-Star) and Gregory Polanco with ease and has made it look easy, mixing filthy offspeed pitches with his 80-grade fastball. So should Nate Pearson not only make the Blue Jays to start the season but start on Opening Day?


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So this question has a couple of layers. So far the Blue Jays are talking about Pearson’s development, starting him in Triple-A in order to work on things away from the bright lights of the big leagues. They’re not saying that he can’t handle the big leagues right now but that there are things that they want him to develop.

But can he develop in the majors? Of course he can. In fact, the argument could be made that he’d be better served in the major leagues, working with the highest level of technology and quality coaching that he’d get in Toronto working with Pete Walker. While Walker has a reputation for being a tremendous pitching coach (notably he was kept on the staff when John Gibbons was let go and Charlie Montoyo was brought in), Jeff Ware, the Bisons’ pitching coach, isn’t a slouch either. Ware was most recently the pitching coordinator for the Jays’ system and he retains that role despite also taking the responsibility of working with the arms in Buffalo.

But as good as Ware may be, the infrastructure in place in Toronto with the developmental eyes, technology and ability to monitor his workload is probably better.



So let’s talk about workload. It’s been discussed by Andrew Stoeten and others that fewer teams have been obviously manipulating service time with their players. He cites pitcher Chris Paddack for the Padres last year being a big example of a guy who earned a spot on the major league team, started the season there and was optioned to the minors during the season to give him a bit of a breather.

So if the Jays want to manage Pearson’s workload, can it not be done just as easily in Toronto as in Buffalo? Send him to Buffalo and throw him on the “Phantom IL” for a couple of weeks (since he won’t be able to be recalled, barring injury on the ML team) for 15 days rather than the 10 days it was in 2019.


Then there’s the service time question. This can be a real sticking point for the Jays because it is a business decision. The Blue Jays stand to gain a year of control of Pearson in his prime if they wait until May to bring him to the majors. That year of control could add up to millions of dollars in savings for the club and, we’ve seen before, that the Blue Jays ownership has no problem thinking with their pocketbooks.

Is service time manipulation a dumb reason to keep Pearson in the minors? Of course. And it makes less sense with Pearson than with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who had those concerns allayed thanks to an injury in spring training. With Guerrero, if you bring him to the majors at 20 for the full season, he’ll be able to be a free agent at 25 with tons of his prime ahead of him and the chance to get paid richly by another team to provide that production for them as opposed to the team that invested so heavily in turning him into a pro.

Pearson is already 23, turning 24 in August, so he won’t be able to become a free agent until he’s 29 if he’s brought up to the majors immediately. I’ve also seen Stoeten write about the volatility of pitchers, particularly those who throw as hard as Pearson. By bringing him up immediately, you’re cashing in on his cheap salary and his health now. It definitely makes less sense to manipulate service time, but hey, Rogers likes those (millions of) dollars.


So those issues address the questions of whether Pearson should start the season with the team. Let’s say he does, should he be given the Opening Day start?


Some might say that he’s the best pitcher they’ve got right now. I think you could make a legitimate argument for that, but the real ace of the club, at least on Opening Day, is still Hyun-Jin Ryu. There’s a reason the Blue Jays committed $80-million to Ryu this offseason. He’s a proven major-league veteran who starred for a playoff team for the past few years.

While few pitchers can match Pearson when it comes to stuff, Ryu has vastly more experience and a proven track record of excellence which the youngster has yet to accumulate. And, as we all know, stuff does not a pitcher make.

Another reason not to start Pearson on Opening Day is the message it shows your other pitchers. The Opening Day start, while meaningless in one sense — it’s one game of 162 — is symbolic in another sense. You want your top guy there. And that’s Ryu.

Spring training results are great, but again, as we all know, they mean nothing when the rubber hits the road and the 162-game marathon begins. The Opening Day start is reward for a pitcher having represented his team well in the past or, in this case, represented other teams well. That’s why Ryu is making $20 million this year. He’s being rewarded for his results and what he’s done previously in his career. That quality, that leadership and that ability is why he’s going to start Opening Day, regardless of how talented Pearson is.

Nate Pearson is the future of the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching staff. But the Opening Day start isn’t a reward for what is yet to come.


What do you think? Should Pearson come north to start the season? Should he start Opening Day?


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