In a recent blog, I pointed out some of the pieces missing in the offensive puzzle for the ’11 Edition of Team Blue Jays. As I indicated, that was only half of the problem. The Jays also missed a chance, or chances, to rectify what was a rather under-appreciated problem from last year: pitching.
We certainly have reason for some optimism when it comes to the mound: Ricky Romero not only avoided the sophomore jinx but moved his game to the next level, Brandon Morrow made the transition from Seattle reliever to Toronto starter nicely and looked dominating in the second half (until the brain trust made the dubious call that 146 innings was his max and shut him down for the last month of the season, thereby robbing him of the chance to match his teammates’ 14 or 15 win tallies, to K 200 men and to have the Jays win perhaps 88 or more games instead of a middling 85) , Brett Cecil came into the season as an unknown and exited as someone who won more games than Cliff Lee or john Lackey. Shaun Marcum continued his ascent into the eschelon of the league’s elite pitchers… we had all this to enjoy and got to believe that the Jays were a pitching juggernaut. Rather than the team they were,one with an ERA which ranked 23rd overall in baseball and was closer to the AL’s basement than ceiling.
There wasn’t much left to desire in the top 4 of the 2010 rotation. However, that will only get you so far in a game where 5 man rotations are the norm and Cito Gaston, in what was an uncharacteristic brain fart, decided to try out a six man rotation in the season’s fading weeks. The problem for Toronto was that their bullpen wasn’t quite as strong as they – or we fans- thought, and beyond the 4th man in the rotation, they just flat out sucked! Mark Rzepcynski was the most used and reliable man in that role, but even he posted only a 4-4 record and ERA pushing 5 after a dozen outings. The trio of injured-again Jesse Litsch, underwhelming Dana Eveland and the next Roger Clemens , without the scandals (if we are to believe the team’s hype) Kyle Drabek, managed to combine for 21 starts and log a 4-12 record with an ERA just a seam’s width shy of 6.00. Not the numbers of a team which hope to be taken seriously or manage to make it to the playoffs where the fifth starter might become redundant.
Clearly, there is not only room for improvement, there is an outright necessity for it in order for Toronto to have a shot at competitiveness. And while Alex Anthopolous has paid attention to the bullpen , bringing in more cheap but powerful arms than a rural Virginia gun dealer, he unfortunately failed to do the same with the starting rotation. As we know, he decided instead to weaken it by eliminating the most experienced of the young quartet and single-handedly make Milwaukee fans have reason to look forward to the 2011 playoff run.
If i’d been on the Rogers blackberry, Marcum would never have left town, unless it was to land an even better, more sure-thing arm. And unless in addition to that, there was a good fifth man in place. While I don’t imagine the Phils would be looking to trade Roy “Cy Young” back to us, there is a need for someone to come in and try to fill his shoes. A reliable, mature starter who can deliver a lot of innings and really anchor the staff. Perhaps a starter not fully-appreciated where he is, an ace ready to break out, given a change of scenery. A giant task to find such a player, and that’s exactly where I would have looked: the reigning World Series champions. Matt Cain is getting to the big-money part of his career and toils away in a small-money market city in the perennial shadow of a “Freak.” 440 innings and an oponent’s batting average under .230 over the past couple of seasons and all he has to show for it is being pushed down the rotation by kids like Jonathan Sanchez. Would SF love to trade away Cain? Hell , no! They know what they have there. But would they trade him? I believe so, given a good offer.
The jays could have dangled another youngster to replace him in the rotation (Drabek if necessary, but maybe just Brad Mills or to save on cost of jersey lettering, Rzepcynski) and added in a player or two who’d address the Giants’ weaknesses, notably hitting and outfielding. Throw Travis Snider in , and/or maybe Adam Lind and I am confident the Jays would have a new “ace” in the lineup and still have young talent to boot which they could have brought in a new first baseman with, or a veteran catcher with. If I was wrong, I’d have been dialing the Motor City and making a similar sort of offer to try and land the more-recognized Justin Verlander. Again, not someone the Tigers would be quick to part with, but for the right package of young arms and hitters, I think it could have been done.
Imagine the Jays 2010 rotation with either Cain or Verlander on top, meaning 15 game winner Brett Cecil would be the number 5 man. In all likelihood the likes of Scott Richmond and Jesse Litsch could still be around and available as a long man out of the pen or a spot starter if needed. THAT my friends is a staff you could ride into October on.