As Jays fans know, you can never have enough pitching ready to step into MLB duty in case of an injury. That’s great news for the 2014 edition of the club, as they’ve got many multiple options when it comes to rotation replacements. It makes it very difficult, however, when scanning the Majors for possible trade partners, to find anything that looks like a real obvious match as far as bringing a front end starter to the club.
One could probably be talked into the idea that finding a true one- or two-type starter is simply too difficult, and maybe not even entirely necessary for next year’s version of the club. Teams have done plenty well with rotations fronted by a group of pitchers as good as Brandon Morrow, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle when they’re healthy and at their best, and someone who slots in more with that group, rather than clearly surpasses them, would still prove a very nice addition for the club.
Problem is, this first year of the current core’s three-year window failed so spectacularly that it’s very possibly in the Jays’ best interests to look for a pitcher who figures into their future plans rather particularly.
You see, next year could be Brandon Morrow’s final year with the Blue Jays. I doubt it will be– he’s got a $10-million option, with a $1-million buyout for 2015, and far too much talent to let him just walk– but it’s possible. And while R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle each have two guaranteed years remaining, for the entirely of the 2015 season they’ll be 40- and 36-years-old respectively.
I’m not saying I expect those guys to fall off a cliff– in fact, I think Dickey’s second half has shown that, at least next year, he’ll very possibly be better– but that’s still not the greatest situation beyond 2014. It’s potentially tenable if the Jays can find appropriate pieces to fit in around the three, but that’s kinda the rub.
Perhaps next year the Jays will find among their surplus of young arms a potential long-term key rotation piece to go along with Morrow in 2015, but as much as everybody remembers liking Drew Hutchison, it looks like the only really high-end ceiling among the group might belong to Marcus Stroman. However, he is not only one of the Jays’ best pieces of trade bait this winter– if they really want to keep pushing their prospect chips into the middle of the table– but, as we’ve all heard by now, his small stature raises all kinds of questions about his ability to actually translate the excellent stuff and mound presence he brings to a starting role at the big league level.
Furthermore, if Stroman is to be relied on as a key young starter in 2015, you’re going to want him to come into the season with some experience, meaning room in the rotation will need to be made for him in 2014– if not right off the hop, at least some point in the season.
Those are quite a lot of eggs to put into that one basket, if you’re looking only at internal options, and even if that absolute best case scenario works out for Stroman, the top end of the rotation looks awfully thin without finding someone from outside of the organization– consider that Aaron Sanchez, who only pitched 86 innings this year (and will only be able to add 30 tops in the Arizona Fall League), will not likely have his workload up enough to be a full-season contributor by 2015 in even the best of circumstances.
Clearly, then, you can’t put all of your eggs in that basket. What’s more, another 2013-like disaster next year creates the very real possibility of the club being forced into selling off the ageing pieces of their core in order to get younger– which could happen as soon as the middle of next year, even!– with a view to 2015 and beyond, when the guys who this year were at Dunedin and Lansing really start knocking on the door, with a wave of young talent ideally coming in behind them. (Fingers crossed!)
What it would be optimal to find, then, I think, is someone who can be around long enough to help bridge that gap. Someone on a contract of at least three years, or someone with at least two years remaining, who is reasonably young, and you think you have a decent enough chance of re-signing.
Sure, the Jays could go year-to-year, or try to find someone who’s deal would expire at the same time that everyone’s could, after 2015– save for Jose Reyes, though Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and R.A. Dickey also have 2016 options– but unfortunately, even though finding a pitcher will be a complicated enough trick in its own right, I think the Jays genuinely need to be considering the next iteration of their club as they go through the process, unless they’re willing to leave open the possibility of looking at a club a year from now that is about to get much younger, and a situation that, for a couple of years, very well might get more dire.
(And, yes, a high-end pitching prospect who spent most of this year dominating Double-A, like Noah Syndergaard, would look awful good in such circumstances, but… so it goes.)
That doesn’t mean I think they need to seek this white whale at the exclusion of everything else, or that this is some long-winded way of saying that they need to go big with free agent spending, but for me, finding more than just a pitcher to help in 2014 is something that’s got to hold a lot of weight, especially if you want to believe you’ll be able to be competitive in 2015, even with a potentially vastly different roster, which could genuinely see the departures in the next calendar year of Dickey, Buehrle, Rasmus, Bautista, Cabrera, and others.
Maybe I’m overstating all this, and maybe a front office shouldn’t operate under that kind of cloud of fear– especially since, in whatever parallel universe where all those guys are sold off next year, surely you’ll get some halfway decent pieces back as well– but I just wonder if you create a bigger mess for yourself if you bring an older pitcher for the short term than you do a younger pitcher for a bit longer. The latter isn’t always necessarily preferable– there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal, don’t forget– yet taking that sort of view won’t make the task Alex Anthopoulos is faced with any easier.
And just what does that task look like? That’s what I’ll explore in the coming days in this series– the preamble to which you’ve just read– as I’ll follow the same path as I did last winter, scouring the trade market for potential fits, examining which free agent possibilities appear intriguing, and looking at which Jays we may have seen the last of in order to make it all happen. All of it will be with a view to the long-term roster issues I’ve outlined in this post, and– almost certainly– will get nowhere near what will actually take place over the course of the coming off-season.
Should be fun though!
Of course, you can get a sneak peak of many of the guys we’ll be talking about if you check out Ben Nicholson-Smith’s piece today on the pitching market over at Sportsnet.