Jays Need Insurance For Unpredictable Rotation
Chien-Ming Wang was always on borrowed time and so, too, will his replacement.
For now, that’s Todd Redmond, who was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday after Wang was designated for assignment following his second consecutive dud. Toronto has temporarily named Redmond as the starter for Sunday’s game against the Twins, but there is plenty of time before the weekend contest for that to change.
Redmond, like Wang -- who actually gave the Blue Jays three good starts and helped the club buy some time while its rotation was hurting -- is nothing more than a flier at this point. And while there is value in stashing these pitch-and-ditch options, relying on them while sitting in last place in the American League East at the halfway point of the season is certainly not ideal.
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline on the horizon and injured starters Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ non-guarantees to return from the disabled list by then, the Blue Jays have some decisions to make. If Morrow and Happ aren’t back by the deadline, as of now, there appears to be four starts up for grabs in July.
Wang’s latest disaster merely highlighted the problems with Toronto’s rotation, one that has already seen the likes of Aaron Laffey, Sean Nolin, Chad Jenkins, and Ramon Ortiz take at least one turn. It took an 11-game winning streak, but the Blue Jays have managed to climb back into relevancy with a patchwork rotation that was never going to hold up over a 162-game haul. The Blue Jays, after a slew of injuries, were always going to need help.
Banking on no further hiccups from Morrow and Happ during their rehab process or even once they return is a risky game to play, and the smart move would be for Toronto to bolster its staff with some outside help.
At this point, there are still several teams who are in no rush to pull the trigger on something during the first week of July, but if the Blue Jays can find what they’re looking for now, there is no need to wait until the end of the month.
Potential trade targets
Plenty of arms of varying skill and cost will be available over the next month. One whose skill -- and price tag -- will trump many is Cubs right-hander and free-agent-to-be Matt Garza. If Chicago trades Garza, which appeared likely last season until an arm injury forced him to the sidelines, the club will be looking for a return in the form of prospects. The Cubs would lose out on extending Garza a qualifying offer at the end of the season which would net them draft-pick compensation if rejected, so they are surely going to want something of significance for the 29-year-old.
Garza, who missed nearly the first two months of the season recovering from a lat injury, has been dominant of late. The recent injuries did nothing to cut into his velocity, which has been in line with his career mark -- as has his strikeout and walk rates. He has had success in the AL East before, for what it’s worth, and would provide Toronto with a clear upgrade to its rotation even once everyone was healthy.
If the Blue Jays could add Garza and return Morrow from injury by the deadline to add to a rotation consisting of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, they would have to like their chances heading into the final two months. Garza is just one name, and many teams will be after the potential difference-maker, but if the price is right, the Blue Jays shouldn’t blink.
Some other names that are reportedly available or believed to be, include: Ricky Nolasco (Marlins), Cliff Lee (Phillies), Yovani Gallardo (Brewers) and Jake Peavy (White Sox), among others.
Like Garza, Nolasco is a free agent at the end of the season, but is not a better option than the Cubs righty and is probably not worth giving up a good piece for.
Lee is owed a boatload of cash -- $25 million in each of the next two seasons plus a 2016 option for $27.5 million that could become guaranteed. He also has no-trade protection and the Phillies will be looking for a big return if they do move him. Lee does not appear to be a strong option.
Gallardo is having a horrible year, his velocity is down, and his strikeout rate is at a career-low mark. He’s owed, at least, close to $12 million after this season and, in his current form, may not even represent an upgrade.
Peavy is currently on the DL and is owed $14.5 million next season, and will likely not come cheap.
There are other names that are bound to pop up and become available, but Garza really jumps out when sizing up that list.
There is, of course, the possibility that the Blue Jays stay patient and let the stopgaps get them to the deadline and reassess from there. By that time, depending on what transpires over the next few weeks, Toronto may not view itself as a serious buyer, with Morrow and Happ coming back, and may elect to stay the course.
A better option from the Bisons than Redmond is right-hander Thad Weber, who has pitched very well for Buffalo since Toronto optioned him in June after four appearances.
Weber has thrown four consecutive quality starts, sporting a 1.28 ERA over 28 innings of work, while striking out 22 and walking six. He last pitched on Monday, so he could go Sunday with some extra rest if the Blue Jays use Redmond in relief throughout the week and then option him back.
Another possibility from the Bisons is left-hander Ricky Romero.
The Blue Jays would have to open up a spot on the 40-man roster to promote Romero but there are many expendable arms, including Redmond. We saw what happened when Toronto prematurely called Romero up earlier in the season, but there is reason to believe he’s currently in a better place.
When the Blue Jays promoted Romero in May, he had only made one start in the minor leagues since failing to crack Toronto’s Opening Day roster and undergoing a mechanical makeover. Not surprisingly, it did not go well.
And it got even uglier when he was optioned to Buffalo after a dismal two starts with the Blue Jays. Romero had an 11.54 ERA over his first five starts at AAA while walking 20 and striking out six. In five starts since -- which coincide with him apparently ditching the mechanical adjustments imposed by the team -- he has turned things around, sporting a 3.54 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 14 walks.
Nolin and Marcus Stroman are both options from Double-A New Hampshire. The 23-year-old Nolin had a rough debut with the Blue Jays in May but has strung together a strong season with the Fisher Cats, earning himself a selection to the Eastern League All-Star Game.
Stroman, meanwhile, has been stretched out as a starter and has not disappointed. He is coming off a dominant one-walk, 13-strikeout performance Tuesday night. The 22-year-old, who is also not on the 40-man roster, has a 3.38 ERA with 50 strikeouts and 12 walks over 42 2/3 innings with the Fisher Cats and has been on the radar ever since he was drafted last year. His stuff will play at the major league level, but the question is whether that time is now and if it's as a starter.
The foursome of Weber, Romero, Stroman and Nolin – and potentially a number of others – would only be stopgaps until Happ or Morrow returns. And even then, the Blue Jays would be wise to purchase some insurance.