The 2009 Toronto Blue Jay Starting Rotation

Title: The 2009 Toronto Blue Jay Starting Rotation
Date: February 12, 2009
Original Source: The On Deck Circle
Synopsis: I almost threw up in my mouth when I came across this article recently. Halladay….and then Litsch, Purcey, Cecil, etc? Thank goodness Ricky Romero would debut later that year.

The other day I may have come off as slightly bitter towards the 2009 version of the Toronto Blue Jays. Let me clarify – I don’t hate the Jays, and I will never stop watching, I just feel that my money is better spent elsewhere this season. My quarrel is not with a bad team (I’ve cheered for those for years), but with the attitude and (lack of) swagger the team is entering the year with. No optimism, no false hope, no plan. Sam made a good point about the lack of direction/identity in the comments section of that article, echoing Mike’s comments about the lack of direction. This is the crux of my argument, not a desire to cheer for a winner.

In 2008, the team stumbled upon an identity – a team with absolutely no semblance of an offense, but a great young pitching staff with a phenomenal bullpen.

That identity will undoubtedly change this year. The bullpen should be just as strong, but will be overworked. The Jays offense promises to be better, with full at-potential years from Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, the now-healthy (or so we’re told) Lyle Overbay (and Aaron Hill, I hope), and improved play from youngsters Adam Lind and Travis Snider. The offense should return to league average, but the pitching staff will be a great deal worse.
 More after the jump!
With the only full-time rotation holdover from 2007 now being Roy Halladay, he is a diamond in what could be a rotation of dirt. I’m cautiously optimistic about a few of the potential starters, but in general the rotation will struggle. Gone is AJ Burnett, lost for the year is Shaun Marcum, and lost until at least May is Dustin McGowan.

Enter third-year pitcher Jesse Litsch and rookie lefty David Purcey as the de-facto #2 and 3 starters. That’s a scary proposition; Litsch has posted strong numbers but has never really looked like more than a back-of-the-rotation starter, and Purcey has a great deal of potential but next to no Major League experience. Litsch and Purcey, as 4th and 5th starters, would have me excited for 2009. However, the fact that these two inexperienced youngsters are all but guaranteed rotation spots makes me fear a long season relying heavily on the bullpen.

But it gets worse. Or, to be less pessimistic and try to sell myself and you on the 2009 campaign, it gets more interesting. The fourth and fifth rotation spots are wide open to a number of candidates. It will make for an exciting spring training and what will look like a loaded Triple-A team, but the Major League output will need a serious stroke of luck to be serviceable.

By the end of the year, things could look better. Casey Janssen will more than likely grab one of the two open rotation slots, and the bullpen stud has loads of potential as a mid-rotation starter. The opportunity for Janssen to become a good starter could be one of the best storylines of the season for Jay fans. Additionally, Dustin McGowan could return by May. While he is likely to be slow returning to form after shoulder surgery, he has shown he can be a great mid-rotation pitcher with the potential to be even better. By mid-summer, the rotation could be an acceptable Halladay-McGowan-Janssen-Purcey-Litsch, but this is obviously the best-case scenario.

In reality, and at least for March, April, and May, at least one of these spring training invitees will be holding down a rotation spot:

Brett Cecil – Cecil was the 38th overall pick in 2007, so expecting the 22 year-old lefty to contribute already might be a stretch. Still, he rocketed from High-Single-A to Triple-A during the course of 2008, so the talent appears to be there. Eventually.

Brad Mills – Mills was completely off the radar in 2008. The Jays are high on him, having drafted him in the 22nd round in 2006 and then the 4th round in 2007. Over two minor league seasons between Single-A and Double-A, Mills has just a 1.95 ERA and a 3:1 K:BB ratio. He’s probably not ready yet, having not played Triple-A ball, but he’s someone to watch for 2010.

Ricky Romero – Romero was the 6th overall pick in 2005 and has progressed slower than some expected, in part due to injuries. Last year the powerful lefty finally reached Triple-A, performing far better there than he had at any lower level. He posted a 3.38 ERA over seven Triple-A starts, including a complete game and nearly a strikeout per inning. Of the youngsters on this list, I’d deem Romero most ready for a starting role.

Matt Bush – A 1st overall pick by San Diego as a shortstop in 2004, Bush switched to pitching in 2007. He threw a few promising innings but went down with an injury soon after. The Jays picked him up off of waivers from the Padres, but he is at least a full season away from the franchise even knowing if he can pitch.

Scott Richmond – The Canadian stop-gap starter from 2008, Richmond was serviceable in his five Major League starts. He doesn’t have anything close to top-of-the-rotation stuff, but the Jays would take his 4.00 ERA and 5+ innings per start with a smile. He is the leading candidate behind Janssen for a spot.

Brian Burres – After three ho-hum seasons with Baltimore (5.88 ERA over 258.2 innings starting and relieving), the Orioles cut him loose. Enter J.P., and the 27 year-old lefty has a shot at staying in the league. He could be pegged for a bullpen job as well.

Ken Takahashi – A 39 year-old career Japanese League player, Takahashi was in Japan what the Jays need him to be in Toronto – serviceable. His career 66-87 record with a 4.23ERA would be alright, but you have to question this team spending money for an over-the-hill player with no Major League experience.

Mike Maroth – You’d take 11-13 with a 4.31 ERA in 217 innings from your #5 starter, right? That’s what Maroth did in 2004, but he hasn’t sniffed close to that success since. He has a 5.05 career ERA, a 1.46 career WHIP, and an unimpressive K:BB ratio. There’s not much to be excited about here, as his upside is mediocrity.

Matt Clement – The player you should be most excited about on this list, Clement looked like an emerging ace from 2002-2004, pitching nearly 600 innings and striking out nearly a batter an inning over that span. The Red Sox paid him, he struggled, and injuries happened. He hasn’t pitched since 2006, but he is the only player on this list who has proven himself at the Major League level.

So there it is, you’ll be cheering for one or two of those guys a couple times a week come April. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, with the system possessing a lot of high-potential arms (McGowan, Marcum, Purcey, Romero, Mills, and Cecil, among others), but this year could be a struggle just to eat innings, let alone win games.

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