Charging The Mound: Examining Toronto Blue Jays’ 2015 Starting Rotation

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What would the average Toronto Blue Jays‘ fan wish to see under their tree on Christmas morning? … There are plenty of options to choose from:

  • Stabilization at second base
  • Bullpen reinforcements
  • The process of implementing a natural playing surface into the Rogers Centre coming to fruition
  • Reduced ticket prices
  • An addition to the starting rotation

Wishful thinking on the price of admission, unfortunately; the organization who possesses the longest no-show of playoff appearances in North American professional sports has already decided to bump up the expenditures of its supporters.

To whom it may concern: Hey, no worries here; the city of Toronto, and its glutton-for-punishment existence, will let that slide — for now.

With President and CEO, Paul Beeston, currently acting in a window-dressing capacity, and GM Alex Anthopoulos seemingly on an extended summer vacation throughout the Winter Meetings, one can only hope an employee in the mailroom responds.

The gift wrapped with the biggest bow would be the latter of the list. Marquee acquisitions have been made, without question; but were Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin this franchise’s most pressing need? … The majority would answer with a resounding negative reaction.

This team is now stuck in limbo. On the surface, it will compete in the beast, that is, the AL East. But the aforementioned playoff absence will not witness its demise until the offseason job is completed. The Jays’ finishing move: a quality hurler inserted into its staff — a squad can only survive for so long attempting to catch the flush on the river.

But as every fan realizes, you must be prepared to make do with what’s already in place. Toronto’s rotation remains a mixed bag, one filled with a solid influx of talent, high-upside, question marks, savvy veterans, and inconsistencies.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the dish presently served. It may very well be what the Blue Jays take into battle.

1. The de facto Ace:

R.A. Dickey – Age: 40 – Height: 6’3″ – Weight: 215 lbs

Blue Jays

Scott Halleran/Getty Images North America

Dickey is a polarizing subject. Many believe he can still anchor a rotation, while the number of detractors is increasing with every moon-shot surrendered ricocheting off the outfield bleachers.

One never quite knows what to expect from the knuckleballer in any given start. The existing arsenal is capable of dominating any big-league lineup; problem is, the same repertoire is adept at hitting the showers by the 3rd inning.

There is something to be said about a franchise going all-in; that’s exactly what the Blue Jays attempted when they shipped two of the organization’s top young guns (starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard and backstop Travis d’Arnaud) to the New York Mets in the now infamous “blockbuster” deal.

2015 provides the chance to make amends. Yes, there was improvement showcased last season, but Toronto needs more than just adequacy as the team’s headliner.

Ponder this: Russell Martin undoubtedly provides a security blanket behind the plate; however, if Syndergaard and d’Arnaud were still under team control, not only could $83 million have been allocated elsewhere, but the pressing need for another top flight arm on the upswing would have already existed in-house.

Let’s step outside the box and revisit a 2012 interview on the Late Show With David Letterman; during the height of Dickey’s resurgence. This version must come home to roost; the ghosts of Dickey’s past need to be reincarnated more than ever.

 

2. The Backbone:

Drew Hutchison – Age: 24 – Height: 6’3″ – Weight: 195 lbs

Blue Jays

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America

After Tommy John surgery took the entire 2013 season away from him, Hutchison proceeded to become a mainstay of the staff — but it wasn’t without the expected speed bumps.

Hutch blazed out of the starting gate with a 10.36 K/9 rate combined with 2.73 BB/9 ratio in the month of April – only to experience the wild ride of 6.59 punch-outs in June, followed by 3.56 free passes in July.

Hutchison is only 24-years-old, but the Blue Jays have already become dependent on what the right-hander brings to the table.

The overuse of the fastball remains his forte, but when the secondary offerings catch up, the once believed to be league-average will leave a formidable imprint.

The true value lies somewhere in between his troubles vs. left-handed bats (.334 Batting Average, .477 Slugging Percentage) and this three-hit shutout going heads up against one of the game’s elite, Yu Darvish:

 

3. The crafty lefty:

Mark Buehrle – Age: 35 – Height: 6’2″ – Weight: 240

Blue Jays

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America

The workhorse of a generation. 14 straight years of surpassing the 200-inning mark will net you that moniker. In a landscape that witnesses the disabled list snatch a new victim on a weekly basis, one has to marvel at what Buehrle has accomplished throughout his career.

Can the aging veteran defy the baseball gods once again in 2015? … I wouldn’t call your bookie just yet.

Mr. Consistency showcased a few Jekyll and Hyde tendencies last season, the most glaring disparity being the giant leap in ERA — a 2.64 All-Star selection first half, compared to his dubious 4.64 meltdown in the second; a post-classic 1.49 WHIP didn’t provide any favors, either.

Still, when you mix it all together, the journeyman remains an asset. A solid No.3 bridge, while changing up the monotony of the four other right-handers.

The final tour should be closing in, but gas in the tank still resides — either way, Buehrle’s tenure should be celebrated.

 

4. The sophomore phenom, with off-the-charts upside:

Marcus Stroman – Age: 23 – Height: 5’9″ – Weight: 185 lbs

Blue Jays

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America

This is the part where the plot thickens — if there are any two Blue Jays to truly get your hopes up for (other than Dalton Pompey on the offensive front), the next two in this examination fit the bill.

Starting off the festivities is the upstart Stroman. Moxy, bravado, a bulldog mentality; however you want to categorize it, this kid owns it.

It’s only a matter of time before his 7.9 K/9 rate of 2014 catches up with career minor league level of 10.6 — the weaponry is unquestionably electric.

Posting a 1.17 WHIP along with a minuscule 28 walks in 130 innings as a rookie isn’t for the faint of heart; the moment wasn’t too big for the hot-shot freshman.

To keep a level head , the youngster was highly susceptible to the big inning; where there was flames, there was a sinking ship — but make no mistake, you’re looking at a future fixture.

Taking a few more no-hitter’s into the seventh will appear in short order:

 

5. The future star:

Aaron Sanchez – Age: 22 – Height: 6’4″ – Weight: 200

Blue Jays

Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America

There have been reports that the Jays’ brass are currently undecided on whether to keep Sanchez in his relief role or throw him to the rotation wolves — resist the bullpen temptation! … The kid is ready and willing to charge the mound every fifth day.

Nobody wants a Brandon Morrow part-two scenario on their hands — looking at you, Seattle.

Hints of elite intangibles were exhibited in just 33 innings of work on the big-league stage. If anyone on this staff can rival Stroman’s knee-buckling curve, it’s Sanchez.

The annual knock on the California native has been past control issues; well, a 0.69 WHIP and a 27/9 – K/BB ratio was an encouraging sign of neutralizing the damage.

Footage of his debut: it has a chance to become a staple in the Blue Jays’ archives:

 

Honorable Mentions:

Blue Jays

Jim Rogash/Getty Images North America

A couple of names that cannot be hung out to dry; recently acquired Marco Estrada (the city will remember you fondly, Adam Lind),  and the rare southpaw sighting of Daniel Norris.

The most realistic option to claim a spot in the short-term would be the experienced Estrada, although, his deep-fly track record might remain status quo toeing the Rogers Centre rubber.

From a raw talent perspective, Norris receives the nod — his arrival on the scene couldn’t be attached with better timing. With Buehrle’s farewell on its cusp, this club will be desperate to fill the lefty void; not to mention join the party full-time once Dickey is no longer in the picture.

Norris held his own in last season’s cup of coffee — don’t let the career 4.01 minor league ERA fool you, there was a reason he wasn’t involved in the Brett Lawrie deal; making 306 hitters perform the walk of shame back to the dugout in 258 innings, is an indication of things to come.

Will Anthopoulos roll up his sleeves? … Will the money “saved” on Melky Cabrera end up in the rotation? … Only time will tell.

A 22-year drought beckons the call for help — it’s time to spike the eggnog.

 

Michael Holian, MLB Correspondent for Baseball Essential.

You can follow him on Twitter @Michael_Holian.

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