Look no further than yesterday’s showdown with the Baltimore Orioles to see just how much the pitching staff of the Toronto Blue Jays has been exposed.
Scott Copeland had a great first major league start, but from there it has been downhill. After going four innings allowing eight hits and three earned runs in his last outing, Copeland couldn’t make it out of the second frame against the Orioles.
Fans barely had a chance to find their seats before the Blue Jays went down to a 7-0 deficit. In true Toronto fashion, they would hit their way back into the game with three bombs, capped off by a two-run shot from Jose Bautista to give them a 9-7 lead.
Cecil has been a disaster as of late. In his last two outings, he has thrown 2.1 innings, allowing six hits, three walks, and eight earned runs. Eight. If his curve ball isn’t working, expect his fastball to get hit around. He pitches to contact and is not overpowering, which can be deadly if he isn’t trusting his strikeout pitch, and is losing his command.
“I’m just battling right now,” Cecil said post-game. “I don’t have a real good answer for what happened, I’m just battling.”
Usually it is the pitchers job to pick up the hitters, but for Toronto it has been the other way around all season long. If the eyes of GM Alex Anthopoulos weren’t wide open before today, they sure are now.
We all knew Scott Copeland wasn’t going to be the long-term answer, he was brought up to fill a role until Aaron Sanchez came back. The solidified starters are trending upwards, but, the Blue Jays do need some help. Whether it is an upgrade in the rotation or the bullpen, the players need to know that the management believes in this team enough to pull the trigger and try and make them a real contender.
Until a deal is made, what happens with the closer role come gametime at Tropicana Field? Does John Gibbons begin to use Cecil in low leverage situations to build his confidence up, does he dial him back to the set-up role? Do they go with rookie phenom Roberto Osuna despite what happened with Miguel Castro? Osuna has closer credentials and has done everything right in order to deserve a chance. The 20-year-old sports the lowest ERA (2.25) in the bullpen (for pitchers who have 20.0 IP or more), most strikeouts (35), best SO/BB ratio, WHIP (0.94), and AVG against (.184). He is a power arm with a fastball that can reach mid-to-high nineties and has been the most effective and trustworthy out of the ‘pen. It would make sense to give the ball to the best arm when the game is on the line while Toronto looks to shop. Plain and simple.
The Blue Jays have shown interest in Francisco Rodriguez, which would anchor down the the ninth inning. K-Rod is 0-2 with a 1.08 ERA and, most importantly, is 13-for-13 in save opportunities. Toronto leads the American League in blown saves with 13. Rodriguez has struck out 29 in 25 innings of work, and has a $6 million option for next season. Acquiring a veteran arm like Rodriguez to close wouldn’t be a terrible idea for a team that also has the lowest save total in MLB.
With one solution comes another problem. Toronto would still have some work to do when it comes to the depth of their staff. The Blue Jays would still need an upgrade in the mid-to-late relief role to give Gibbons some extra options. Roberto Osuna has been a blessing, Steve Delabar looks like his former All-Star self again, but from there the talent falls off significantly.
If Toronto looks to upgrade their rotation, there are viable options. Jeff Samardzija (4-4, 4.67 ERA) is in his final year with the Chicago White Sox (earning $9.8 million), a team over 10 games back from a playoff spot and looking to sell. The Blue Jays also had their top scouts in attendance to watch the workhorse in his last start. Apart from Samardzija, Toronto could consider the addition of Scott Kazmir (3-4, 2.84 ERA, and earns $13 million), Johnny Cueto (4-4, 2.98 ERA) Aaron Harang (4-9, 3.41 ERA and earns $5 million), Kyle Lohse (3-9, 6.30 ERA) , or Matt Garza (4-8, 5.07 ERA, and earns $30 million after this season).
The Blue Jays need to decide whether to add an arm to the bullpen or the rotation. In a recent interview on MLB Network, Anthopoulos suggested the latter. “We could use both, but if I did have to prioritize, I’d say rotation first, bullpen would be next.” He also kicked around the idea of moving Aaron Sanchez back into the bullpen and to where he excelled last year if a large enough deal was set. “If all of a sudden we make some trades, if we can get two starters in a trade and our teams stronger with him in the bullpen, we wouldn’t rule it out.”
This year could be an all-in type of campaign for Anthopolous, who has not been able to bring Toronto to the playoffs since joining the team six seasons ago. The offense is the best it has been in decades, and a couple of intelligent deals could punch them a ticket to the promised land. They have until July 31st to fill the gaps.