Despite being “heavily linked” with, and a possible “ideal landing spot” for Ubaldo Jimenez, and despite having some of the richest owners in baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays are once again left to watch a high profile free agent sign with a division rival. The highly coveted Jimenez inked a 4-year, $48-milion deal with the Baltimore Orioles yesterday, leaving the Jays with a gaping hole in the rotation that just won’t go away.
Here are four thoughts about the signing and where Toronto can go from here.
1. Look – I liked Jimenez for the Jays. I really did. But I’m not sure I liked him enough for a four year deal. Yes Ubaldo was lights out for a good stretch of games last year, and yes he finished third in Cy Young voting in 2010. But did you know that he was pretty awful otherwise? In 2011 he had a 4.68 ERA and 1.40 WHIP split between Colorado and Cleveland, and in 2012 he posted a 5.40 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, and led the league in losses.
In fact, his great 2010 and 2013 campaigns are more than meet the eye. After an outstanding first half in 2010 (15-1, 2.20 ERA) he went 4-7 with a 3.80 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 15 second half starts. Last season, after 19 starts he had an ERA of 4.56 and a WHIP of 1.49 before turning it around. But even those outstanding last 13 starts can be looked at with pessimism, considering he faced the Marlins, Mariners, Royals, and Astros once each, and the White Sox and Twins twice. Is this a guy who can consistently beat the Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox for the next four years?
2. The Jays are now firmly positioned to finish in dead last for the second straight year. But even with Ubaldo, are the Orioles really light years ahead of Toronto? Their rotation and bullpen still have plenty of questions marks and they also need a full recovery from Manny Machado and no regression from super regression candidate Chris Davis, neither of which is a sure thing. Sure signing Ubaldo would have been nice, but I don’t think this necessarily banishes the Jays to last place forever.
3. Should the Jays now go all-in on Ervin Santana? From reading the opinions of many baseball experts, Santana would be a terrible fit in Toronto because he gives up a lot of home runs and Rogers Centre is a homer friendly ballpark. I guess if the price falls to an acceptable level, I wouldn’t mind seeing Ervin in a blue cap, but if he struggles badly wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to just give the rotation slot to Kyle Drabek? The worst kind of move is a reactionary one – just because another team signed a free agent doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do so as well. Steer clear.
4. With Jimenez off the market, along with Arroyo, Garza, and most other free agent pitchers, it looks increasingly like the Jays will be filling out their rotation internally. Should they simply bite the bullet and let youngster Marcus Stroman start the season with the big club? The answer really depends on what side of the fence you’re on. For those that believe Toronto still has a chance to contend this season, the answer is no. Break camp with Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle, and Redmond/Rogers/Happ/Drabek/Hutchison, then make amendments on the fly. Having a rookie in the rotation on a team expected to win now puts an unfair amount of pressure on the kid and risks ruining him for good. Plus if the team is in contention later in the summer, Stroman may have the ability to become a weapon similar to what Wacha was for the Cardinals in 2013.
But for those who think that the lack of improvement this winter means the Jays are doomed from the start in 2014, the answer is probably yes. What have they got to lose? Make Stroman the #5 starter right out of the gate. Prospects are only worth anything if they produce at the big league level, so keeping a big arm buried in the minor leagues is a waste. Better to see what you have now. If the season is going to be a write-off anyways, let him pitch 150 innings, then shut him down to protect his arm. It will at least give fans hope that the team can actually draft decent players.
Personally, I’m in the first camp, if only because I’m a hopeless optimist who still holds a minute shred of hope that the Jays can rebound from a miserable 2013. Having Stroman in your back pocket as a potential mid-season callup just might make a huge difference.