As of August 12, the Toronto Blue Jays have 45 games left on their 2013 schedule. That’s 45 starts for starting pitchers, or nine for each rotation spot.
The rotation, which has been a sore spot and a major disappointment for the Jays, is a unit that may look different to start 2014. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey are likely holdovers, sure, but Josh Johnson’s status is uncertain (although it seems likely he’ll be offered and accept a one-year qualifying offer), Brandon Morrow can’t be trusted for a full season of work, and the rest of the candidates are unproven or on the comeback trail.
Ideally, now out of the race, the Jays would use the remainder of those 45 starts to get a look at some of the uncertainties for 2014 in a "see what you’ve got" approach. Not that a handful of starts is a fair sample, but the team would surely like to see how some arms would look against major league hitters.
But there are up to a dozen players deserving or in need of an audition. There’s also the matter of incumbents who have no reason to be shut down.
Assuming that Dickey, Buerhle and Johnson play out the season and make eight starts a piece, either being skipped once or being scratched or what have you, that leaves 21 starts for the following list of candidates:
Esmil Rogers - Rogers looked decent in May and great in June but has struggled mightily in July and August. Rogers has been moved back to the bullpen and seems a safe bet to remain there down the stretch, both to keep his innings reasonable – he’s thrown 96.2 this year after throwing just 78.2 last year – and to see how he’d transition back to a relief role. Then, in 2014, he competes for a starting gig but is ready to work out of the bullpen as well.
J.A. Happ - Happ will probably be given ample opportunity as he continues his comeback from a knee injury. The team has the incentive to get him back to game shape given he’s under contract for 2014 for $5.2M, plus picking up innings down the stretch would make a full 2014 workload more realistic. He is starting Monday afternoon for the Blue Jays before being placed on the bereavement list.
Todd Redmond - The team owes Redmond nothing, as he’s another in the line of plug-and-assign arms the team has relied heavily on this year. He will get a start this week, but perhaps he will be transitioned to a long reliever after that.
Ricky Romero - A lot of fans would like to see Romero get another chance but letting him continue to work on things in Buffalo until September seems a more prudent move. Romero has been below average in triple-A and it’s only his $7.5M salary for 2014 creating an incentive to try him out over other names here. Letting him work toward a 2014 return is just as reasonable a course.
Sean Nolin - If the team wants strikeouts, he’s the guy, having racked up 10.5 per nine innings in 100 double-A innings the past two years. He didn’t look good with Toronto in his one start earlier this season but has continued to dominate at New Hampshire and might be worth another look.
Thad Weber - Commenters seem to love this guy, which is confusing until you see his triple-A numbers (2.63 ERA, 2.93 FIP). His career is likely that of a long-man or swing-man , though, so with limited starts available it seems a waste to hand some to Weber.
Marcus Stroman - Prospect porn-addicts are well aware of Stroman’s double-A exploits (2.93 ERA, 10.7 K/9) and he might have the highest upside on this list. Stroman could stay in New Hampshire until September and then get the call for a few starts, pushing his total innings for the season into the 120-range, an important mark if the team has any plans of him starting next year (generally teams won’t increase a young pitcher’s innings load by more than 30 per year, based on the disproven Verducci Effect). Plus, it's a highly touted prospect which never hurts ticket sales.
Drew Hutchison - Hutch has struggled on the rehab trail and has now been optioned off of the 60-day disabled list and to Buffalo in a full-time role. But Hutchison proved useful in 2012 before succumbing to injury so there’s hope he will rebound with more rehab time. He’s probably more of a September consideration to increase his total innings than a pick for starts in the near term.
Kyle Drabek - Drabek had his Tommy John surgery six weeks before Hutchison and has looked better on his rehab assignment, albeit at lower levels. It’s unclear what the team expects from Drabek long-term now (he has great pedigree and was a top prospect but struggled in 2011 and 2012), but if they have any designs on him starting in the future it’s worth giving him a look.
That’s nine names to grab roughly 21 starts in August and September. All nine names may make the September roster when teams can have up to 40 players in uniform. Some of those names, though, will be working out of the bullpen or not at all (Triple-A Buffalo also has a shot at the playoffs, keeping some arms south of the border). It also seems a waste to have a bunch of pitchers start one or two games because that doesn’t really provide the team a solid look at them. Rather, it seems more prudent to commit to two or three names and give them a few turns.
My preference: Nolin, Stroman and Happ split the remaining starts while Drabek and Hutchison get to re-wet their feet as long men. Romero should finish up in triple-A and get to his offseason work, as there’s no point in risking a mental set-back. Redmond and Weber are owed nothing with low upside, and Rogers has been given ample opportunity already.
Who would you prefer to see start down the stretch?