It's a little early (okay, it's really early) to speculate about who Toronto's 5th starter will be next season. But considering the amount of viable candidates, I think it'd be interesting to speculate. As of now, it's safe to assume that the #1-4 starters will be Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Gustavo Chacin, and Josh Towers. That leaves many pitchers to fight it out for the final spot.
Ted Lilly: A year ago, he was the #2 starter; now, he's simply fighting for a spot in a rotation. He has no to blame but himself, unfortunately. In 2004, his first season with the Blue Jays, he posted a 120 ERA+. Last season, however, he posted a horrid 80 ERA+. So what accounts for his monumental drop-off? Well, his K/BB ratio did not change too drastically (168/89 in 2004; 96/58 in 2005), so that doesn't tell us too much. His G/F ratio did not change much either (1.25 in 2004; 1.22 in 2005). However, relative to IP, a lot more of those fly balls found the bleachers in 2005 than they did the year before. Moreover, in 2005 a lot of the balls that stayed in play became hits (.264 BABIP in 2004; 0.296 BABIP in 2005). And boy, did he ever allow more hits. His H/IP increased from 171/197.3 in 2004 to 135/126.3. It's very difficult to sustain a high level of success while giving up that many hits, especially considering Lilly has not posted appreciably low walk rates throughout his career.
Miguel Batista: It's likely that he'll be traded prior to the regular season, if only because other teams are looking for a "proven closer." However, considering the lack of Batista rumours floating around at the moment, it's possible that the Blue Jays will hold onto him in hopes that he'll become a hot commodity by the trade deadline. Although Batista hasn't been much to write home about during his days with the Blue Jays, he did enjoy a lot of success while with the Arizona Diamondbacks. And although he's posted lackluster totals the past two seasons, his first-half numbers have been noticeably better than his second-half numbers. Last season, his ERA's in August and September were 6.08 and 7.36 (ouch!), respectively. And this late season futility of his has been apparent for years. Even taking his two final seasons with Arizona into consideration, his ERA's in August and September from 2002-2004 were 5.36 and 7.13 (ouch!), respectively. If the Blue Jays do decide to hang onto Batista, it would probably be wise to trade him mid-season while his value is at its apex.
Scott Downs: Although his career isn't as distinguished as some of the other candidates, Downs proved to be very useful last season. After Toronto's pitching staff became riddled with injuries, he stepped in and posted a 103 ERA+ and a very respectable 75/34 K/BB ratio. Moreover, I was particularly impressed by his 2.82 G/F ratio. He's probably the least likely to become the team's 5th starter next season, but he could be a valuable swingman/long relief option out of the bullpen.
Dustin McGowan: Of all the pitchers who are vying for the final spot in the rotation, he comes with the most risk/reward. Although his performance was poor during his brief stint in the majors last season, McGowan has consistently posted strong K/BB ratios in the minors. Evidently, there's no denying his potential, but his role for next season will be reliant on how quickly he develops. If he pitches well during spring training, the final spot in the rotation could very well be his.
If the four pitchers listed above falter, here are some scenarios that may unfold:
- Pete Walker joins the rotation. Although Pete Walker has some experience as a starter, he's more of a long relief option at this point in his career. He might make an emergency start or two, but he shouldn't be considered a full-time option.
- A young pitcher may surprise everyone and pitch great during spring training.
- A pitcher could be acquired via trade. Although, with the abundance of pitching in the Blue Jays system, I'd be very surprised if this occurred.