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The Magnificent Seven: The Dangling Conversation, Part XIII - Ongoing Offseason Jays Conversation

Hi everyone.  This is the last installment of this series, before we start to look at some keys to the season, pose some questions to y'all, continue our community projections, and look at our competition. Oh, and the title comes from a great Clash song and I hope will describe the Jays 2009 bullpen (though I'd be even happier if it were the magnificent 6) Without further ado:

Hugo:  Can the Jays pitching survive the loss of Burnett and Marcum and continue to be one of the top pitching staffs in the league? 

Rincewind:  Yeah they can, some things do have to break right for them but it can happen. Doc will be Doc. Litsch started last season 8-1 then hit a bad stretch in June and July but finished strong going 5-1 with a 2.29 ERA in August and September and he was pitching deeper into game late in the season. He will be 24 this year, his third season in the majors, I’m expecting good things again.  David Purcey wasn’t great last year but if you subtract his spot starts his ERA 4.84 as a regular in our rotation. In August and September he was striking out a batter an inning, I can see him having a 4.50 or better ERA this year. Not great but less than half a run worse than AJ was last year.

Hugo:  Yeah, Litsch hasn't done anything but pitch two quality seasons in the majors.  Lots of people still doubt but I thought he showed real improvement in his second season, striking out a batter an inning more and walking a batter an inning less than 2007 while continuing to get grounders and limit the long ball.  He seems durable as well.  I'm not expecting him to dominate but I think he will continue to hold his own.  Not ideal for a number two starter, but he should give the Jays a decent chance to win more often than not.  As for Purcey, it sounds like making excuses when we want to throw out his early spot starts and also mention that he was gassed at the end of the season, but that doesn't mean it's not true.  His numbers from 2008 alone suggest that he should have been more effective than he was, and that's assuming he won't improve at all in 2009, which I think he will.  I'm hoping it's not too much to expect him to be about league average this season.

Rincewind:  That leaves two spots in the rotation. I am very hopeful that McGowan will return in May. He didn’t have a great ERA last year, 4.37, but he did pitch hurt some. He is only 27 this coming season;  I think an ERA of close to 4.00 isn’t being too optimistic.

Hugo:  I like McGowan long-term but of course it remains to be seen what he'll be able to contribute this season.  I'm hopeful he'll be back and pitching effectively by about June.  I could see him doing more for us this season than he was able to do last season.  He's such an important piece of the Jays' long-term puzzle that the most important thing is that his shoulder is healthy.

Rincewind:  We do need a starter or two out of Janssen, Clement, Richmond, Ricky Romero, Cecil, you (hope you are working on a knuckleball) or me to come thru.  Now,  I’m big fan of Janssen’s and I know he might not be as good as I’m hoping but I could really see him make 30 starts and have an ERA of 4 or under.

I could also imagine Ricky Romero having a good spring and earning the number 4 or 5 spot in the rotation. He finished last season very strong in the minors and the team might not want to have him wreck his confidence by pitching in the Pacific Coast League. Having had a PCL team in Calgary until recently, I’ve seen what the little tiny ballparks can do to a pitcher.

Richmond didn’t pitch badly last year, a 4.00 ERA in 5 starts is nothing to sneeze at and he did have some bad luck. I wouldn’t be uncomfortable going into the season with him as our 5th starter. Matt Clement was good from 1999-2005, perhaps if he has recovered from arm troubles.....well he isn’t the longest of long shots. Cecil, I’d very much prefer to have him pitch in the minors this year and stretch out the number of innings he can go, rather than leave his young arm at the not so tender mercies of Cito.

Hugo:  I do throw a mean batting practice fastball.  According to JP, who has always seen Janssen as a starter long-term (and I agree with that), if he's healthy, Casey will have a starting job coming out of the spring.  He had a serious surgery but he's young and all indications are that he's healthy.  We will just have to see whether that translates into the same effectiveness he had pre-surgery.  I've always liked Janssen, he has quality pitches and awfully good control and gets grounders.  One thing to think about is that his fastball looked like it had a little more on it in 2007 than we saw in 2006 or was reported.  I remember Casey mentioned in an interview that he enjoyed pitcing out of the bullpen because he could pace himself a little less and it gave his fastball a little extra zip.  I was a little surprised that the Jays were so eager to toss Janssen back into the fire right off the bat, but their rotation is pretty thin.  If Janssen is truly healthy, I think he's more than capable of a better than league average season of starts.  But that's a big if.

As for the others, looks like it will be a battle, assuming everyone else is healthy, to see who gets to start until McGowan is ready to return between Romero, Richmond, Maroth, Bullington, Mills and, according to JP, Brett Cecil. I have to admit I was really surprised to hear that.  I figured the Jays would ease Cecil into starting and I've always been a fan of the Earl Weaver method of breaking young pitchers into the rotation through the major-league bullpen.  The other thing with Cecil is that he didn't even throw 120 innings last season (just under) so one would think he would top out at 150 or so this season.  If the Jays watch his innings though, he could probably be an effective 5-6 inning pitcher right out of the gate, though that wouldn't be my preference for him. 

My guess is that the Jays are hoping that one of the others shows enough to win the job, and probably only Romero and Richmond have real shots.  Maroth seems like AAA insurance to me if all else fails, while Bullington is more of a reclamation project and Mills only has a handful of AA starts.  Romero is tough to figure, he was pretty bad at AA but then put together a very nice string of 7 starts in AAA to end the season and sort of rehabilitate his prospect status.  The Jays, and JP in particular, would really like him to take a step forward this season, but he's still just 24 so he doesn't need to be rushed.  I'm not too high on Romero, at least for this season.  His walk rate was still too high, even in his run at Syracuse he was walking almost 4.5 per 9 innings. When his K rate takes the usual dive for a pitcher in the majors for the first time, he could be in big trouble.  I know the Jays don't have a ton of other options, and I think if Romero is healthy he could progress fast, but I think he needs a little more work in the minors first.  As for Richmond, it's hard to say because he has such a thin minor-league track record.  He certainly didn't light it up in the minors in 2008 overall, but he held his own after his promotion to Toronto.  It's hard to conclude that he's ready to be a back-end starter on just the 5 starts with the big club, but I think he could probably hold down the fort until McGowan returns.  Davis Romero didn't have a bad season at Syracuse either as a starter last year, though I've always seen him more as a lefty specialist long term (he had almost a 6/1 K/BB ratio against lefties last season and struck out about a batter per inning against them).    

Oh, I should at least mention Clement, so far the Jays' marquis offseason acquisition.  I don't know what to expect from him, other than I will have to see him in Spring Training before I would even consider him as a realistic candidate for the job.  That said, much longer-shot comebacks have happened, so I'll be rooting for him.

This year, I don't think it matters that much who breaks camp with the rotation, as I think all of the above are likely to get their chance at some point.  There's so much uncertainty with the rotation, and that's without the normal amount of flux that a rotation undergoes.

Rincewind:  Our bullpen was amazing last year and looks to be even deeper this year. I think we could be alright...with one major BUT. I am not a fan of how Cito managers his pitching staff.  I’m hoping he learns to take it easy on some of those young arms but I’m not expecting it to happen. If I was GM I’d say that pitching coach Brad Arnsberg was to run the pitching staff, he seems to have a clearer idea of how to handle pitchers. Cito.....Cito can’t read the signs of a pitcher tiring and when a pitcher keeps throwing after he is tired, that’s when injuries happen. And, of course, that’s when losses happen too.

Hugo:  The bullpen could come up big this year, I agree.  We have so many quality options in Ryan, Downs, League, Carlson, Accardo, Wolfe, Frasor, Tallet, Davis Romero and lots of others too.  If the starters can hold their own, we should have one heck of a pen and that will help.  And there's enough depth that even though they will likely be pitching a lot of innings, they shouldn't get tired "but."  The but is exactly as you describe it - a deep bullpen is a lot more valuable if it's used correctly.  There's no need to send Scott Downs into 4-run games when he's already pitched the previous two days, and that's the sort of thing we saw a lot of last season.  I also agree that Cito will have to keep an eye on our young starters.  And we would be remiss if we didn't discuss Doc a little.  He's so good, and so reliable, that it's easy to focus on the problem areas.  But having someone like Halladay will go a long way for the Jays.  He's substantially better than even the average ace in the league, so if the other 4 are about average or close to it, between Doc and the bullpen my guess is that our staff's numbers overall will look just fine.

Here are our past Dangling Conversation installments:

Part 1: Good and Bad of 2008
Part 2: Jays Priorities for the Offseason
Part 3: Should the Jays Rebuild?
Part 4: Who Should Lead Off For the Jays?
Part 5: How Should the Jays Fill Out Their Rotation
Part 6: Can the Jays Complete with Barajas catching and Scutaro at Short?
Part 7: Should the Jays Trade From Their Bullpen?
Part 8: What Should Be Done About the DH Spot?
Part 9: What Should Snider's Role Be?
Part 10: What Can We Expect From Adam Lind This Season?
Part 11: What Jays Farmhands Will Make an Impact This Seasons?
Part 12: How Will the Jays' Offense Produce in 2008?