I know it's way too early - I mean, the 2008 regular season isn't even over yet - but the state of the rotation is a hot topic, so we might as well address it. What the hell, right?
What to do with AJ Burnett.
Obviously, one of two things will happen - Burnett will exercise the opt-out, or he won't - but I don't think any reasonable follower of the game would even consider presuming that AJ would turn down an extra $30 million or so by exercising the clause. Oh sure, the possibility exists that JP renegotiates the contract and AJ stays, but in essence, that's the same as opting out. So what to do? What's the preferable option for the Jays?
If you would have asked me three months ago, I would have been waving goodbye to Burnett and researching draft prospects. With Roy Halladay, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch, and a handful of promising arms on the farm, the rotation seemed to be in good hands without doling out another massive contract.
Unfortunately, a lot has happened in three months. Dusty McGowan underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum - which might be the only thing more frightening to a pitcher's future than Tommy John surgery.....which his rotation mate Shaun Marcum is about to undergo. Marcum will miss all of next season, and McGowan's return, while slated for the early part of the season, is still a question mark.
And the promising arms? Well, David Purcey has a spot now, by default if nothing else, and has been equal parts brilliant and brutal. Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero only have a handful of starts each above AA, and the John Parrish/Scott Richmond combo probably isn't going to be the answer (in the rotation, at least).
Can the Jays contend in '09 with a rotation potentially featuring Halladay, Litsch, and Purcey at the top? Can McGowan bounce back early in the season? Will one (or two) of the young arms step up and claim a spot? Yeah, maybe they can. Maybe the Jays catch a few bottles of lightning there.....but isn't that the strategy the Yankees employed heading into the season? Yes, yes it is....and you can bet your ass that won't be happening again.
So, what's the alternative? An expensive re-work of the deal? A bidding war with the Yankees, Red Sox, and other big spenders sure to line up for the AL strike-out leader? If Ricciardi can entice AJ to stick around and see this thing through by tacking on an extra year at market rate, or by renegotiating the remaining two years of the contract, then great. Get it done JP. Don't make me beg (I'm not above it).
Realistically? This thing goes to auction on a four year contract worth upwards of $65 million. That's probably going to be too rich for the Jays blood (or should I say, for ownership's tastes), and quite frankly, a four year contract for a 32 year-old pitcher (by spring training) with a history of arm troubles, who just happens to be coming off the highest innings-pitched total of his career, is probably a recipe for disaster.
Of course, there's always Plan C, which is take a run at another free agent arm like Derek Lowe. But then, it's the devil you know.....