As per a request in the comments of our shortstop rundown in the last post, we figured we'd share our views on the Jays' forays into the starting pitching market this off season. (We're nothing if not responsive to our readers.)
Obviously, this whole thing is going to be complicated by the fact that we don't really know what the Jays will have in terms of a pitching staff or a starting rotation in the coming two years. What sort of pitcher will Casey Janssen be next year? When does Dustin McGowan return to the lineup? Will Jesse Litsch come to camp in shape and ready to be a number two pitcher? Can David Purcey throw strikes?
Regardless, there's going to be a significant gap in the rotation left by A.J. Burnett (and let's just stop kidding ourselves that he's going to leave money on the table to come back). The Jays are also likely to be squeezed on how much they can offer to free agent pitchers, so they'll be looking for bargains on name-brand pitchers. (Not quite the same as the Ohka-Zambrano-Thomson spree from a couple of years back.)
So who can help fill the void? See our humble suggestions below.
1) Ben Sheets - Yes, we know that he is made of sugar, and that his strike out rate has declined while his walks have gone up. We know that he hasn't pitched more than 200 innings since 2005, and that he has excelled pitching in the NL Central. We know that there is a reason why teams will be scared away from him...but that's exactly why we think he might be a fit for Toronto.
He might be the sort of pitcher that could be had on a shorter deal, which would allow some payroll flexibility and which wouldn't create impediments for the Cecils or the Mills coming up through the system. And if his health returns (he did manage 198.1 innings last season), he might be the best number two pitcher in the division.
2) Derek Lowe - Our guess is that he'll have plenty of suitors, including the Yankees and Red Sox. But given Toronto's outstanding infield defense, we think that the sinkerballing Lowe would be an ideal fit with the Jays, serving up ground balls on Rogers Centre turf. He's been a durable and reliable starter since coming back out of the BoSox bullpen in 2002, and had one of his best seasons last year (3.24 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).
3) Jon Garland - Speaking of ground balls, Jonny Sinkers lives and dies by his infield defense, which went into the toilet for him in Anaheim last season. (The Almighty Halladay would have had a rough ride last season if he was being backed up by Chone Figgins at third, Erick Aybar at short and Howie Kendrick second.) His numbers in his first year in the greater Los Angeles area were far less than stellar (4.90 ERA, 1.51 WHIP), but he was a Cy Young candidate as recently as 2005, and is not yet 30 years old. Once the top names are gone, Garland could be a good fit at the right price for Toronto.
4) Brad Penny - He's big. He's fat. He has good first halves. He gets into bar fights. He's one of the Brad Arnsberg Marlins diaspora. He'll likely command less than the $9 million that the Dodgers would have had to pay him. And if you're looking for next year's Cliff Lee (the mediocre pitcher who suddenly becomes a world-beater), we think that Penny is as likely a candidate as any.
5) Oliver Perez -And if Penny isn't going to be next year's Cliff Lee, how about Perez? Our sense of Perez has changed a bit over the past few years, where we we no longer expect him to be an elite pitcher, but that he can have flashes of brilliance. Think of him as a left-handed A.J., only with junk instead of stuff. (Does praise get any fainter than that?) Perez walked entirely too many batters last season, and it is probably not reasonable to expect him to post less than a 1.30 WHIP.
6) The Old Skool MTL Crew - Petey Martinez and Randy Johnson. They're old, and they certainly ain't what they once were. But, you know, in a pinch, we wouldn't mind plugging them in as a fifth stater...provided they aren't the only answer. Besides, think of how many Dick Griffin columns would write themselves if these former Expos came on board!
We realize that we're probably completely wrong about all of this, but when you don't really have much of a budget to work with, how do you do things right?
In any case, feel free to chastise us for our simple-mindedness in the comments. We live for your criticism.