Sunday, January 15, 2012
There’s a very specific feeling I get whenever the Red Sox or the Yankees make major player acquisitions to improve their respective teams. It’s something close to pure viciousness in its ugliest form. I have friends who are Red Sox and/or Yankee fans, and in these instances my feelings toward them move beyond mere annoyance, into the realm of wanting to swing heavy blunt objects into the hoods of their cars.
Eventually I calm down, of course. Even though I’ve learned that life is one crushing defeat after another until you just wish Flanders was dead, it’s hardly worth losing sleep over something as inconsequential as baseball.
I was at a function on Friday night (ed: Oh, la-dee-da, a “function”? Hope you didn’t spill any wine spritzer on your good Metallica t-shirt), so my Twitter obsession had to take a back seat to making small talk and eating while standing for a couple hours. When I got a chance to catch up, that old familiar feeling was there waiting for me. The New York Yankees had acquired potential perennial star pitcher Michael Pineda from the Seattle Mariners, and then they went out and signed another more than serviceable arm in free agent starter Hiroki Kuroda.
Instantly, the already-toughest team in the AL East got even tougher, going from a rotation that was going to consist of CC Sabathia and no small amount of hope to one that is likely to make life pretty difficult for opponents at least 80% of the time.
Once I worked through my usual stages of rage, frustration, and resignation, I got to thinking less about how brutal it might be in 2012 for the Blue Jays to face the Yankees, and more about how the Blue Jays themselves could make a similar instant upgrade to the rotation.
If we’re to believe the scuttlebutt, Alex Anthopoulos has been burning up the phone lines in search of another reliable starting pitcher to slot in among Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow for 2012, and perhaps beyond. And we all know what 2011’s rotation looked like apart from those two. Yes, we saw the emergence of a potential contributor in Henderson Alvarez and the feel-good story of Dustin McGowan’s return near the end of the year, but we also saw backward steps from Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek; 110 forgettable, negative WAR innings from Jo Jo Reyes; and a selection of bullpen fill-ins and minor league call-ups rounding things out.
One can easily understand AA’s apparent eagerness to acquire an arm with more staying power, like a Mat Latos or Matt Garza. I have a certain amount of support for the idea myself, but I don’t think it will be catastrophic if it doesn’t happen before the start of the season – precisely because those remaining in-house options represent a certain amount of opportunity.
I’m not betting on all of Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek and Dustin McGowan to step into 2012 and make big impacts. But a really oversimplified (and probably incorrect) way of looking at it is that there’s a 33.3333% chance that one of them will. A resurgent McGowan/Drabek/Cecil would mean a great deal to this team. If one out of the three were to somehow become a consistent, 2-3 WAR pitcher in 2012 (coupled with a decent full season from Alvarez and no unpleasant surprises from Romero and Morrow), the team would suddenly have four pretty nice options out of five in the rotation.
It might sound like a stretch, but Cecil put up 2.6 fWAR in 172.2 innings in 2010 before last year’s regression. McGowan, in his last mostly-healthy season in 2007, put up 3.9 fWAR in 169.2 innings, which was right there with Felix Hernandez (4.1 fWAR in 2007), Justin Verlander (also 4.1), and Cole Hamels (3.8) – all of whom pitched more innings than him. Even in 2008, he put up 2.3 fWAR in 111.1 innings. And that’s not to discount Drabek, who was one of baseball’s most highly regarded prospects for a very good reason.
If two of them were to ascend (or re-ascend) to such levels, well, in the words of the immortal Carl Weathers, baby, you got a stew goin’.
It would create the type of major-league rotation depth that most teams simply don’t have, and if they do, it’s not matched by the kind of pitching prospect depth that the Jays have also built – the kind that AA has been hesitant to part with in rumoured trades this offseason.
With this in mind, missing out on the acquisition of a starter in the off-season begins to concern me less, because it’s become apparent that AA sees mid-season and specifically the trade deadline as the time when the true impact deals can be made in his situation. He’s consistently thrown aside the notion that only “contenders” can improve when the market heats up mid-summer.
With hoarded pitching depth from which to deal at the deadline, AA’s hand would be even stronger, his flexibility and leverage greater, and the available arms to acquire possibly even more plentiful.