February 6, 2009
The Blue Jays were the American League’s most effective rotation in 2008 but will have many holes to fill this year as their starting pitching staff has been decimated by the signing of A.J. Burnett by the Yankees, Shaun Marcum’s elbow surgery, and Dustin McGowan’s shoulder injury.
With these players gone, Cito Gaston has to find replacements for 78 starts, 484 innings and 33 wins which will be no easy task even with ace Roy Halladay returning and Jesse Litsch proving to be a great starter, going 5-2 with a 1.92 ERA over his final nine starts.
One of the biggest holes in the rotation was created when Burnett signed with the Yankees, after going 18-10 last season and providing 34 of the 40 starts that didn’t come from products of the Toronto farm system.
Another huge lose is Marcum, whose 3.39 ERA last season was only topped by the Doc’s 2.78, and is expected to miss the 2009 season after elbow surgery.
Plus, McGowan will be out until at least May after shoulder surgery.
Toronto’s starters led the majors with 1,021 innings, an average of 6 1/3 innings per start and it’s the Blue Jays farm system that has been responsible for the team’s rise to the top of the American League in pitching. Homegrown pitchers started 122 of the team’s games last season, a number that will probably increase in 2009.
Some of these prospects include David Purcey, who got his first 12 major league starts last season and is almost a sure thing for a rotation spot. Casey Janssen, who has been a starter and a reliever, missed last season because of a shoulder injury, but has healed and should battle for a starting position at spring training.
Another potential outside addition to the rotation is Matt Clement, who signed a minor league contract after being out of the majors the last two seasons because of shoulder problems.
Other prospects include their top two pitchers in the system, Brett Cecil and Brad Mills, and also lefty Ricky Romero, who was the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft. There is also British Columbia-native Scott Richmond, who had five big-league starts last season.
A deep bullpen has been the Jays’ strength for several seasons and should remain strong as long as they don’t borrow relievers for the rotation. The bullpen had a 2.94 ERA last season, best in the majors and more than half a run better than any other AL team.
The Jays are especially strong from the left side. Not only is closer B.J. Ryan a lefty, but so are their top three setup men: Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson, and Brian Tallet.
B.J. Ryan was ready much sooner than expected after Tommy John surgery and converted 32-of-36 save opportunities. Jeremy Accardo, who had 30 saves with Ryan out in 2007, was limited to 16 games with elbow and forearm problems, but is throwing again and hopes to be ready for camp.
December 24, 2008
by G L … With the Christmas Trade Freeze soon coming to an end, Brian Burke has his work cut out for him in the months heading up to the March trade deadline. He is well aware the Leafs are more than a few players short of becoming Cup contenders and will have to build this team through smart scouting and drafting.
So, one of Burke’s first priorities will be to stockpile as many draft picks for the 2009 draft as possible. So far, these are a few of his options.
1. Nik Antropov becomes a free agent at the end of this year and Burke will not likely be interested in resigning him as he doesn’t fit into the rebuilding phase . He had a career year last season with 56 pts (26G, 31A), and was plus-10 in 72 games and this year is on pace for a 60-point season.
He does not have a no trade clause and may be dealt to a strong playoff contender that is just looking to make minor improvements to its lineup, such as San Jose. The Leafs in turn could receive a second-round draft pick and a prospect.
2. Jason Blake is one of the last overpriced and over-aged players from the John Ferguson Jr. era. He is already 35 years old and with three years and $12 million left on his contract, he no longer fits into the Leafs’ rebuilding process.
With his improved play lately he might be dealt in exchange for a player with another large contract a team is trying to dump. The benefits of this being the Leafs are well under the salary cap and might also be able to pick up a draft pick or a prospect in this exchange.
If Burke can not find any takers this year look at his contract being bought out this summer.
3. Thomas Kaberle is one of Brian Burke’s greatest trade assets approaching the deadline and it has been widely reported that Kaberle was already contacted about the possibility of being traded and would be willing to waive his no trade clause for the right team.
Although at times this season he has struggled defensively, he is still one of the best defensemen in the league. He is sure to attract a lot of attention from teams seeking defensive solidarity and has already generated interest at this years GM meetings in Florida.
The Leafs do not have to pull the trigger on this trade immediately though as Kaberle is still under contract until the 2010-2011 season (at only $4.25M per season) and have the possibility of trading him this summer as his no trade clause expires July first, 2009.
The Leafs in return will be expecting at least a first round draft pick and a prospect or another impact player.
4. Vesa Toskola is a proven starting goalie and would defiantly generate interest if Burke decided to move him before the deadline. Although his numbers don’t look great, you must remember most nights he faces the most shots in the league and plays behind a team known for its defensive gaffs.
There are always teams looking for a goaltender going into the playoffs and don’t be surprised if a team is willing to part with a first-round draft pick or a high prospect for him.
5. Alexei Ponikarovsky is one pace for one of his best seasons yet Burke may feel its time to sell while his stock is high and try to acquire more draft picks. It would be unlikely he would be packaged in a deal with Antropov, but may be traded to another cup contender looking to add a big bodied left winger. The Leafs in return would expect something similar to an Antropov deal such as second-round draft pick and a prospect.
6. Pavel Kubina, after coming off his first 40 point season, teams may also be interested in Kubina, especially if Kaberle is no longer on the table. He is making approximately $5 million per season, with one remaining year left on his contract after this season and may be traded if the Leafs want to further cut down their salary and add draft picks.
He may generate interest in a playoff team looking to add a big defenseman with playoff experience and a Stanley Cup ring. Although Kubina does have a no-trade clause until this summer, it is likely that Brian Burke could work something out if the right deal came along.