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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mulliniks’ Moustache #15 – Dustin McGowan & the Catch-22

It appears as though the Blue Jays have created an awkward situation for themselves: Dustin McGowan was a key, stabilizing force in their bullpen last year – one of the few bright spots in a disaster of a season. And now in 2014 they’re in desperate need of him to move from the starting rotation back to the bullpen to solidify their current, far-more-shaky version. However, with Brandon Morrow possibly out for the year with an injured finger, they’re even leaner at starting pitching than originally thought. Further complicating the issue is that McGowan, complete with his new fatigue-busting in-game insulin pump, has strung together a couple of really solid starts. The sad reality is that no matter where McGowan pitches, the other side will be left lacking. Dustin McGowan: 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Team Lynchpin, who would have thought that?

If McGowan was struggling and still only able to throw 65 effective pitches at a time then the decision would be easier, but it doesn’t make sense to move an effective starter to the bullpen and in the process weaken an already weak rotation. It would be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s simply not the right time to play around with rotation/bullpen members.

Marcus Stroman has made his much-ballyhooed debut (and picked up his first big-league win last night), so he should help the bullpen for the time being. In addition, Casey Janssen looks to be making progress from his oblique injury and will hopefully take his rightful place as closer in the coming weeks. In any event, the Blue Jays are once again in the unenviable position where they have to use yet another overmatched pitcher – JA Happ – in their starting rotation. (As an aside, doesn’t it seem as though Happ has taken JP Arencibia’s spot on the team as the sullen, petulant teenager who finds ways to be angry at his “parents”? Despite doing virtually nothing to warrant the move, aside from having a $5.2 million salary, Happ has once again sulked and complained his way into the Blue Jays starting rotation. The smart move would be to send Happ to the bullpen, or if they want to open up a much-needed roster spot for a bench player, let Happ ply his trade somewhere else – send him to the minors, release him, trade him to the National League, sell him to the Yomiuri Giants, who cares. End of aside).

Rogers’ cold, dead hands have apparently been clenched around the coffers purse strings, tight enough that any thought of looking at mid-season free-agent additions* (like the recently-signed Joel Hanrahan) is an almost laughable suggestion – it’s not going to happen. Speculating about trades is an act of futility in which I will not partake, so the only course of action to rectify the bullpen is through internal avenues. We’ve seen RA Dickey pinch running, but I have exactly zero desire to see the other side of that coin where position players take their turn on the pitcher’s mound. So what are we left with? Minor league options and best-utilizing the major league
assets. *Stop suggesting Stephen Drew, okay? Okay.

Based on the season as a whole, and what I’ve said above, this may seem patently obvious but I feel it has to be said: the Blue Jays don’t have enough major league calibre pitching. Of course, that’s true of just about every MLB team, but in the Blue Jays case, this problem is further exacerbated by Alex Anthopoulos’ misguided and pig-headed desire to keep Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers on the major league roster simply because both players are out of options.

I feel like a broken record, but what’s the problem if the Blue Jays lose one or both of those pitchers? What team will claim a pitcher that is clearly overmatched? It seems that many people are aware. One person who seems to be blissfully unaware? Alex Anthopoulous. Even manager John Gibbons, who rarely uses them and when he does, it’s in mop-up duty.

Even after Stroman’s recall, the Jays minor league team in Buffalo seems to be littered with viable late-inning help. Take a gander at a few of the pitchers featured in the Bisons bullpen (all stats as of Tuesday, May 6th, 2014):
  • Chad Jenkins (2.30 ERA, 15.2 IP, 2 saves, 11 Ks, 2 BBs, 0.77 WHIP), who has already been called up after Morrow’s injury.
  • Neil Wagner (0 ER, 4.1 IP, 3 saves, 4 Ks, 0 BBs, 0.46 WHIP), who has proven time and again that he can help a major league team. (Currently on the disabled list, but it’s reportedly not serious)
  • What about a guy like Bobby Korecky (0 ER, 22 IP, 2 saves, 222 Ks, 6 BBs, 0.77 WHIP), who’s flying under radar a little bit, but has been incredible this year.
  • And finally, a long-shot suggestion: Rob Rasmussen (3.75 ERA, 12 IP, 1 save, 13Ks, 9BBs 1.67 WHIP).
Call them up and give them a shot. Can any of them be worse than Rogers or Redmond? If any or all of those guys are recalled, then the Blue Jays can move Stroman to the rotation and with Happ moved on to greener pastures, instantly the team will be improved.

A starting rotation of RA Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Dustin McGowan, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman may, at the outset, not instill any terror in opposing teams, but it would at least set the team up to potentially do some damage. This might be my unbridled optimism speaking, but maybe Aaron Sanchez will be ready for a few starts later in the season? But that’s another blog entry on its own, I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s obvious the Blue Jays offence isn’t the problem…right now at least. After some early-season struggles, many members of the team have appeared to be righting their proverbial ships. If the Blue Jays can find a way to string together some quality starts and some quality relief appearances, then this wide-open division may be ripe for the picking. 

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