Tonight’s games really bring up some interesting questions about what to do about the pitching staff in Toronto. There are many complicated pieces to move around and the most logical move to be made, that appears to be the one that will be made, will have certain consequences that would go against what the Blue Jays have been doing when making their transactional decisions this season.
First, let’s preface this by saying that Marcus Stroman was awesome tonight. I watched on MiLB TV (I was very tempted to make the drive down to Buffalo but the weather scared me off) and I was extremely impressed by the way Stroman was commanding his pitches down in the zone and to the corners. He threw six innings without giving up a hit, walking just one batter and striking out 10. Yes, he was that good. But there’s a “but.” Louisville is a very poor-hitting team. Not to say that they’re pushovers but let’s face it, the Louisville Bats’ .666 OPS so far this season is not even close to a team like the Pawtucket Red Sox or the Indianapolis Indians.
The Blue Jays pushed Stroman back from his regularly scheduled start on Monday to Tuesday in order to line him up with Dustin McGowan. This way, if the Jays decide to move McGowan into the bullpen, Stroman will be able to be called up and pitch on his regular rest. Shi Davidi wrote that, with a poor outing on April 29, McGowan could be replaced in the rotation as soon as May 4. From Sportsnet reports before the game, we learned that the Blue Jays medical staff is having McGowan, who has Type-I Diabetes, pitch tonight with an insulin pump, which they hope will enable to last longer without the fatigue he reported after about 60 pitches.
If the Blue Jays do make this move to bring up Stroman for a May 4 start, the Blue Jays will annoy me. The reason is that this move is tremendously contradictory to almost every transaction the Blue Jays have made this season. While they always say that their goal is to field the best team possible, actions speak louder than words and the Blue Jays have consistently acted to avoid losing any players to waivers despite the effect on the major league product that these decisions might have.
The Blue Jays went with an eight-man bullpen to avoid losing Jeremy Jeffress at the beginning of the year (and where did that get them?). It’s why J.A. Happ is still on the team (that, and the fact that they owe him over $5 million this year). It’s why they sent Neil Wagner down when they brought up Chad Jenkins. It’s why Moises Sierra is still on the major league team despite his lack of production.
The Blue Jays seem to be leaning away from this trend. By releasing Mickey Storey, the Blue Jays made room on the 40-man roster for Chris Getz when they demoted Ryan Goins to Buffalo. A move to bring up Marcus Stroman would require another player to go in order to make room and the Jays would have to send someone else down (possibly, but not necessarily the same person). And that’s probably around the same time that Casey Janssen returns, necessitating another reliever to be lost from the 25-man roster. Chad Jenkins will be the first to go because he doesn’t need to go through waivers but who’s next? And who would be removed from the 40-man roster if the Jays bring up Stroman?
Do the Jays try to sneak Esmil Rogers through waivers? Do they try to outright someone like Kyle Drabek? Do they do what they did with Kenny Wilson and DFA Deck McGuire despite the fact that he was just put on the 40-man roster this winter and is only using the first of his three option years? Do they try to sneak one of their outfielders through waivers like Darin Mastroianni (would the Twins pick him back up and leave the Jays with nothing)? Or has Baby Mo (Moises Sierra) worn out his welcome and will the Jays try to get him through waivers to bring up someone like Mastroianni or Gose who could back up in center field?
The other downside to calling up Stroman right away is the fact that his major league service time clock would start in May, which would probably result in him earning “Super Two” status, allowing him to go to arbitration a year earlier than if he stays in the minors a little longer. The way salary arbitration works is that a player with more than three and fewer than six years of major league service time are eligible for salary arbitration. In addition, players with more than two years of ML service time (but less than three) and is in the top 22% of players in that category are also eligible for arbitration and these guys are said to have “Super Two” status.
Teams sometimes try to manage a young player’s time in the minors in order to ensure that he’s not among that group with the top 22% of service time (between two and three years) when his time comes for arbitration. This essentially buys the club an extra year of the player at the major league minimum and only allows him to be eligible for arbitration three times instead of four. I haven’t been able to find any studies of how much money this might save a club but, in general, the way things work is that teams will pay their players the minimum as long as they can (either two or three years) and then, depending on their production, the players will get escalating contracts that could reach eight figures over the next three or four years. For a Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays could save as much at $10 million if he’s kept in the minors until mid-June or so.
This means that there are two big reasons to keep Marcus Stroman in the minors a little while longer. The first is that, by avoiding having to make room on the 40-man roster for Stroman, the Blue Jays would be able to hang on to another player a little while longer, supporting everything that the Blue Jays have been doing in their transactions so far this year.
The Blue Jays have only one pitcher who’s on the bubble who can be sent down without potentially losing him: Chad Jenkins. The Jays will have to make a move when Casey Janssen returns and if no one is called up to take McGowan’s spot in the rotation, only one player will need to go and that would likely be Jenkins. If the Blue Jays decide to get starting help from the minors, a second move will have to be made (either before or after the move that involves Janssen) and ultimately, a spot will need to be made on the 25-man which, provided that move is made with a pitcher, will result in a player hitting waivers to clear a 40-man roster spot.
The second reason, as discussed above is to save some money down the line by avoiding Super Two status for Stroman. It could be argued that the Blue Jays employed this tactic with Brett Lawrie until he broke his hand and had to stay on the minor league DL anyways.
The fact is that if the Blue Jays are going to look to Buffalo for pitching help, there are options outside of Stroman. While Stroman has been outstanding early this season, two other pitchers in Buffalo have been very strong as well . . . and both are on the 40-man roster.
The first is Liam Hendriks, a 25-year-old right-hander from Australia who the Blue Jays picked up on waivers from Baltimore this February. Hendriks has 156 major league innings under his belt and, despite his rather poor results in the past, he’s been excellent this season in Buffalo. In 21 2/3 innings for the Buffalo Bisons, Hendriks has a 1.25 ERA, 0.65 WHIP with 21 strikeouts and no walks. That’s right, Hendriks hasn’t walked anyone yet in Triple-A this season. With almost three-quarters of a season’s worth of innings as a major league starter and an excellent start to his season this year AND the fact that he’s already on the 40-man roster and is not going to be considered a core piece of this club in the years to come, is there any reason not to call up Hendriks rather than Stroman if the decision is made to call someone up?
Another option could be Sean Nolin. Yes, Nolin’s first (and only) start in the major leagues was pretty disastrous but, at the time, the big lefty only had 20 1/3 innings of Double-A experience before his call up and he’s been able to show a lot more since then. Perhaps a little shell-shocked, Nolin got over it and threw 110 1/3 innings in Double-A and Triple-A with a 2.77 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 116 strikeouts and 35 walks. Nolin added another 26 2/3 solid innings in the Dominican Winter League before reporting to big league spring training. So far, he’s been very good in Buffalo, pitching to a 1.00 WHIP and 1.96 ERA in four starts, logging 23 innings and walking 11 with 24 strikeouts.
Both of these pitchers (Hendriks and Nolin) would enable the Blue Jays to keep Stroman’s ML service time clock from starting but by calling anyone up from the minor leagues, the Blue Jays would be forced to expose someone from the major league team to waivers. The only advantage to keeping Stroman in the minors would be to keep his service clock from starting.
Something has to be done, but what? The Jays can’t keep sending Dustin McGowan out there and tax the bullpen the way it’s been taxed. Should McGowan get more time to see if he can right the ship? I think so. Despite his rocky outing tonight, he has flashes of brilliance that, if he gets the opportunity, could become more than just flashes. There does appear to be something fundamentally wrong with the pitching staff (see my “WalkZilla” article) and the Blue Jays need better innings out of what they’ve got. I don’t think that there are too many answers there in the Buffalo bullpen right now, outside of Neil Wagner.
If I was in the GM’s chair, I’d probably give McGowan another two or three weeks before I made some big, wholesale changes in that pitching staff. Esmil Rogers would be on a short leash and even J.A. Happ would be seen as a sunk cost (a la Ricky Romero). By Victoria Day, it would be time to make some tough decisions but if it means clearing house a bit and bringing up two or three guys from Buffalo, I think it just might be time to make some waves.
What do you think? Pull the trigger now or give it some time?
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