Davidi: Jays’ rotation filled with uncertainties

As things stand now, the Blue Jays have 11 reasonable starting candidates under club control for 2014, but only R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle would come with any real sense of what they bring to the table. (AP/Kathy Kmonicek)
July 24, 2013, 11:26 PM

TORONTO – The market will ultimately dictate where Brett Lawrie ends up on the diamond, his ability to play at either second or third base giving GM Alex Anthopoulos the option to scan through players at both positions and ferret out the best fit.

In the interim, don’t sweat the 23-year-old ping-ponging between the two spots. That will sort itself out.

Far more complicated for the Toronto Blue Jays today, tomorrow and beyond is the state of their starting rotation, beginning with the status of Brandon Morrow, who is likely to miss the rest of the season with an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm, a source told sportsnet.ca, and moving on steadily down the line.

Morrow’s injury was confirmed for a third time during an exam with Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday, according to the source, which explains why Anthopoulos wasn’t optimistic the man who opened the season as the No. 2 starter would return this year “because it’s been so long. It’s hard to be at this point.”

Less clear is why the Blue Jays have kept Morrow’s status so shrouded in mystery the past two months as the right-hander has rehabbed in Florida. The pain in his forearm flared up late in an outing May 23 versus Baltimore and forced him from his next start May 28 against Atlanta after just two innings, and the nerve problem was diagnosed twice afterwards.

When pressed about Morrow’s status Wednesday, Anthopoulos said, “At some point we’ll get to the bottom of this. I don’t know when … but I don’t think my answers today will be the same as Oct. 1.”

A course of action was still being developed for Morrow but is likely to include a lengthy shutdown period that would prevent him from being ready for season’s end.

As for what it means into 2014 and beyond, that’s yet another question for a rotation that doesn’t need any more uncertainty than it already has, especially when projected forward.

As things stand now, the Blue Jays have 11 reasonable starting candidates under club control for next year, but only R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle would come with any real sense of what they bring to the table.

Esmil Rogers impressed again Wednesday with seven hard-fought innings of two-run ball in what ended as another crushing defeat, 8-3 in 10 innings to the Los Angeles Dodgers to extend a season-high losing streak to seven games, but he’s still in uncharted territory as a starter and is no sure thing to repeat.

J.A. Happ has been injured most of this season and needs to show his knee troubles are a thing of the past; Ricky Romero continues to be an unknown commodity at this point; Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek weren’t established big-leaguers before their elbow injuries and can’t yet be counted on as they return from Tommy John surgery; Chad Jenkins seems to be viewed as a depth pitcher, no more; and Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin are the only prospects on the horizon.

Then there’s Josh Johnson, who is eligible for free agency but could end up returning on a one-year deal if the Blue Jays extend him a qualifying offer to ensure draft-pick compensation should he sign elsewhere. Even if he comes back, can the Blue Jays be 100 per cent certain his 2013 performance is the outlier?

More importantly, is there a five-man combination within that group that the Blue Jays can expect to be healthy and consistent enough to win with?

That’s why as much as Anthopoulos says “we’re certainly looking to do some things in the infield at the trade deadline, I’m not saying we will, but we’re actively having some dialogue with teams to see if we can do something,” the most pivotal work lies in sorting through the rotation’s internal options and deciding how many additional starters are needed for 2014.

This was a problem that looked to have been resolved last winter when Dickey, Buehrle and Johnson were all inserted into the staff, but a year later Anthopoulos may very well need to pull off a similar transfusion, and this time he won’t have as many chips to play.

While the blockbusters with the Marlins and Mets didn’t completely empty the desirable content from the farm system’s cupboards, those shelves aren’t nearly as well-stocked as they were a year ago.

Factor in that the Blue Jays already have roughly $109 million in payroll commitments to 13 players next season – that’s without Casey Janssen’s $4-million option and a qualifying offer of roughly $14 million for Johnson – and suddenly the possibilities for Anthopoulos seem a lot more limited unless another significant payroll bump is on the way.

The Blue Jays could, perhaps, shed some salary via trade and Anthopoulos said he “wouldn’t rule out” moving a reliever “because of that depth” the Blue Jays have in the bullpen. But the best thing that can happen is that their starters solve some of their issues from within, Morrow first and foremost.

“We haven’t been able to pinpoint anything other than there was inflammation,” Anthopoulos said. “It might be just one of those things that might need a lot more time than we hoped and thought.”

Turns out it is one of those things, exactly what the Blue Jays didn’t need.

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