THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays are willing to top up A.J. Burnett’s contract to keep him from walking away after the season, a new development that comes amid concerns that Shaun Marcum is injured worse than initially thought.
Marcum, who left Tuesday’s start with forearm tightness and numbness in his pinky finger, underwent an MRI Thursday and Dr. James Andrews was to give the results a second opinion.
GM J.P. Ricciardi refused to offer any details pending Andrews’ assessment, but the grim tone with which both he and manager Cito Gaston spoke didn’t bode well for the right-hander.
"The way he had to leave the game, the numbness in his fingers and elbow, there’s always a fear," said Gaston. "We’re just hoping it’s not as bad as we’re all thinking it might be."
Marcum himself said he hadn’t heard results of the exam but that his arm still wasn’t feeling right.
"It’s still tender," he said.
Should Marcum be facing an extended absence — he also missed a month with elbow problems earlier this season — the Blue Jays’ would head into 2009 with a vastly watered-down rotation, particularly if Burnett leaves.
Burnett can opt out of his US$55-million, five-year contract once the season ends and Ricciardi’s acknowledgment that the team is willing to sweeten the pot makes it clear that the right-hander fully intends to get out of his current deal.
The rotation, which has already lost emerging ace Dustin McGowan to shoulder surgery, can’t afford to lose Burnett, who is 18-10 this season with a 4.19 ERA.
"We would think about adding some years," Ricciardi said. "But we’re not going to get in a bidding war. … We’d love to have him stay but if someone wants to blow him out of the water, that won’t be us."
Minus Burnett, McGowan and Marcum, the Blue Jays rotation in ’09 could include Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch, David Purcey, Casey Janssen (who is also coming off shoulder surgery) and perhaps lefty setup man Scott Downs or top prospects Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero.
That isn’t likely to be deep enough to keep pace with the Boston Red Sox and possibly the New York Yankees, who are expected to reload in a big way this winter with the financial largesse to be reaped from their new stadium.
"We might have a young staff, we’ll see," said Ricciardi, brushing off those concerns.
Marcum is 9-7 with a 3.39 ERA in 25 starts, emerging into a key part of the club’s starting rotation. McGowan was 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 starts before undergoing surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder.
Burnett, meanwhile, has been a dependable No. 2 to Halladay, giving the Blue Jays one of the best duos in baseball. Losing Burnett, despite his volatility, would be a huge step backwards.
"We brought him here with the understanding this would be a good place for him, he’s done well," said Ricciardi. "But … we can’t get into a situation where if teams are coming after him with unbelievable amounts of money, we’re not going to be able to go down that road.
"We’ll put an effort forth, but there’s a limit to everything."