THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — The bright future the Toronto Blue Jays envisioned when they looked toward 2009 took a very bleak turn Friday with word that starter Shaun Marcum will miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Marcum’s loss leaves a starting rotation that was considered among the best, if not the best in baseball this year full of questions heading into the winter. Ace Roy Halladay will be back as staff anchor and safety net, but everything else is in flux behind him.
No. 2 A.J. Burnett is a near-certainty to opt out of his contract after the season and while GM J.P. Ricciardi said for the first time Thursday that he’d be willing to give the right-hander additional years at the back end of his deal, the Blue Jays aren’t likely to have the financial wherewithal to retain him.
No. 3 Dustin McGowan is coming off shoulder surgery and won’t be ready to go until May at the earliest, and who knows what he’s going to look like once back.
Marcum, who was 9-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 25 starts, was fourth in the rotation followed by Jesse Litsch, the sophomore righty who, barring any off-season moves, may be the club’s only other healthy experienced starter after Halladay next spring.
That makes 2009 look like a train wreck waiting to happen.
"We’re not going to do something out of panic," said a defiant Ricciardi. "I don’t feel like we have to do anything. I feel like we got young pitchers here who we’re pretty much convinced they can come here and pitch. We’ll go with those guys."
Ricciardi points out that teams like Minnesota and Tampa Bay stocked their rotations with youngsters but winning under those circumstances is far less likely than having the situation blow up in a team’s face.
The Yankees, for instance, went into this season counting on Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy to help carry their rotation and paid for it. The Rays, meanwhile, endured years of growing pains with Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine while Matt Garza had some up-and-down times with the Twins before blooming in the Florida sun.
The Jays have to hope at least a few kids from a group of potential starters that includes rookie David Purcey, Casey Janssen (who is also coming off shoulder surgery) and top prospects Brett Cecil and Rick Romero can emulate the success Minnesota has had this season with Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins.
"That doesn’t happen all the time," conceded Jays manager Cito Gaston. "It’s one of those things you hope will happen, you’re not sure if it’s going to happen. It looked like our offence is going to come around finally and we’re not going to have the pitching we had before, unless these guys step up and pitch well."
Further complicating the situation is that life in the AL East isn’t like life in other divisions. Facing the Red Sox and Yankees, not to mention the Rays now too, 19 times a season is murder on a veteran pitching staff, let alone a young one.
It’s hard to foresee the Blue Jays keeping pace under those circumstances.
"We’ve got confidence in our young guys," said Ricciardi. "Sometimes you’ve got to run them out there. … The great thing is we got the anchor — Doc. That’s a big plus, having a guy like that at the top of the rotation."
The Blue Jays have about US$70 million in salary commitments for 2009 and are expected to have in the neighbourhood of $20 million to spend should Burnett, who is due to make $12 million next year, bail on his contract.
The Yankees have already announced their intention to spend big this winter and the Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers are always players in these matters, so there’ll be no shortage of competition out there for pitching.
While it’ll be interesting to see if the upheaval in the financial markets and gloomy economic outlook prompts some teams to scale back on their spending, the Blue Jays can’t count on plugging their holes via free agency.
The trade market is another possibility, but it’s become increasingly difficult to obtain pitching that route. The San Francisco Giants could have gotten Alex Rios from the Blue Jays last winter to fill a pressing need for a young offensive star, but refused to part with Tim Lincecum.
So it seems Toronto’s hopes will rest on unproven shoulders.
Marcum, meanwhile, won’t be back before 2010. His surgery isn’t scheduled yet but will happen in the near future.
Marcum was hurt during his start Tuesday against Baltimore, when he left the game with tightness in his forearm and numbness in his pinky finger. He also spent a month earlier this season on the disabled list with elbow soreness.
"It may be a continuation," said Marcum. "The feeling that I had right now is completely different form the one I had earlier this season, so it’s tough to say for me. I think it’s just wear and tear from pitching and throwing as much as I do. Maybe if I kept my pitch count down like Doc a little bit, maybe this wouldn’t have happened."
The 26-year-old nearly broke down at the prospect of not being a part of spring training next year and having to sit the season out rehabbing. He dominated in the first half, but struggled to regain his form after the injury.
"It’s an (unfortunate) way to end the season," Marcum said. "But I’ve got to keep my head up and bust my ass this off-season and next season to come back in 2010."