Tao of Stieb: What’s Blue Jays’ biggest need?

Mark Buehrle, left, and Josh Donaldson. (Jim Mone/AP)

Choices.

Life is about choices. It’s like a big Choose Your Own Adventure book, but without the option to pre-read all of the options before picking one or to flip back and restart when you don’t like the outcome.

Kinda sucks, right?

What’s worse is that you can’t simply belly-up to the buffet and spoon a little of this and a little of that onto your plate until you have a mushy mountain of everything you could ever want. People will tell you that we live in an era of infinite choice, but realistically, you will have finite resources and will need to set priorities.

You can’t always get what you want, yadda yadda yadda, you get what you need.

And so it is with the Toronto Blue Jays, especially as it pertains to the $8 million player personnel slush fund on which the team is allegedly sitting. Given the cost of acquiring players – both in terms of payroll and in terms of the player/assets exchanges – it would be optimistic to imagine the 2015 version of the Blue Jays filling any more than one need in-season.

With that being the case, suppose you are presented with three options to help improve the team this year: Which need would you address?

Starting Pitcher
It’s hard to ever argue against acquiring starting pitching. Their effect on the outcome of any game is profound, as the Jays’ sluggish start bears out.

With the Jays’ current pitching configuration, adding a starter would likely bump Marco Estrada back to a bullpen role, which would give manager John Gibbons an additional relief option. Plus, Estrada could provide a decent option as a swingman, especially if the team needs to provide additional rest to the rotation at any point later in the summer.

On the other hand, the pool of truly above-average starters is very limited. By my back-of-the-napkin dissection, there are probably 10-15 legitimate staff aces in MLB, and maybe 20 or so genuine number two pitchers. Few if any of those 30 or so pitchers are readily available on the market.

If the Jays were to acquire a starter, you’d really need that player to be predictably better than at least two of your current rotation for this to make a noticeable impact on this year’s standings.

Relief Pitcher
You could argue that the crux of the Jays’ problem has been the bullpen, which has not been especially strong outside of the performances of Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil and Liam Hendriks.

The lousy start by the rotation certainly over-taxed the bullpen early on, and forced Gibbons into exposing not-ready-for-primetime pitchers to a lot of big league innings. It’s also required that the wunderkind Osuna take on a whole heap of a workload, and exposed his arsenal to scrutiny from his potential opponents. One would guess that with more than 25 innings of work, teams are starting to build a book on Osuna by now.

In spite of having a seven-man pen, Gibbons tends to rely on four or five pitchers, and at this point, that includes unknowns such as Bo Schultz and Ryan Tepera and the frustratingly unreliable Steve Delabar (ignore his low ERA, because he’s walking too many and has allowed three inherited runners to score).

The nature of bullpens is that there are a lot of relievers (or potential relievers) around, but not a lot of top quality arms who can make a tangible difference in a team’s season. But the addition of a dependable arm who could take on high-leverage spots and lighten the reliance on Osuna and Hendriks might help turn some close losses into one or two-run wins.

Outfielder
Kevin Pillar had a fairy tale night against Max Scherzer, and has been a very good defensive centre fielder. But with the health of Jose Bautista’s shoulder and Michael Saunders’ knee still uncertain and the Jays regularly giving corner-outfield starts to Danny Valencia, Chris Colabello and Ezequiel Carrera, something’s got to give.

Moreover, we’re reaching a point with Dalton Pompey where it seems as though a full year at triple-A seems like the best option for his development.

To truly make a difference in the coming months, you’d want to acquire someone with a reputable record of playing defence, including centre field. Moreover, you’d want a bat that won’t be substantial step down from Colabello or Valencia, or at the very least Justin Smoak.

Frankly, you’d want a guy who could be written into the starting lineup every day without creating too much of a hole, because for as many runs as the Jays have scored in the early part of the season, you wouldn’t want to take the top of the order’s production as a given every night.


Given those three options, which would be most beneficial for the short-term success of the Blue Jays? It is absurdly easy to dismiss the question altogether and simply transition into a rant about the past failings of roster construction, but that’s not especially productive as a conversation. But if you take this exercise seriously, do any of these options stand out? Are any of them feasible? How would you prioritize?

I could sit on the fence and make an argument for adding a player from any of these three categories, but if pressed and if the opportunity to add a legitimate starting pitcher were to present itself, it could have the cascade effect of improving two areas at once.

Let’s just hope it’s not a fly ball pitcher.