If any team in baseball got less out of its 2013 rotation than the Toronto Blue Jays, it was the Minnesota Twins. While Blue Jays starters posted a 4.81 ERA in 2013, Minnesota’s rotation combined for a 5.26 mark that ranked last in MLB.
Since the season ended, Twins general manager Terry Ryan has taken a different approach than his counterpart in Toronto, Alex Anthopoulos. Ryan has signed Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey with a series of moves that cost $84 million but no draft picks or prospects.
With career ERAs of 4.37, 4.54 and 4.48, respectively, Nolasco, Hughes and Pelfrey offer bulk innings if not dominance. Even so, they represent an improvement over last year. Ryan might not be done yet, as the Twins continue to be linked to free agent starters including Bronson Arroyo and Paul Maholm.
Meanwhile, Anthopoulos has added no starters. He has refrained from spending big money on mid-rotation starters, preferring to explore trades and bide his time on select free agents. Like many general managers with interest in the top starters available, he has been at the mercy of a slow-moving market caused in large part by the ongoing Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes.
There’s still plenty of time for the Blue Jays to get involved in the bidding for high-end starters, since the Tanaka-related slowdown means there are more top free agent arms available than there usually are at this time of year. In particular, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez stand out. That said, the Blue Jays also seem increasingly reluctant to meet the current asking prices for trade targets and free agents.
Anthopoulos sounds confident that internal options such as Brandon Morrow and Drew Hutchison can rebound. The GM rightfully points to swingmen Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond and prospects Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin when outlining the depth of the rotation.
The Blue Jays don't have a shortage of arms the way the Twins did. They have options, which is why few expected the Blue Jays to fill out the rotation with mid or back-of-the-rotation arms such as Nolasco, Hughes and Pelfrey. Anthopoulos explained on the final day of the regular season that he hoped to round out the team's rotation with frontline arms.
“We now have volume, we now have bodies, but that’s only part of the equation,” Anthopoulos said at the time. “That’s a step in the right direction, but now we need to have quality to win in the AL East and get to the playoffs.”
He also said “we know we’re not good enough right now,” acknowledging that the Blue Jays needed to improve in 2014. That's why no one expected him to rely entirely on internal options. Now, it's starting to sound as though Anthopoulos is comfortable betting on his in-house options instead of surrendering precious dollars, prospects and draft picks in pursuit of a big-name acquisition.
Maybe the Blue Jays are bluffing. But if they're serious about relying on what they have, those who say Anthopoulos has been too cautious this off-season are off the mark. Standing pat with a rotation that ranked 29th in the big leagues in ERA might be his boldest move yet.