Tao of Stieb’s Winter Tweet Bag: Ubaldo or Ervin?

Ervin Santana delivers a pitch (Elaine Thompson/AP)

It’s oh so quiet, isn’t it? With nary a month before pitchers and catchers begin squatting and stretching in Florida and Arizona, there’s still a lot to be settled with free agent starting pitchers.

As we sit and wait for resolution around a certain Japanese hurler, here are my best answers to your best questions.

It seems as though the Toronto Blue Jays’ fanbase has moved on from Masahiro Tanaka, because his name barely came up this week.

If you add Matt Garza to the question above, you could cover off most of the questions around starting pitching that came in. Though with Garza’s dubious health history, I don’t see him as decent candidate for the sort of deal that he’s likely still seeking. If Spring Training comes and he looks for a lesser deal to rebuild his value, I might bite.

Otherwise, I’ve spent the winter flipping back and forth between them in terms of my personal preference. Though I confess that I find that I talk myself into preferring Ervin Santana, and I talk myself out of liking Ubaldo Jimenez.

If I have to be dumb about being smart in making the distinction, I like Ubaldo’s better strikeout and home run rates, so I’d take him over Big Erv.

The gruel gets pretty thin after you get past those pitchers, and for the most part, I think the Blue Jays have better internal options than what’s left on the market. There are two pitchers as of this writing that remain somewhat intriguing to me, even if they come with significant question marks around injury and recent declines: Johan Santana and Scott Baker. Santana would be a reclamation project, and the fact that teams who have poked around on him seem apprehensive raises the caution flag. Still, you’d think that a pitcher who had success in the past based as much on guile as on power might be able to make himself into a decent mid-rotation asset. Then again, I remember Frank Viola’s tenure with the Jays. Speaking of damaged former Twins, Scott Baker was a very serviceable starter, posting a 3.92 ERA from 2008 through 2011. But elbow issues led to Tommy John surgery, sidelining him for all of 2012 and most of 2013. He managed to pitch well in two of his three September starts for the Cubs last year, and he might be worth a look if all other options fall through. Other than that, MLB Trade Rumors still shows Tommy Hanson, Jake Westbrook, Jason Marquis, Joe Saunders, Jon Garland and James McDonald among the unsigned free agent starters, and I wouldn’t give any of them anything more than an invite to Spring Training.

 I’d be perfectly happy to have Marcus Stroman or Drew Hutchison take the fifth spot behind R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and Fill In Your Free Agent Here. I suppose that pushes J.A. Happ out of the rotation, and I’m not sure how much trade value he has at this point, though given the dreadful state of depth arms mentioned above, maybe he’s movable.

There’s also the question of what happens with Dustin McGowan’s attempts to stretch himself into the shape of a starting pitcher again. McGowan’s stuff remains tantalizing, even after all the extended rehab for multiple issues. But I find it hard to believe that he could stay healthy as a starter for any extended period of time.

As for Gibby’s “leash”: I dislike analogies that equate human beings to housepets. 

I don’t hold out a lot of hope on this player. The mechanics have always been a little screwy, and the approach seems misaligned with his stuff, so I don’t know that there’s an easy fix. 

I would certainly hope so. If you’ve read me for long enough, you know that I love 100-inning relievers.

In fact, I’d propose that the Jays should have two such pitchers to support a four-man rotation, as I believe sliding a replacement-level or lower arm into the fifth starter’s slot might be a poor use of your roster spots.

With a four-man rotation, you get a few extra starts over the course of the season out of your better starters by using off days to get “regular rest” for them. If the lack of off-days on the schedule dictates it, you get someone like Rogers or McGowan to spot start.

I realize I’m way off in imaginaryland at this point. Still, with low-effort workhorses like Dickey and Buehrle, this might be the rotation to pull off this particular gambit.

The Jays don’t officially have a captain, though it might surprise some to know that I don’t mind the idea of stitching a “C” on someone’s chest. I think the notion resonates in this market. I think Canadian fans would relate to the idea, even though they – and some members of the media – might create insane narratives around the designation.

If I had to pick a player to wear the “C”, I’d likely give it to José Bautista based on tenure, though I’d prefer to give it to José Reyes.

See, even the imaginary captaincy is fraught with drama!

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