Business in the Major League Baseball pitching market is about to pick up and the Toronto Blue Jays could be poised to be in the middle of the action.
Masahiro Tanaka has touched down in the United States and the courting of the Rakuten Golden Eagles stud pitcher has begun in earnest by a bevy of MLB teams interested in the Japanese ace.
The posting fee for Tanaka to be paid to Rakuten is $20 million and the pitcher himself is expected to garner a deal in the six-year, $100 million range. Early speculation has the Arizona Diamondbacks as the key suitor for Tanaka's services, but the usual suspects like the New York Yankees and teams looking to rebuild like the Chicago Cubs are also said to be heavily interested.
The Jays, who went hard after, but ultimately lost out on Yu Darvish to the Texas Rangers in 2012, are believed to be interested in Tanaka, but aren't considered a serious contender for the 24-year-old who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season in the Japanese League.
Still, Tanaka's impending arrival is of great interest to Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the Blue Jays management. Once Tanaka signs, the floodgates are expected to open on the MLB pitching market from both a free agency and trade perspective. Tanaka will be the first domino to drop on what could be a very busy next few weeks in the baseball offseason and the Jays are expected to, and need to, be active.
With options expanding, who should the Jays target to shore up their rotation heading into 2014?
If the Jays were to stand pat going into spring training, their rotation would likely be made up of R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, J.A. Happ and a fifth man from a pool of candidates including Marcus Stroman, Todd Redmond, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison. While by no means a poor rotation, the need to bolster it is obvious if they want to compete for a playoff spot.
The free agent avenue presents a few intriguing options. Ubaldo Jimenez is coming off a fine 2013 with the Cleveland Indians, posting a 13-9 record with 182.2 IP, a 3.30 ERA and a WHIP of 1.33. Jimenez, soon to turn 30, is no longer the power pitcher he was with the Colorado Rockies, but has compensated for his loss of velocity by relying on his slider and splitter more frequently.
Ervin Santana was acquired by the Kansas City Royals last winter from the Los Angeles Angels and slipped into their new-look rotation behind James Shields. Santana, 31, went 9-10 with 211 IP, a 3.28 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Santana can likely be counted on for more innings pitched than Jimenez, but has struggled with giving up home runs over the course of his career, something that will be taken into account considering the Rogers Centre's reputation as a long ball stadium.
Matt Garza is no stranger to the AL East. Having spent three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, Garza has an impressive career record at Rogers Centre. In seven career starts in the park, Garza has 1.36 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. Obviously, that's an incredibly small sample size and he was pitching against the Jays during those starts, but it is an encouraging sign. Garza split last season between the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers and didn't exactly light the world on fire in 2013, pitching only 151.3 innings thanks to continuing elbow problems, but with a respectable 3.82 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, going 10-6.
There is a prevailing idea that the asking price on all three starters has dropped as free agency has gone on, but none of the three will come cheap. All are expected to fetch multi-year deals in the $14-16 million range. Signing any of the trio represents a significant investment by the club, but likely a necessary one.
Lesser free agents are also available, but the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Tommy Hanson or Jason Hammel wouldn't appreciably improve the Jays' current corps.
On the trade front, the Jays have been repeatedly attached in rumours to Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija.
Samardzija, the 28-year-old former Notre Dame wide receiver, represents a high-risk, high-reward proposition for the Jays. A hard-throwing fastballer, Samardzija has eclipsed the 200 IP plateau in one of his two full seasons as a starter and doesn't have any significant injury history. The potential in Samardzija is obvious, but so is the cost.
Having traded a significant number of key assets last season in the acquisition of Dickey and the blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins, Anthopoulos would be loath to once again mortgage any part of the future. The Cubs don't need to move Samardzija and, as such, are asking for massive return. The Jays would likely have to part with two or more of their high-end prospects among Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna and Daniel Norris.
Other names have been bandied about in terms of being available, including Tampa Bay's David Price and Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies, but those options are more along the lines of pipe dreams.
With a payroll already over the $100 million mark, management isn't keen on overpaying for a free agent disaster and last year's big trades and the movement of young assets didn't bring the expected dividends. Anthopoulos must act prudently going forward, knowing that the benefit of the doubt isn't as easy to come by as it might have been before from both ownership and the fans.
Still, in order for tangible improvement to happen, moves need to be made. But which avenue is preferable?
Of all of the possible options on the table, how would you go about bolstering the Toronto Blue Jays' rotation for 2014?
As always, it's Your! Call.