Echoing the comments made by Edwin Encarnacion prior to Monday's Home Run Derby, general manager Alex Anthopoulos made it clear the Blue Jays need their rotation to step up in the season's second half if the team has any hopes of contending for a playoff spot.
Speaking with Bill Hayes and Bruce Arthur Monday night on TSN Drive on TSN 1050, Anthopoulos said the talent is there for a post All-Star break improvement from the likes of R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson.
"It comes down to the rotation," Anthopoulos said of a group who holds the second highest starters' ERA in baseball. "Almost all of our starters have ERA's in the high fours or low fives and that's certainly not something that we expected."
Rebound second halves from Dickey, who is second last in the Amercian League with 10 losses and Josh Johnson, who has contributed just one win and a 5.16 ERA, combined with the return to health of Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ will be necessary if Toronto is to make up ground in the Wild Card race according to Anthopoulos.
"The rotation, as it sits right now, we need those guys to perform better," he said. "The guys in the rotation certainly have the ability to pitch a lot better than they have."
The GM's comments came just hours after Encarnacion suggested the team will require it's starters to step up in order for the Jays to dig themselves out of their first half hole.
"I think the starting pitching," Encarnacion told reporters in New York. "If we want to win, we know and they know we need to pitch better.
"We have the talent in the clubhouse and I know the pitchers can do better than they've been doing," he said. "We just need to focus in the games and I know things are going to change."
Despite the team's struggles, Anthopoulos reiterated that he would not be a seller at the deadline, saying he made his offseason moves with the intention of allowing the team to compete over the long haul.
"When we made all these acquisitions and trades, we did it with the thought that it was not only for one year," Anthopoulos said. "It just doesn't make sense to sell low on players. When players aren't performing well, you're not going to get much in trade.
"I don't see us doing anything where we take away from the team unless we clearly feel that we have depth in certain areas. But I'd say right now, the only area I could see us having some depth is in the bullpen. So maybe we would be open-minded if there was a deal there to trade a reliever."
He suggested at this point the team should not expect help to come externally, with the trade market being relatively quiet.
"We have not had one discussion with a team about a starter," Anthopoulos said. "If people are reading names that are out there, it would be a 100 percent complete fabrication in terms of us going after a starter right now. Doesn't mean that if something came up a week from now that we wouldn't be open to it, but right now, we're not engaged in having any dialogue at all with respect to a starter with respect to trades."
Anthopoulos explained he thought the lack of "sellers" was due to the extra wildcards that were added prior to this season and the no-trade and no-movement clauses in player's contracts, but admitted things could change following the break.
"For us it's been very quiet, right now we don't have anything close or anything that we're serious about," Anthopoulos said. "Expect those conversations to change once we come out of the break though."
Although the Jays sit four games under .500 with just over 60 to play and are nearly nine back in the Wild Card race, Anthopoulos said he gained confidence from seeing teams in previous years coming back in the second half to claim playoff spots.
He used the example of Tampa Bay being eight games out and responsding with a playoff run following the break and a Brewers team led by Zach Greinke bouncing back from having a 5.40 ERA in the first half.
The pitching staff could potentially get a boost from former two-time All-Star Ricky Romero who was impressive in his last start, throwing just 93 pitches through eight innings of four-hit ball.
"It should come to the point where he dominates that league," Anthopoulos said of a possible return for the talented lefthander. "If he can do that a few more times in a row…he'll certainly be in the mix to get back here."
Anthopoulos also commented on the controversial decision to move Brett Lawrie to second base, saying he was all for it since he thought Lawrie's athleticism would allow him to handle it. He mentioned it also gives manager John Gibbons more roster flexibility and helps him in the pursuit of possible trade candidates.
"We don't think there's any danger at all, in terms of moving him around," Anthopoulos said, referring to Rays All-Star Ben Zobrist, who has played above average defensively in both the infield and outfield, while still producing at the plate. "It's not a permanent move…but I don't know if we're married to one spot with him."