With the Blue Jays signing pitcher Ricky Romero yesterday to a five-year, $30.1 million contract, they locked up a very important part of their rotation.
Romero, who is still only 25, has been very strong for the Jays this season, only his second in the major leagues.
His inexperience at the big league level does create a bit of risk in this deal. But considering his willingness to compete and his improving emotional and physical control, he could well be the Jays' future ace locked up in a reasonable contract.
With his win today against the Angels, Romero joins Shaun Marcum with 10 wins, followed closely by Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil, who each have nine wins. These four pitchers are all in their twenties, with Marcum actually being the oldest at 28 and Cecil being the youngest at 24.
With Jays pitchers currently sitting sixth in the league in strikeouts, 12th in WHIP, and 19th in ERA, it is apparent that they are doing quite well, but with some obvious room for improvement. With the rapid improvement that these young pitchers are showing, and the considerable support and friendly competitiveness that they show to each other, the Jays could have the makings of solid rotation that could carry this team into the playoffs.
Adding to these solid four starters is a wealth of young arms vying for the fifth spot in the rotation and keeping those previous four honest.
Jesse Litsch is a strong back of the rotation arm that unfortunately keeps getting hampered by injury troubles. Brad Mills (96.1 IP, 8-4, 85 K, 4.20 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) has had a good year in Triple-A so far but struggled in his three call-ups to the big club. Marc Rzepczynski (67.0 IP, 5-5, 61 K, 6.04 ERA, 1.61 WHIP), on the other hand, has struggled a bit this year in Las Vegas but fared a bit better with the Blue Jays.
Of course, even with a steadily improving young rotation, if you don't have the relief pitching to support your team, it is unlikely that you are going to make it to the playoffs.
The Jays have done quite well this year with their veterans pitching most of the innings in relief. With Shawn Camp, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, and Kevin Gregg, the Blue Jays have been able to hold on to most leads fairly successfully, with Gregg actually 11th in the league in saves.
The problem is, with the Jays currently nine games back in the wild card race, the chances of them making it to the playoffs this year are rather unlikely. Then if you are looking at next year or the year after for their chance to overtake the AL East giants, then you have to address the fact that three of those veteran relief pitchers are free agents at the end of the year.
Alex Anthopoulos could re-sign them but might see the potential draft picks should they sign elsewhere as more attractive options, which might be part of the reason he didn't trade any of them at the deadline.
The Blue Jays could potentially fill these spots with the likes of Josh Roenicke, David Purcey, and Rommie Lewis, but Anthopoulos has said in past interviews that he likes the presence of veterans in relief.
The Blue Jays have been a surprise in many ways this year, perhaps none more so than the pitching. If these young arms can continue their development and avoid injury, then they have a chance to be a very formidable rotation. If the relief pitching can be solidified heading into next year, then the starters can relax in trust that their games are in capable hands.
There is an aura of enthusiasm surrounding the Blue Jays lately, and it would be quite a feat for them to make the wild card spot, but there is a great reason to hope even if they don't. There is a bright future here, make no mistake, and with a little bit of luck the Jays could have the pitching to make the jump back into the playoffs.