Over the past nine days, they have lost 60 per cent of their starting rotation and their healthy starters are struggling, but don't expect the Toronto Blue Jays to make a trade for an elite pitcher.
In other words, if you're entertaining thoughts of Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos swinging a deal for Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza, you should probably tame your imagination.
Even before the recent spate of injuries, the 2012 Jays were a resilient, yet frustrating club destined to flirt with the .500 mark. And that's what most baseball pundits expected them to be.
While it's possible the Jays could sneak into wild-card contention in the American League, it's unlikely, and with long-term injuries to Brandon Morrow (oblique), Kyle Drabek (elbow) and Drew Hutchison (elbow), their playoff chances are even more remote. And this doesn't even take into account that their two healthy starters - Ricky Romero and Henderson Alvarez - have been hit hard in recent weeks.
But a trade for a top-notch, free-agent-to-be starter like Greinke, Hamels or Dempster wouldn't be prudent right now. Acquiring an ace pitcher in the final year of their contract is the type of deal you make when you're looking for that final piece that will push your club deep into the playoffs.
The Jays clearly aren't at that point, so packaging multiple, high-end prospects for one of these hurlers wouldn't be wise.
So far, the Jays have used internal candidates to plug the holes in their rotation. Soft-throwing left-hander Brett Cecil tossed five decent innings on June 17 in place of Morrow. Journeyman right-hander Jesse Chavez, who was 7-2 with a 3.84 earned-run average at AAA Las Vegas this season, was ineffective in Drabek's rotation spot on June 19. While right-hander Joel Carreno, who allowed four runs in six innings in his only previous big league start this season, was scheduled to pitch in place of Hutchison Wednesday afternoon.
Poor track record
But you could forgive Jays fans if these rotation replacements don't exactly inspire optimism. Their collective track record as big-league starters offers little reason to believe that they can be effective for an extended stretch.
On Monday, the Jays added pitching depth when they purchased Canadian right-hander Shawn Hill from the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League.
The 31-year-old Hill, who posted a 2.61 ERA in four starts for the Jays in 2010, had tossed 27 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the independent circuit.
Heading into this season, many talent evaluators believed that first-round picks Chad Jenkins (2009) and Deck McGuire (2010) were ready for the major leagues. Unfortunately, both fashion ERAs over 5.80 ERA at AA New Hampshire, and the rest of the Jays most heralded pitching prospects have never pitched above single-A.
So if Cecil, Chavez and Perez (or whatever combination of pitchers the Jays use in their makeshift rotation) falter and Romero and Alvarez continue to struggle, the Jays will have to look outside their organization for a stop-gap arm or two.
Reports surfaced earlier this week of the Jays talking to the Colorado Rockies about right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. But at this stage of his career, Guthrie, who pitched for the Orioles for five seasons, is nothing more than a mediocre, inning-eating, fly ball pitcher whose ERA has ballooned to 7.02 this season.
If the Jays acquired him, they would likely have to assume the rest of his $8.2 million contract and part with a half-decent prospect like AA first baseman Mike McDade.
But rather than trade for Guthrie, the Jays could deal for some less expensive pitching options. Here are four hurlers worth considering:
1. Graham Godfrey, Sacramento River Cats (AAA Oakland A's affiliate)
Originally selected by the Jays in the 34th round of the 2006 draft, this six-foot-three right-hander was traded to the A's in 2007 for Marco Scutaro.
Though he struggled at the major league level with the A's earlier this season (6.43 ERA in five appearances), he has been lights-out in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. In nine AAA starts, the 27-year-old is 6-0 with a 1.21 ERA.
2. Rick VandenHurk, Indianapolis Indians (AAA Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate)
This six-foot-five, 215-pound right-hander was with the Jays in spring training but was hit hard. Owner of a mid-'90s fastball, the 27-year-old hurler has posted a 5-0 record with a miniscule 1.86 ERA in seven appearances, including five starts, in AAA.
3. Zach Duke, Syracuse Chiefs (AAA Washington Nationals affiliate)
Recovered from past injury woes, the former Pittsburgh Pirates ace has registered an 8-3 record and 3.83 ERA in 14 AAA starts this season. Buried in an organization with an abundance of starting pitching, Duke is unlikely to progress with the Nationals. The 29-year-old southpaw, who was a big league all-star in 2009, would be an inexpensive addition for the Jays.
4. Ben Sheets, Free Agent
This one-time ace and Brewers first-round pick is reportedly healthy and recently threw for scouts in Monroe, La. The 33-year-old, who last pitched in the big leagues for the Oakland A's in 2010, is coming back from multiple elbow surgeries, but is eager to pitch and is worth taking a flyer on with a low-base salary, incentive-laden deal.
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