COMMENTARY | The Toronto Blue Jays had lofty expectations heading into this season as the local media and a bunch of writers south of the border had the team being a contender to win the World Series.
With the team only winning one more game than last season -- and finishing 14 games below .500 -- there are plenty of reasons why this season didn't pan out.
The main culprit was John Gibbons, but Alex Anthopolous has vowed to bring Gibbons back for at least one more season, even though he was able to improve the team's win total from one game last season despite the team payroll ballooning from $82.3 million last season to $125.1 this season.
Despite this -- and a bunch of odd roster moves during the season -- it appears that Gibbons is safe as manager of the Jays.
The next logical move would be to bolster a starting rotation that proved to be Toronto's Achilles heel last season.
R.A. Dickey arrived in Toronto last winter being heralded as the new ace of a much-improved rotation. With the team rolling out a five-man rotation of Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ, it appeared the team would have an embarrassment of riches for John Gibbons to play with.
Not so fast.
Those five pitchers combined to win only 35 games -- hardly the kind of stuff a team needs from its pitching rotation to make a push for the playoffs. Johnson and Morrow both won only two games.
For comparison sake, Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers won 21 games all by himself.
Dickey, Buehrle, Morrow, Happ and Ricky Romero are all under contract while Johnson is a free agent -- and the team will be happy to see his salary leave.
Romero was the opening-day starter for Toronto two seasons ago, but he failed to pitch a single inning in the majors last season. It's clear Romero needs to be traded, but it's not clear what he would fetch in any trade or how much of his salary Toronto would need to absorb.
Morrow has been plagued with injuries that past three seasons and has only pitched more than 175 innings once during his MLB career so far (2011). The kid has talent but until he can stay healthy, he won't fetch much in a trade and Toronto won't want to get rid of him too soon. He's a lock for a spot in Toronto's five-man rotation next season.
Toronto has four starting pitchers and the money of Johnson's deal to play with, plus whatever extra money the team wants to invest in a starting pitcher.
Whom should the Jays target? Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco are the obvious targets, but all of those pitchers have question marks surrounding them and none of them are a lock to anchor Toronto's rotation next season.
Garza was dealt to Texas last season when Chicago committed to a rebuilding effort. While Garza will have a lot of buzz surrounding him, he has a modest career ERA of 3.84 and has a career record of 67-67.
Santana's career was on life support last winter after eight rather uneventful seasons in Anaheim. However, landing in Kansas City was just the spark his career needed as he posted an impressive ERA of 3.24. He doesn't appear to be an ideal target for Toronto, as it paid through the nose for Dickey after he won the Cy Young and then failed to deliver during his first season in Toronto.
Nolasco looked amazing in Los Angeles, going 8-3 and bringing his ERA down to an impressive 3.52. But is Nolasco worth a big deal after just 16 games? I don't think so when he posts a career ERA of 4.37.
Because of a lack of depth or star pitchers on the free-agent market, all three of those players will likely be paid more than they are worth.
When you throw into the mix Toronto will need to pay extra to lure a pitcher north of the border, it becomes unlikely any of those pitchers are legit targets for Toronto.
Since American players are less likely to sign with a Canadian team, why not go for one of the top free-agent pitchers who will be playing in a foreign country regardless of what MLB team he signs with? Masahiro Tanaka is only 24 and posted great numbers for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season with a perfect 24-0 record and a 1.24 ERA.
Tanaka's unbeaten streak extends back to the 2012 season, totaling 28 wins with three no-decisions mixed in. Tanaka's wins total is the most of any pitcher in Japanese baseball since 1978, and his 2013 campaign marks the first time the league leader in wins has also gone undefeated.
There will be a bidding war for Tanaka as the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers are two teams already showing heavy interest in signing him.
A reliable -- but not flashy -- addition would be Bronson Arroyo. He has been one of them most consistent pitchers in the National League (at least 12 wins in seven of the past nine seasons) and he doesn't get injured.
It's possible that Toronto could sign Arroyo and not have to break the bank, either.
Ryan McNeill became a Blue Jays follower when as a pre-teen the team won back-to-back World Series. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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