The Toronto Blue Jays have made a surprising surge to the top of the American League East, and a lot of that has come on the backs of a pitching staff that has been at the very least effective. Mark Buehrle has stepped up as the staff ace, Drew Hutchison has been surprisingly good, and even J.A. Happ has contributed a few solid starts.
However, pundits and fans alike have made no bones about the fact that the teamis living on borrowed time with their pitchers. R.A. Dickey has been bailed out by the bullpen on a number of occasions, Buehrle is showing signs that regression may be in his future, and Hutchison sports some pretty ugly road/home splits. The other half of the rotation is made up of Happ, who is about as Jekyll and Hyde as they come, and Marcus Stroman, a rookie who could be a difference maker but with no clear direction of to what degree in 2014.
All of those signs point toward the Blue Jays likely needing to make a move at the trade deadline if they have any real designs on the postseason in 2014. The opinions vary of course, with some like Fox’s Ken Rosenthal stating that the Blue Jays “need a home run hitter in the rotation” and others like CBS’s Jon Heyman noting that the Jays will only pursue a rental player.
But what if the solution is somewhat in the middle. Perhaps the team only needs to find a middle of the rotation pitcher, but someone the team can get some control of over the next few seasons?
What about a guy like Ian Kennedy of the San Diego Padres?
I know, I know, Kennedy doesn’t pack the power that Rosenthal was looking for, but he’s been secretly better than you probably know about. Remember, we’re talking about a guy that finished 4th in the Cy Young voting in 2011, a year in which if you compared his statistics from this year to that season, you’d be pleasantly surprised.
Ian Kennedy 2011 vs 2014
As you can see, Kennedy’s 3.72 ERA in 2014 is a bit deceptive, as he’s actually been more than half a run better according to both FIP and SIERA. He’s also been throwing to a career-best 42% ground-ball rate as well as recording a career-high 9.6 strike-outs per nine innings pitched.
Now, I know what a lot of you naysayers are going to spout off; Kennedy has Petco Park as his home stadium, the field where baseballs go to die. However, when you look at his home and road splits, you’re in for another surprise. Yes, there is one less start on the road, but his numbers are actually consistent no matter where he’s thrown.
Ian Kennedy - Home Vs Away 2014
Now, he obviously still pitches in the National League, as does the big name the Jays are consistently attached to in Jeff Samardzija. However, the park factor may not totally crush him either.
Ian Kennedy also comes with one distinct advantage to Samardzija; cost.
Both pitchers are arbitration-eligible for the final time at the end of the 2014 season. While Kennedy may have a higher rate of pay right now ($6.1 million vs $5.3 million), Samardzija is likely to see the higher increase through the arbitration process at the end of the season. Additionally, the asking price for Kennedy is also likely to be significantly lower than it would be for the Shark.
We know that Theo Epstein has previously asked for Drew Hutchison and one of either Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez. That’s a steep price to pay for a guy you know won’t re-sign with you once his contract expires following the 2015 season.
Kennedy on the other hand couldn’t possibly carry that much weight in a return package. The Padres acquired him for a pair of relievers at last year’s trade deadline. They do lack pitching depth in their upper minors, but wouldn’t be looking to get anything close to a Hutchison, Stroman, or Sanchez back, something the Blue Jays are much more amenable to perhaps.
Perhaps an arm like a Sean Nolin or a Deck McGuire might intrigue them, and the stock on Liam Hendriks has likely never been higher. Coupling one of those arms with a supporting piece might be enough to get the job done and not hurt the Blue Jays long-term in the way that a Shark deal would.
Ian Kennedy doesn’t carry the sex-appeal that an acquisition of Jeff Samardzija, James Shields, Cliff Lee, or David Price would. However, he is exactly the smart, out-of-the-box type of pick-up that Alex Anthopoulos is looking for while trying to win now and also prepare for the future.