Entering 2013, Brandon Morrow seemed to be on the brink of dominance as he began the season as the number two starter in the Blue Jays rotation. Coming off a shortened, yet All-Star calibre, season in 2012, many hoped that the injuries which had plagued Morrow through his career were finally ready to give way to his incredible talents. Morrow’s story since that point, however, has been one of unrealized potential and disappointment.
Brandon Morrow originally entered the league as a highly touted prospect, drafted fifth overall by the Seattle Mariners in 2006. Prior to the 2007 season, Morrow’s name entered the conversation for many Top 100 Prospect lists, and he received a #87 ranking from Baseball America. Morrow dealt with some early struggles in Seattle as the Mariners rushed him to the Major League level, often dealing with control issues, but for a pitcher of his age these were not yet red flags.
The Toronto Blue Jays, in December of 2009, dealt RP Brandon League and low-level prospect Johermyn Chavez to the Mariners for Brandon Morrow in a move met with hope from the Blue Jays faithful. Just three years removed from being a top five draft choice, Morrow still possessed elite potential that he would eventually showcase in a starting role. On August 8th of 2010, Brandon Morrow came a single out away from a no-hitter, tossing a complete game shutout with 17K, exciting a hungered fan base about the years to come.
Following a a 2011 season that was free of serious injuries, albeit somewhat unproductive, Morrow began his greatest campaign in 2012, where he lead the Major Leagues with a 10.2 K/9 ratio. Brandon Morrow sat at 10-7 with a 2.96ERA and 1.115WHIP before an oblique injury landed him on the DL. Nothing lingers like a Brandon Morrow injury, and this strain kept Morrow out for the remainder of the season.
As the numbers above show, the Brandon Morrow that inspired any true hope may have gone missing prior to 2013. Morrow initially landed on the DL with a “forearm strain” on June 1st of 2013, a condition that was later diagnosed as an “entrapped radial nerve” (It’s real. Source: Google) and cost him the remainder of the season. In 2014, Morrow struggled through the Spring, struggled further through the real games, and ended back in his comfort zone: the DL.
According to a report from Shi Davidi of Sportsnet, Morrow threw off of a mound for the first time earlier today without any discomfort or setbacks. He will continue to throw bullpen sessions every other day until a rehab plan is fully developed based on his short-term progress. Originally, the Blue Jays had hoped to have Brandon Morrow return in early August, which now seems unlikely. Morrow, on the other hand, may have his own reasons to get back on the mound by season’s end. One might say he has ten million reasons.
Brandon Morrow’s contract includes a club option for next season worth $10M, with a buyout of $1M. The Blue Jays face a critical decision with Morrow’s option, and if he is unable to return to action and actually contribute, they may find it hard to justify the 2015 price tag. If the Blue Jays choose to eat the $1M, does Alex Anthopoulos believe he can find a better arm for the $9M that otherwise would have went to Morrow? Perhaps this money could be used to fill the holes at 2B or the 2015 outfield? Unless Brandon Morrow sets his foot down and makes a statement, that buyout may look appealing.
Some have suggested Brandon Morrow as a late-season saviour to the innings limits on young starters Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman. I’m rarely one to support strict innings limits, at all, but the argument exists nonetheless and is not illogical. What I would expect, however, is for the Blue Jays to rehab Brandon Morrow towards an opportunity for a late-season bullpen role. Morrow has experience coming out of the pen throughout his Seattle days, and although his numbers have not been much better as a reliever, it may allow him to maximize his power pitches as part of a September run. Injuries and performance can open holes in the rotation (as Morrow knows…) and force the hand of John Gibbons, but I would much prefer Morrow to first go the bullpen route.
Even in a situation where Brandon Morrow contributes immediately, a $10M price tag for a considerable injury risk may be difficult to swallow for the Blue Jays in 2015, especially as they work to keep several expiring contracts and fill existing holes. Brandon Morrow, however, is a story to root for, a Blue Jay to get behind. Over the past two seasons, many have defended Toronto’s deadline inactivity by claiming things like “Brandon Morrow is returning, there’s your big deadline addition!”. Nowadays, I see Morrow’s return as more of a waiver claim. If his fastball control clicks and he regains his long-shaken confidence, the Blue Jays should be overjoyed. If Morrow fails, however, the Jays are simply receiving nothing from where little has come to be expected.