Brandon McCarthy: Blue Jays Buy-Low Option?


Arizona Diamondbacks P Brandon McCarthy has emerged as a likely trade target for teams seeking a lower cost transaction at this years deadline.  Front line starting pitchers such as Jeff Samardzija and David Price are coveted by nearly all contending teams at this point in the season, but when these teams become uncomfortable with their ballooned price tags, General Managers look to players like Brandon McCarthy to “buy low” in hopes of a deadline steal.  McCarthy is hidden deeply behind a 2-10 record with the struggling Diamondbacks, but a closer look into his statistics and past performance suggests that he may be very valuable to a team like the Toronto Blue Jays, who could be seeking a reliable arm near the bottom of their rotation.

A 17th Round Pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2002, the 30 year old Brandon McCarthy began his career as a reliever before transitioning into the starter’s role.  McCarthy spent just his first two seasons (’05-’06) in Chicago, before being dealt to the Texas Rangers, where he pitched from 2007 through 2009.  Injuries plagues McCarthy through these seasons just as they had in Chicago, limiting his starts and having a clear impact on his consistency.  Brandon McCarthy’s time in Arlington yielded a 13-15 record to go along with a 4.68ERA.

The Brandon McCarthy that the Toronto Blue Jays would hope to trade for, however, was born in Oakland in 2011.  Following changes to his mechanics, McCarthy was able to stay relatively healthy through his first season as an Athletic, tossing a career high 170.2 innings.

The key to McCarthy’s resurgence has been his ability to produce ground balls.  He features strong movement on a fastball that has shown improved velocity as of late, with a sinker that he relies on heavily.  Despite allowing 15HR in 2014, Brandon McCarthy’s Ground Ball % sits at a very encouraging 55.6, which will translate well into the requirements of pitching in the Rogers Centre.

With a record of 2-10 and an ERA over 5, McCarthy does very little to inspire trade talks on the surface.  However, he owns a 3.88 FIP, 65.6 Strand Rate, and 20.3% HR/FB.  Along with an unusually high BABIP of .340, the numbers strongly suggest that Brandon McCarthy has fallen victim to unfavourable circumstances, and often some bad luck.  Water finds its own level eventually, meaning that this should result in McCarthy trending upwards over the coming weeks and months as his statistics regain balance.

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In 12 of his 17 starts this season, and more importantly, in 7 of his last 9, Brandon McCarthy has pitched at least six innings.  He has proven that he can handle AL hitting, and given the likelihood of a return to form, McCarthy could provide the Blue Jays with a reliable arm in the #5 spot of their rotation.

In an ideal world, Jeff Samardzija would be wearing our blue and white by months end, but the reality of the situation may lead Alex Anthopolous to look towards a more cost-friendly option like McCarthy.  Despite their recent stumbles, a healthy Blue Jays offence is among the best in the Majors.  As much as the Blue Jays would love for their starters to steal some ball games for them, a pitcher like McCarthy, who is able to keep his team in the game through 6-7IP, may be an unexpectedly valuable addition.

With approximately $4.45M remaining on his contract this season, the Diamondbacks may be asked by many teams to eat some of the leftover salary.  Regardless, the trade package required to lure McCarthy from Arizona should be very attractive to the Blue Jays.  Tony La Russa and the D-backs front office will likely be seeking positional prospects, and the price tag on McCarthy will likely be in the neighbourhood of two mid-level players (I’ll suggest C+ to B- level).  The possibility to improve the Blue Jays pitching staff without touching any of their big name prospects should be very appealing, and provide Anthopolous with an opportunity to “go for it” without selling the farm.

The Blue Jays have stayed above water to this point, but have been forced to go to unproven starters such as Liam Hendriks on too frequent a basis.  To be a true playoff contender, the Blue Jays #6 and #7 starters will also need to be capable MLB arms, eliminating the risk that injuries could again sink the staff.  Yes, Brandon Morrow is returning, but his equally questionable health and performance leave far too many question marks.  J.A. Happ has epitomized hot and cold, but a team in such a close pennant race cannot afford consistent “cold” streaks from a starter.  Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman, despite showing flashes of greatness, are young arms that have not been proven over an extended MLB season and inning counts.  Adding an arm like Brandon McCarthy ensures that if (or when) one of these arms begins to falter, the next man up is still capable.  Initially, I would envision Brandon McCarthy in the #5 spot, following R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Stroman, and Hutchison.

While this isn’t the big splash that many Blue Jays fans seek, it is a move that would create stability at the bottom of the rotation and hopefully keep an elite offence in ball games on a consistent basis.  With teams like Boston, New York, and Baltimore likely to load up over the coming weeks, though, will a move of this magnitude suffice?  For a starved fan base, is “good enough” truly enough?  For the 2014 Blue Jays, however, I think that adding one small part could jump start the entire machine.