Blue Jays: Pearson injury highlights need for one more starter

BUFFALO, NEW YORK - AUGUST 12: Nate Pearson #24 of the Toronto Blue Jays walks off the field after a pitching change during the third inning of an MLB game against the Miami Marlins at Sahlen Field on August 12, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Blue Jays are the home team and are playing their home games in Buffalo due to the Canadian government’s policy on COVID-19. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NEW YORK - AUGUST 12: Nate Pearson #24 of the Toronto Blue Jays walks off the field after a pitching change during the third inning of an MLB game against the Miami Marlins at Sahlen Field on August 12, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Blue Jays are the home team and are playing their home games in Buffalo due to the Canadian government’s policy on COVID-19. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /
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We don’t yet know how long Nate Pearson will be out due to elbow tightness, but regardless, his injury highlights the need for another elite starting pitcher.

When I look at all of the young talent on the Blue Jays roster, and peak down to their minor league system as well, it’s hard not to get really excited about the future. In fact, there are times that I get way too ahead of myself, and I know that I’m not alone.

I’ve said and written things like “the Blue Jays should be set for the future” when it comes to their lineup, and more specifically with their starting rotation. That said, the news of Nate Pearson heading to the Injured List with elbow tightness brought a reminder that I hate to acknowledge. You can never have too many talented starting pitchers, and this injury may have highlighted the need for even more depth.

I’m not talking about just any kind of depth in this case though, as the Blue Jays have a surprising amount of capable starters who can fill in if Pearson is going to miss some time. In addition to the veteran group that consists of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Matt Shoemaker, Tanner Roark, and Chase Anderson, they have Trent Thornton returning from his own IL stint, and a bunch of relievers who could make the switch. That list includes Anthony Kay, Jacob Waguespack, Thomas Hatch, Shun Yamaguchi, Julilan Merryweather, and maybe even Ryan Borucki. That group of pitchers is only in the bullpen right now because there is no minor league campaign this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so barring something unforeseen, they should have enough starters to get through this shortened season.

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The kind of depth that I’m talking about exists at the top of the rotation, and the Blue Jays went out and made a very important signing to that end with Ryu this past winter. Ideally he and Pearson would pair at the top of the rotation and give the Jays a more than solid starting group over the next few years, and the current veterans  and youngsters could help fill out the group. That’s how you draw it up, but it’s not always that easy.

Going back to the idea that I get way too ahead of myself, I was starting to think that the Blue Jays may need to “save” a spot for some of the premium prospects they still have on the way, such as Alek Manoah, Simeon Woods Richardson, Adam Kloffenstein, and more. However, Pearson’s rocky introduction to the big leagues has reminded me that it can take time for young players to adjust to the highest level, even if they’re among the very top prospects in the game. Assuming he’s healthy, I think it’s safe to pencil Pearson into the rotation over the next few years for sure, but is it fair to expect an elite, top-of-the-rotation performance?

Obviously the hope is that we’ll see just that as he gets used to pitching on the biggest stage, but the Blue Jays would be wise to treat that as gravy rather than the expected main course. What I mean is, I would argue that Ross Atkins and company should be shopping hard for a high-end pitcher that could improve the rotation for not just 2020, but who can join this team as it nears the end of the rebuild, and hopefully can push them to playoff contender status.

I’m not at all suggesting that this is going to happen, but I’ll give you an example of the type of thing that I’d be looking for if I were wearing Atkins’ shoes, and as I survey the league, the options seem pretty limited at the moment. That said, I’m willing to bet that Cleveland would take a phone call about a trade that could shed some salary, and the Blue Jays could have all kinds prospects to peak their interest. Would they move someone like Mike Clevinger, whose salary will be taking a big jump in arbitration in 2021, and will a free agent after the 2022 season? How about the Cubs? It’s been widely speculated that they will be looking to save some money this coming winter, and it’s possible they could convinced to let go of Yu Darvish (three years and 59 million remaining after this season), or even Kyle Hendricks (four years and 58 million remaining), who both have a fair bit of money left on their deals.

Maybe that opportunity won’t come until the off-season, and if that’s the case then so be it. As much as I want too see the Blue Jays qualify for the post-season in 2020, I wouldn’t go as far as hoping that they trade for a rental pitcher to help them do it. However, if they can acquire the type of starter that could become part of the “next generation” of this team alongside Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Pearson, Ryu, and the rest, then I think you have to go for it.

Next. A true ace is worth every penny. dark

That kind of acquisition would help in the immediate term, but it would also take some pressure of Pearson as he transitions to life as a big leaguer, and hopefully he won’t be sidelined for long with his current ailment. If the Blue Jays are able to look at him as more of a mid-rotation guy for 2021, then that would be a pretty enviable position to be in. Of course, that’s always easier said than done.

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