Blue Jays: Is it time to consider trading for help in the starting rotation?

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 16: Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park on April 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 16: Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park on April 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /

Entering the 2021 season, one of the biggest areas of concern on the Toronto Blue Jays roster was the starting rotation. There was no doubt that Hyun-Jin Ryu was going to lead the rotation but following the ace, rest of the rotation was a bit of a mess.

Robbie Ray was back on a one-year deal and Steven Matz was joining the team after being acquired during the off-season. Tanner Roark was also slotted into the rotation even after the rough season he had last year, hoping he could find his “diesel engine” form. Lastly was Nate Pearson, the Blue Jays top prospect who was most likely on an innings limit this year given his injury past.

What transpired as Opening Day rolled around was Ray and Pearson being placed on the injured list (IL) and Roark pitching not well in his debut a few days later, relegating him to bullpen duties moving forward. Matz has been the star of the group behind Ryu, crafting a 1.47 ERA over three starts and looking like an absolute steal so far for Ross Atkins.

T.J. Zeuch, Ross Stripling, and Anthony Kay have all had to start some games due to the injuries, with all three throwing to mixed results and Stripling also finding himself on the injured list. While Ray has since returned from the IL, in two starts this season the left-hander has allowed nine walks over 10.0 innings but has found a way to keep runs off the scoreboard with his1.80 ERA, which is hopefully more of a “shaking off the rust” issue rather than a foreshadowing of how his command is going to shape up all season.

While I can understand the argument of “the season is only three weeks old”, the elephant in the room still needs to be addressed: the starting rotation is just not good enough right now to have the Blue Jays be considered a playoff team.

Ryu and Matz have been fantastic to begin the season but the rest of the rotation is just not up to par at the moment, and even with Pearson and Stripling returning in the near future, there is no guarantee that they are going to pitch well when they return. The contingency plan behind Ryu and Matz if they were to get injured or start to struggle is a scary thought given the remaining pitchers on the rotation are struggling whether it be command issues or giving up runs.

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Considering the Blue Jays spent considerable money on the likes of George Springer and Marcus Semien this year, it is kind of surprising that they didn’t go out and get a prominent starting pitcher, whether it be through free agency or via trade. Fans across the country knew that the Blue Jays rotation was a weak spot on the roster but it was one area that management didn’t really address outside of the Ray and Matz acquisitions/signings.

Given that the season is in its early stages, the possibilities of any trade happening for a high-leverage starter are a bit slim, but if the Blue Jays want to play baseball in October this season, it might be worth looking into potential options sooner rather than later.

If the Blue Jays want to consider a veteran arm on a short-term deal, there are a few potential pitchers to consider like Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke. The Nationals currently sit in fifth place within the NL East while the Astros are in fourth place in a tight AL West division, and while I wouldn’t say both teams are necessarily considering selling off their assets just yet, both pitchers are options to keep an eye on.

Alternatively, the Blue Jays could choose to go after a pitcher with more years of control like German Marquez (Colorado Rockies) or Pablo Lopez (Miami Marlins), but these trades would cost some serious prospect capital. There is no scenario where trading for a top pitcher with years of control doesn’t have names like Jordan Groshans, Orelvis Martinez, Alek Manoah, or Alejandro Kirk mentioned, so the associated risk would be higher given the Jays would lose one to two good prospects in any sort of deal.

Regardless of the outcome, the early indication is that the Blue Jays starting rotation is just not up to snuff to take them to the postseason. While the 2021 season is early and players may still be getting their bearings, a loss in April holds the same value as a loss later in the season, so each game does matter in the grand scheme of things. There is a certain point where we can no longer argue that “the season is early” and start to look at potential options to fix the rotation to give the Blue Jays a better opportunity to play in the postseason.

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Considering the AL East is looking to be a tight battleground with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays doing well out of the gate, the Blue Jays need to find a way to get the most wins they can out of their starting rotation every game, and trading for an established pitcher now rather than in August may help with the cause before it is too late.