Saturday, July 23, 2011

No more Jo-Jo, drastic changes await!

Early this afternoon, the Toronto Blue Jays officially announced they had designated pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes for assignment. This move puts Reyes in limbo for the next 10 days, during which the Blue Jays have an opportunity to work out a trade with any other team in baseball. If an agreement is reached, Reyes would immediately be placed on that team's active roster. Additionally, Reyes no longer holds a spot on Toronto's 40 man roster, lowering the Blue Jays total to 36 players. If no trade is consumated during that period, the Blue Jays can either attempt to pass him through waivers and re-assign him to the minor leagues, or hand him his outright release. As a corresponding move, Toronto purchased the contract of Wilfredo Ledezma from Las Vegas, adding him to the 40 man roster as well as the active, 25 man roster.

Reyes was acquired from the Braves last summer in the Yunel Escobar deal, and at the time, general manager Alex Anthopolous stated he would not have made the deal without the inclusion of the left hander. Reyes made 2 starts with the Blue Jays Double-A affiliate in New Hampshire last summer, before knee surgery ended his season in August. Reyes had an excellent track record in the minor leagues, and was given a legitimate shot in Spring Training 2011 to earn a spot in Toronto's starting rotation. He met the challenge, throwing 23 innings while allowing only 10 hits and 9 runs, walking 8, and striking out 18 (3.52 ERA, 0.78 WHIP).

That success did not translate into the regular season, as he averaged less than 5 innings per start in April and got hit around consistently. He peaked in May, pitching to decent numbers for a back-end starter and even ending his historically long winless drought. June, much like April, was another ugly month, but July was the straw that finally broke the camel's back. In 4 starts (21.1 IP), he allowed 34 hits and 19 earned runs, walked 7, and struck out only 5. His 5.40 season ERA looks bad, but his WHIP (1.59) and opposing slash line (entering last night -- .303/.360/.469, via @bluejaysbatboy) are absolutely disgusting.

Replacing him, atleast temporarily, is the aformentioned Wilfredo Ledezma. A big lefty (6'4", 225 lbs), Ledezma had been working out of Triple-A Las Vegas' bullpen. Since making the transition to the pen in 2007, his fastball has averaged between 92.5 and 93.7 mph, which is very strong for a left hander. In addition to his fastball, he also throws a slider in the low to mid 80's, and even throws a changeup every once in a while. It's a decent repetoire, but Ledezma has struggled with walks while in the majors, which has forced him to bounce between organizations looking for another shot.

I mentioned temporarily, because I don't foresee Ledezma staying in Toronto particularly long. Luis Perez was optioned to Las Vegas on July 19th to make room for Casey Janssen, and as such he cannot return to the majors until the 29th (10 days later) unless an opening is created by an injury requiring a DL-stint. Perez made his major league debut this season and has been a valuable asset out of the bullpen, posting strong strikeout, walk, groundball, and left-on-base rates. It is doubtful Toronto wants to keep him in Triple-A, and I imagine he will be back on August 1st.

Today's transactions once again put the pitching staff in flux. The team is now down a starter, leaving a vacancy for Reyes' next turn in the rotation (July 28th, vs BAL).

Additionally, tonight's starter Carlos Villanueva has already thrown 84.1 innings this year, and after throwing only 67 innings last year, he is likely approaching his limit as a starter. During April when he worked exclusively as a reliever, he threw 14.2 innings. If he pitches 6 innings tonight and then works exclusively as a reliever for August and September, he's looking at around 120 innings on the year, which would be more than he's pitched in a season since 2006. Villanueva is a useful pitcher, and if we don't want to Brian Tallet his arm, Texas should be his last start. That would create yet another void in the rotation behind Romero, Morrow, and Cecil.

The first, and most pressing roster move, is to find a starter for Thursday's game. There is likely 3 candidates for that start; Jesse Litsch, Zach Stewart, and Brad Mills. Litsch last pitched for Las Vegas on the 20th, so for him to take Reyes' spot he would either need to pitch on extended rest, or have the rotation rearrange itself so he could pitch on the 30th. Mills pitched last night for Las Vegas, struggling through 7 innings (11 H, 7 ER). Despite that start, Mills has pitched extremely well in the PCL, and is a strong candidate for promotion. Stewart also made his most recent start last night (with New Hampshire), and, almost like he knew there would be an opening in the rotation, he threw his best game of the year. He went 7.2 innings, allowing 6 hits and 1 run. He walked 1, and struck out 8 batters, picking up the win.

Given the circumstances, I imagine Stewart will be the one getting the call on the the 28th. He would be on regular rest, is coming off his best start of the season, has already been with Toronto this year, and made his first (and best) career start against the same Orioles he would be facing. Mills and Litsch would be likely be the main competitors for Villanueva's spot when he returns to the bullpen, but someone like Joel Carreno could be considered a dark horse for that spot.

The second set of roster moves will likely occur closer to the trade deadline. The Blue Jays possess a number of veteran relief pitchers with favorable contracts, and with so many teams in contention this year, the demand is likely to be strong. With the overflow of pitchers both currently in the majors or in the minors awaiting their turn, I expect Alex Anthopolous to move atleast 2 of his 5 veteran relievers (Camp, Dotel, Francisco, Frasor, Rauch).

If I had to make a prediction for the August 1st pitching staff, it would be as follows:


Romero (L)
Cecil (L)
Mills (L)


Rzepczynski (L)
Perez (L)

In this scenario, Dotel and Camp would be traded. I won't even attempt to predict the team they would go to or the compensation received. Ledezma would be outrighted to the minor leagues (if he gets claimed, which is doubtful, so be it). Litsch and Drabek would remain with Triple-A until September, unless an injury arises.

Finally, there is the fate of Jo-Jo Reyes. While I am sure the Blue Jays hope he can clear waivers (assuming they don't trade him), I find it doubtful. He is still young and has a decent fastball/slider/changeup arsenal. While he has definitively proven he can't pitch in the AL East, the NL Central and NL West always seem to have teams willing to take on cheap projects. I can see the Astros, Dodgers, and Padres as potential fits for Reyes, where he could act as either a 5th starter or lefty reliever.

Regardless of the order in which the events occur, it is clear that the Blue Jays are preparing themselves for some pretty dramatic roster changes, and over the next week the Blue Jays will definitely be a team to watch.

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