It’s tough to be a Blue Jays fan right now. Yes, we have Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is hitting hard and showing a lot of promise on the field and at the plate. Yes, our farm system is stacked with even more sons of former major leaguers, and that talent is finally spilling over into the big leagues with the callup of Cavan Biggio as well as Vladdy. There are always things to be excited by: the #nerdpower of Eric Sogard, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s outstanding transition to the outfield, Marcus Stroman continuing to be the spirited, passionate Marcus Stroman we know and love. Whichever team you cheer for, you can find stories among their players that will give you hope. Even the Marlins currently have probably my all-time favourite player (Curtis Granderson) in the outfield. In fact, at the time of writing, the Marlins have a better record than the Blue Jays. But it’s also crushing when you watch a team you love lose, again and again, the promise provided by all the players mentioned above dashed on an almost daily basis.
It’s especially crushing when many of the losses are down to the saga of a rotation that never should have been. The villain in the story, as is often the case, is injuries: Matt Shoemaker tore his ACL in a rundown; promising rookie Ryan Borucki never made it out of Spring Training because of elbow soreness; Clay Buchholz was just starting to look like the All-Star he once was when he went down with a shoulder issue. Rookie Trent Thornton has been an unexpected gem in the rotation, with one of the highest spin rates in the game. Aaron Sanchez could be getting back to form. But there are still gaps in the rotation. Gaps as wide as the shift on Justin Smoak.
Then there’s Edwin Jackson. When he was traded to the Jays from the A’s he set the record for MLB’s biggest journeyman, the Jays being his fourteenth team. No other pitcher has pitched for as many teams in their major league career. I liked that story when I first heard the news, and I joined Jays manager Charlie Montoyo in hoping that Jackson would provide a spark. Sadly, it’s safe to say that hasn’t happened. After four starts in which he’s been roughed up by every opposing team, his regular season ERA now sits at 10.22, even after a stat-rejuvenating bout with the Orioles. I feel for him and I wish him well, but he’s an experiment that has failed.
Jackson’s presence in the rotation implies that the Jays are out of options, and it does seem that way. However, I think there are other options, and here’s what I would do if I were the Blue Jays’ GM.
During the offseason I wrote a piece suggesting that the Blue Jays should sign Bartolo. They decided not to take my advice, and look where they’ve ended up. Big Sexy, meanwhile, is still a free agent and rumours of him being picked up by the Tigers turned out to be fake. He may be out there living his best life drinking beer on yachts and celebrating his birthday with an epic cake, but he wants to pitch again. I want to see him back in the majors, and the Jays’ rotation would be a great place for him.
Feierabend’s story is one I immediately got behind. It’s mostly because I’m mildly obsessed with knuckleballers, as R.A. Dickey was killing it for the Jays when I started properly following them. I loved the way he made the ball dance, his composure on the mound, his benevolent, literary dad vibe. I’ve longed for the Jays to have a knuckleballer in the rotation ever since Dickey’s contract expired, and for a single game this season I got my wish. Feierabend is one of only a tiny number of left-handed knuckleballers, who came back to North America for the 2019 season after a number of successful years in Korea to join the Jays on a minor league deal. His major league experience is limited, and his lone start against the White Sox ended with a rainout after four innings in which he gave up four runs. After another appearance in relief that didn’t go his way, the Jays designated him for assignment, and he was outrighted to Triple-A Buffalo after clearing waivers. His two appearances might not have gone well, but he deserves as much of a chance as Jackson, if only for the fact that he was the first left-handed knuckleballer in nineteen years (Fangraphs has a good in-depth piece on his start here).
If the Blue Jays were going to trade away a fan favourite player to the Giants for basically nothing, they should have gone for pitching depth in return rather than infielders they had absolutely no need for. Kevin Pillar was traded away to the Giants and hit a grand slam in his first game in San Francisco, while the players sent in exchange for him, Alen Hanson and Socrates Brito, performed dismally for what seemed like countless games. Triple-A Buffalo, meanwhile, had infielders Eric Sogard, Cavan Biggio and (of course) Vladdy Guerrero Jr. absolutely killing it, waiting to be called up. The Jays should instead have asked for Venditte, who is currently at Triple-A but is looking a lot better than Edwin Jackson. If you haven’t heard of Venditte, he’s the game’s only switch-pitcher: he can pitch with his right and left arms. He had to have a rule created for him, which forces switch-pitchers to commit to one arm for an entire at bat. He also has a special glove that can fit either hand. How cool is that? I could see Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, who came from a forward-thinking staff in Tampa Bay, having fun with deciding which arm Venditte should use for which batter. It’s not on the table, but it’s fun to speculate about what could have been, if only to block out the memory of the Kevin Pillar trade.
The Freak was last seen in the majors in 2018 in a brief stint for the Rangers before being released. Little is known of his whereabouts since, but based on the work he put in to try and make a comeback in 2018 it’s possible he could still return in the future. If the Blue Jays will insist on acquiring pitchers in their mid-thirties whose best seasons are behind them, one of them might as well be a two-time Cy Young winner persuaded out of retirement for one last season. It’s a very long shot, of course, but it feels no less likely than Jackson suddenly becoming a quality starter at this point.
Luke Maile is the Blue Jays’ backup catcher, but has had two pitching outings this season and has looked good in both of them. His ERA remains at 0.00 after two scoreless innings, and he also has a devastating knuckleball. Move him over to pitcher, call up Reese McGuire from Triple-A to take his spot at catcher, and see how it goes. Would it genuinely be worse than another round of watching opposing teams get hit after hit off Edwin Jackson? I’ll get back to you on that after his next start.
BONUS: Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen has released one of my favourite albums of 2019 and is a true pop genius. You’ll know her for her huge hit ‘Call Me Maybe,’ but she also has a huge catalogue of really smart, sensitive pop bangers…and a truly nasty, genuinely unhittable sinker, as seen above. The Jays front office should be drawing up a contract right now.