TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips answers three questions each week. This week, topics cover the Blue Jays' rotation, the futures John Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos, protecting pitchers and a bonus question on his predictions for the MLB playoffs.
1) With J.A. Happ heading to the DL, the Toronto Blue Jays have announced a starting rotation of R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan. Should the Blue Jays feel confident with that group or even this early in the season, should they be looking outside the organization for an upgrade? Or should they have kept a prospect like Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman with the big club?
The Blue Jays are starting the season with exact rotation they should be using. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman both need more development but at some point they may be called upon to help. Certainly there are big questions for three-fifths of the starters but there is definitely upside. RA Dickey is just a year removed from his NL Cy Young Award and is predictable and dependable. I can't believe I am saying that about a knuckleballer but it is true. Mark Buerhle is a more than serviceable innings-eater who gives his team a chance to win start after start. After these two though the questions are significant. Brandon Morrow has suffered injuries in each of the past two seasons after looking like a number one starter at times in 2012. Dustin McGowan is throwing in the mid-nineties and is working on a curve ball to go with his devastating slider, but he has thrown just 46 2/3 innings since 2008 because of recurrent shoulder injuries. Drew Hutchison hasn't pitched in the Major Leagues for the past year and a half due to Tommy John surgery but prior to that he looked like he could be a long-term answer for the rotation.
Before the season begins players, front office personnel and fans close their eyes and dream about what could be. I can close my eyes and see RA Dickey commanding his dancing knuckler that will baffle hitter. I can envision Buerhle getting a ton of grounders and working quickly getting the powerhouse offense back in the dugout and scoring a ton of runs. I can picture Brandon Morrow rifling his fastball by the game's biggest sluggers and logging a ton of strikeouts. I can imagine McGowan and Hutchison fulfilling the potential that they once had as well. It could happen just that way.
But it probably won't.
My experience is that the more questions you enter with the more things that will likely go wrong. There is a bunch of unpredictability in this rotation. Depth will be important. It is safe to assume that health will be an issue at some point because it has been an issue in the past. Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond may make starts if necessary. But Alex Anthopolous is going to have to keep working the phones to look for upgrades. Early in the season other clubs aren't typically trading good pitchers but he will need to be ready for when they do become available.
So when you close your eyes and dream just hope it is not a nightmare.
2) Is manager John Gibbons on the hot seat with the Blue Jays? If the team is slow out of the gate again this year, will he be replaced? Are his and Alex Anthopoulos's future tied together (if one goes, the other follows him out the door)?
I don't think John Gibbons is on the hot seat during the season this year. I know there were big expectations last year but the collapse wasn't Gibbon's fault. The starting rotation just fell apart on him as Morrow and Josh Johnson got hurt and Ricky Romero imploded. Jose Reyes injury crushed the offense early in the season and more injuries followed.
The expectations are less this year than a year ago. It certainly behooves the Jays to get off to a good start so they can start to believe in themselves but Gibbons can't pitch for his team and the staff will be the key.
I have never been a believer that managers and general managers are tied at the hip. The manager needs to look at the GM as his boss. Clearly Gibbons was brought back to the Jays because of his relationship with Anthopolous but if Anthopolous thinks a change needs to be made he will have to make it. If ownership gets to a point where they believe the roster is flawed and they decide to make a decision on the general manager it is unlikely Gibbons would survive a change in regime. Anthoplous can possibly survive the firing of Gibbons but I don't believe Gibbons would survive the firing of Anthopolous.
As it stands today both the manager and general manager are on firm ground as they should be. They just need to be honest with themselves and their bosses about what the expectations are with the roster they have. The owners can hope to be competitive in the tough AL East but if they expect to win it then both Anthopolous and Gibbons are in trouble. This is a roster for which you can hope but not expect great things.
3) With Reds starter Aroldis Chapman and Rays starter Matt Moore both being hit in the head by comebackers to the mound in spring training, is it time for Major League Baseball and/or the players' union to implement mandatory pitcher protection?
It seems that pitchers have become more and more vulnerable over the past few seasons. Fortunately, we have avoided major catastrophe but we shouldn't be shocked if a pitcher were to be killed by a hit ball. We have just been lucky so far.
I am a firm believer that we should never wait for someone to be killed to make a change. Baseball already did that once. Base coaches wear helmets now because a minor league first base coach was hit in the head by a line drive and killed. If protecting pitchers is being considered then protect them. Let's not wait for a tragedy.
It is currently optional for pitchers to wear the new protective headgear that was developed by MLB for this year. The feedback so far is that the hats look funny and are not overly comfortable. MLB needs to keep refining the protective hats to make them functional. This needs to be a priority for the Players Association as well. Protective hats for pitchers need to be made mandatory at the minor league level initially. Let the kids get comfortable with them so by the time they are big leaguers it is commonplace. Once the hat is advanced enough make it mandatory for major league pitchers to wear.
There is no clock in baseball but we need to put a clock on this. Every pitch thrown puts a pitcher at risk. Please hurry.
4) With the second and third opening days approaching for Major League Baseball it is time to make predictions.
Here is how I see the American League:
AL East AL Central AL West
1) Boston Detroit Oakland
2) Tampa Bay* Kansas City** LA Angels
3) Baltimore Cleveland Texas
4) Blue Jays Minnesota Seattle
5) New York Yankees Chicago Houston
* first Wild Card ** second Wild Card
AL CHAMPION: Oakland A's defeat Detroit
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
AL MVP: Justin Verlander, Detroit
AL Rookie of Year: Yordano Ventura, Kansas City
AL Manager of Year: Ned Yost, Kansas City
Here are my predictions for the NL:
NL East NL Central NL West
1) Washington St Louis LA Dodgers
2) Atlanta** Milwaukee SF Giants*
3) NY Mets Cincinnati Arizona
4) Philadelphia Pittsburgh Colorado
5) Miami Chicago San Diego
* first Wild Card ** second Wild Card
NL CHAMPION: Washington Nationals defeat Dodgers
NL MVP: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
NL CY Young: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
NL Rookie of Year: Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates
Manager of the Year: Mike Matheny, St Louis Cardinals
WORLD SERIES CHAMPION: Washington Nationals defeat Oakland A's
LET THE GAMES BEGIN…..PLAY BALL!!!