In light of the returns for Scott Kazmir and Johnny Cueto, do you think those around the Blue Jays (team, media, fans) are overrating players like Marcus Stroman, Daniel Norris and Jeff Hoffman?
-- Ian Stange
I don't really think it's an issue of overrating Stroman, Hoffman and Norris. That can happen from time to time, but I don't think it's relevant in this particular case. A lot of people seem to be making a big deal out of a report from Sportsnet, which suggested Cincinnati asked for Stroman and a package of prospects in return for Cueto. But in reality, it's not that surprising.
It's perfectly logical that teams are going to start extremely high when they open the bidding on one of their prized players. Last year, it was the Cubs asking for Stroman and Drew Hutchison in a deal for Jeff Samardzija. And this season, you can pretty much guarantee every team will open the conversation by asking about Stroman and Hoffman.
Stroman and Hoffman aren't going anywhere, but considering the organization's depth of young pitching, it probably makes sense to strongly consider dealing Norris, who's ranked the No. 1 Blue Jays prospect by MLB.com. After those top three guys, it really becomes how much interest scouts and general managers have in the remaining prospects. Cincinnati probably never thought it had much of a shot at Stroman, but the fact that talks never got too serious could indicate the Reds weren't big fans of other scenarios and instead went with a solid offer from Kansas City.
We've all heard the endless talk about Cueto, Kazmir, Samardzija and David Price, but is there anyone a little more under the radar that you think would make a good addition to the Blue Jays' staff?
-- Greg J., Waterloo, Ontario
Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma is a guy I've thought for quite a while would make a lot of sense for the Blue Jays. He doesn't get mentioned a lot when people talk about the top pitchers available, but he has the type of potential to be a very solid middle-of-rotation starter.
Iwakuma's stock dropped earlier this year when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list after just three starts because of a strained lat muscle. He didn't return until July, but his most recent three outings have been impressive. The native of Japan has allowed four runs over his last 20 2/3 innings after posting a 3.52 ERA in 2014 and a 2.66 ERA in '12. Iwakuma won't cost as much as Price or Samardzija, and while bargains don't really exist at this time of the year, he might be the closest thing to it.
The Blue Jays are in a horrible position being three games out of a Wild Card spot. If they acquire Price, they would be giving up some on-the-cusp big league arms, only to lose Price to free agency. Mark Buehrle could retire, R.A. Dickey could be bought out, rotation is back to square one. What do you do?
-- Lee F, Toronto
There are a lot of people in Blue Jays Nation who are feeling this way right now, but to be honest, I don't have quite the same level of skepticism. Would I mortgage the future to fill holes now? No, but it doesn't have to be quite so cut and dried. And with the large number of starting pitchers that are available, there should be ways to find help now without giving away the future.
Three games might seem like a lot, but it's really not, especially when you consider that there aren't any teams between the Blue Jays and Twins for the second American League Wild Card spot. This isn't a year when Toronto has to leapfrog over five other teams, and I have a hard time believing that the Twins will be able to maintain their current pace, which makes an even stronger case for the Blue Jays to upgrade the current roster.
Buehrle and Dickey might not return next year, but there's a strong core in place with Stroman, Hoffman, Sanchez, Roberto Osuna and Norris all projecting to be long-term starters, and the future gets even brighter if Drew Hutchison eventually figures things out. There's a lot of depth on the mound, and moving someone like Norris wouldn't change that. It just has to be for the right piece(s).
Chris Colabello seems to be the real deal. Do you think that allows general manager Alex Anthopoulos to entertain the notion of trading Edwin Encarnacion or one of the big bats for pitching help?
-- Aaron W., Toronto
The talk about moving Encarnacion for a pitcher won't go away, but it doesn't make sense at this point. There are plenty of starters available from teams that are looking to rebuild. Those moves can be made by trading prospects instead of creating one hole to fill another on the big league roster. Just look at what happened to Oakland last year after it traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester.
There's also the fact that Encarnacion has 10-and-5 rights and cannot be traded without his consent. This isn't the time the Blue Jays would want to approach Encarnacion seeking his permission, and it's hard to envision a scenario where he would be receptive to that right now. He's happy in Toronto and remains a big part of the core. If anything were to happen, it's more likely to take place in the offseason than it is now.
Besides starting pitching, what else do you think Anthopoulos needs to address before the Trade Deadline?
-- Connor D., Ottawa, Ontario
The bullpen looks better after Sanchez was transitioned into a late-inning reliever, but the group could still use an additional arm. Osuna, Sanchez, Bo Schultz and Brett Cecil form a solid core, but it could turn into a strength if a veteran closer or a setup man was added to the mix.
The other spot I'd look to address is more of a back-burner issue. Ezequiel Carrera is coming off a strong series in Seattle, but the Blue Jays could really strengthen their bench by adding another backup outfielder. Rajai Davis is a pending free agent who should be available, and he could be a solid piece as a late-inning pinch-runner and defensive replacement. This is more of a luxury than anything else, so parting with anything more than a B-level prospect for this type of player wouldn't make a lot of sense.
Is there any logical reason for Hutchison's home/road splits to be so different?
-- Nate B., Edmonton, Alberta
There really isn't. As we all know by now, Hutchison's splits were the opposite during the first half of 2014, and they eventually started to even off after the All-Star break. One would think something like that has to happen again, but so far, it hasn't, and his struggles away from Rogers Centre have become a major issue.
The Blue Jays' coaching staff clearly thinks it's something to be concerned about. Toronto scheduled its rotation after the break to minimize the number of road starts that Hutchison had to make. After another rough road outing on Saturday afternoon, manager John Gibbons speculated that Hutchison's issues probably had become mental. That's really the only logical answer at this point, because Rogers Centre should be a harder place to pitch than most ballparks.
Do you see Osuna as a starter in the future or a reliever and why? And do you think the Blue Jays are higher on Hoffman than Norris?
-- Devin, Peterborough, Ontario
Osuna's future definitely belongs in the rotation, because not only does he possess an overpowering fastball, but he also has the type of quality secondary pitches that are required to get through a batting order multiple times. His changeup is a plus pitch and the slider has been better than expected, but there haven't been any signs of the slow curveball he used to throw in the Minors.
The Blue Jays seem to be higher on Hoffman than Norris, as are most scouts and opposing teams. Let's not forget that Hoffman had a good chance at being taken No. 1 overall in the 2014 Draft until he injured his right elbow and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. He has since made a full recovery and could be ready for the big leagues as soon as next year.