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Jays get Morrow, send League to M's

Jays get Morrow, send League to M's

TORONTO -- Two days before Christmas, Alex the Dealer has struck again. On Wednesday, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos finalized his third trade in the past week, this time reeling in talented right-hander Brandon Morrow from the Mariners.

Anthopoulos does not expect to take a break from his busy offseason, either. Not even with a January wedding and honeymoon just around the corner.

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"I'm still talking to some other clubs. I'm still trying to do some things," Anthopoulos said. "I don't expect to close up shop. That's the beauty of Blackberries. I've already warned my fiancee that if things come up, I'm certainly going to be available."

In order to land Morrow -- a pitcher Anthopoulos has been trying to pry away from Seattle for more than a month -- Toronto agreed to send hard-throwing right-hander Brandon League and Minor League outfielder Johermyn Chavez to the Mariners. Morrow provides a boost to a relatively thin Blue Jays rotation and adds another building block to Anthopoulos' long-term plans for the organization.

Last week, Anthopoulos was thrust into the national spotlight when he helped orchestrate a complicated series of trades involving four teams and nine players -- the centerpiece being ace Roy Halladay's departure from Toronto. Halladay was dealt to the Phillies, Cliff Lee was sent to the Mariners and prospects wound up in Toronto and Philadelphia.

Anthopoulos did not settle on the package of prospects -- pitcher Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis d'Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor -- that the Jays acquired from the Phillies. In a side deal, Toronto's rookie GM swung a trade with the A's to bring highly touted prospect Brett Wallace north of the border in exchange for Taylor.

Less than three months since assuming the general manager duties, Anthopoulos has already made a distinct mark on the organization. First, he overhauled the team's scouting and player development departments. Then, Anthopoulos added a trio of top prospects while parting with Halladay, the face of the franchise.

Now, Anthopoulos has added Morrow to the mix.

"He reminds me a lot of A.J. Burnett in terms of the delivery and the stuff," Anthopoulos said. "Obviously, he can throw very hard. It's 98-99 mph as if he's playing catch and it's a power curveball in the low 80s -- similar to what Burnett did. His changeup is not there right now. It's more of a show-me changeup, but it has pretty good action and it has promise.

"Burnett was kind of the same way. I think [Morrow has] that type of ceiling and that type of ability. Obviously, it'll be up to Brandon to continue to harness his control."

A talented arm with mixed results in his time with the Mariners, Morrow gives Toronto another starter to help fill out a young and inexperienced rotation. The 25-year-old right-hander was selected with the fifth overall pick by Seattle in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft and had a rapid rise to the big league stage, appearing in 60 games for the Mariners in '07.


"He reminds me a lot of A.J. Burnett in terms of the delivery and the stuff. Obviously, he can throw very hard. It's 98-99 mph as if he's playing catch and it's a power curveball in the low 80s -- similar to what Burnett did. His changeup is not there right now. It's more of a show-me changeup, but it has pretty good action and it has promise."
-- GM Alex Anthopoulos, on Brandon Morrow

Used primarily as a reliever over parts of the past three years with Seattle, Morrow went 8-12 with a 3.96 ERA over 131 games. He amassed 204 strikeouts across 197 2/3 innings during that period, but also issued 128 walks. Last year, Morrow went 2-4 with a 4.39 ERA in 26 games, including 10 starts, finishing with 63 strikeouts and 44 walks in 69 2/3 frames.

With Halladay now heading Philadelphia's staff, the Jays were left with a very large hole in their rotation. The top two returning starters, righty Shaun Marcum and left-hander Ricky Romero, enter 2010 with their own set of issues. Marcum hasn't pitched since '08 due to a right elbow injury and Romero has only one big league season to his credit.

Toronto's other top rotation candidates include lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil -- both rookies in '09. During Spring Training, David Purcey, Scott Richmond, Brad Mills and Robert Ray could also be in the mix for jobs. Drabek will likely be a dark-horse candidate and Toronto is still weighing its options with Casey Janssen and Brian Tallet, who have experience out of the rotation and bullpen.

"When you lose someone like Roy Halladay," Anthopoulos said, "and the innings and the complete games that he provides, it's certainly going to be a big blow to your staff. We have a lot of younger, inexperienced guys, but guys with a lot of upside and a lot of promise."

Anthopoulos, who noted that the addition of Morrow does not necessarily mean the Jays are done searching for rotation help, said that Spring Training will ultimately decide the makeup of the starting five. Unless someone like Halladay is in the fold, Anthopoulos is not going to guarantee anyone of a job on the Opening Day staff.

"We view Brandon Morrow as a starter," Anthopoulos said. "That being said, he's going to come in and compete for a job. But, certainly he's got big league experience and he's got two years of service time. We expect him to do very well with us, but him, along with all the other starters, are coming in and competing."

Anthopoulos noted that including Chavez in the deal was the key component in finalizing the trade. Seattle and Toronto had discussed a Morrow-for-League swap for more than a month, but the two sides had a difficult time coming to an agreeement on the second player the Jays would send to the Mariners.

Chavez, who will turn 21 on Jan. 26, hit .282 with 21 home runs and 89 RBIs with Low Class A Lansing in the Blue Jays' system last year. He earned an R. Howard Webster Award at the end of the season, honoring him as the Player of the Year with Toronto's Lansing affiliate.

"As we walked through this, it was difficult to give up a very talented young pitcher like a Brandon Morrow," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "We do feel that Brandon is going to be a very successful big league pitcher.

"It was not an easy decision. We debated this thing for over a month. Alex and I had at least 15 different phone calls. At the end of the day, he fit their need very well, and Brandon League right now fits our need."

Now that League is out of the picture, Janssen will likely remain in the bullpen. Toronto also selected right-hander Zech Zinicola in the Rule 5 Draft earlier this month, adding another arm into the mix for a relief role. For parts of the past six seasons, League gave the Jays a talented late-inning option, though his arm was unpredictable at times.

Last year, the hard-throwing League -- with an overpowering fastball and a devastating sinker when on top of his game -- set a career high with 67 appearances and 76 strikeouts over 74 2/3 innings. League also set career highs with 21 walks, nine wild pitches and seven hit batsmen. Over his career with Toronto, League went 7-10 with a 4.09 ERA over 202 1/3 innings.

The trade caught League -- a career Blue Jay -- by surprise.

"You never see things like this coming, for me, anyway," League said Wednesday, when he was in Seattle to take a physical for the Mariners. "I'm staying positive. It's a good organization I'm going to. The only downside is that I'll be missing the guys I kind of grew up with through the Minor Leagues."

Blue Jays fans shouldn't be surprised if Anthopoulos swings another deal this winter -- maybe with one exception.

"My wedding night might be the one time I have a shut-down period," Anthopoulos said with a laugh.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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