Marcus Stroman's season-ending knee injury will force the Blue Jays to dig deep for a replacement in their rotation.
After his strong 2014 rookie season, the Blue Jays had high hopes for Marcus Stroman coming into this year. Alas, those hopes were dashed on Tuesday when the team announced that the 23-year-old righty suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the season due to surgery, though he's expected to make a full recovery.
Stroman tore his ACL while fielding a bunt during pitchers' fielding practice. From The Sports Network's Scott MacArthur:
While torn ulnar collateral ligaments are all too common these days, ACL injuries are thankfully rare among pitchers. When Mariano Rivera tore his in May 2012, The New York Times' Andrew Keh reported finding only six other pitchers who had gone on major league disabled lists since 1991 due to such tears. Beyond the great closer—who made a seamless return the following season—the most notable is Yovani Gallardo, who tore his in May 2008 as a member of the Brewers. Less than five months later, he became the first player to make an in-season return to the majors from such an injury, making a start on Sept. 25, then another start and a relief appearance in the Division Series. Gallardo's effectiveness was mixed, however, and he totaled only 11 innings overall, though he showed no signs of injury in throwing 185 2/3 innings the following year, his age-23 season.
While that timeline is encouraging, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos told reporters that he fully expects Stroman to miss the entire season; he'll soon get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews. Via Twitter, Stroman had this to say:
Beyond devastated. Not being able to compete with my brothers each and every day is extremely disappointing. Still can't believe it.— Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) March 10, 2015
A 2012 first-round draft pick out of Duke University, Stroman rose quickly through the Blue Jays' system, and after entering last year ranked 27th among Baseball Prospectus' Top 101 Prospects (other lists had him in the mid-50s), he made his major league debut last May 4 against the Pirates. Shaky in five appearances out of the bullpen—the last two of which saw him allow a combined nine runs in three innings—he returned to Triple A Buffalo for two starts, then rejoined the Blue Jays as a starter on May 31. He pitched to a 3.18 ERA in 20 starts (14 of which were quality) and one relief appearance from that point to the end of the season, finishing with a 3.65 ERA, 2.84 FIP, and 2.0 Wins Above Replacement.
The Blue Jays, who made headlines over the winter with the free-agent signing of Russell Martin and the blockbuster trade centered around Josh Donaldson and Brett Lawrie, were counting heavily on Stroman this year behind Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Drew Hutchison. Rookies Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez, the team's top two prospects, were competing for the fifth spot. Anthopoulos indicated that the team is likely to stay in-house in finding a replacement for Stroman, with off-season trade acquisition Marco Estrada joining those two in the mix.
Sanchez, a 22-year-old righty, posted a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings for the Jays last year, all of them out of the bullpen. Talent evaluators feel that his potential for three plus pitches gives him a ceiling as a No. 2 starter, though some believe he's better off in the bullpen given concerns about his mechanics, which can compromise the consistency of his fastball. Norris, a 21-year-old lefty (22 on April 25) who lives out of a Volkswagen camper, made one start and four appearances for the Jays last year, but has a total of just 65 innings above High A to Sanchez’s 133 1/3. Estrada, a 31-year-old righty, made a combined 62 starts for the Brewers over the past three seasons but never more than 23 in a year; he was tagged for a 4.39 ERA in 150 2/3 innings in 2014, struggling as a starter (4.96 ERA and an astronomical 2.3 HR/9 in 107 innings) but pitching reasonably well in relief.
Also in camp, but likely behind schedule, is soon-to-be-36-year-old lefty Johan Santana, who signed a minor league deal recently but hasn't pitched in the majors since Aug. 17, 2012. He's working his way back from a torn Achilles as well as his second surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule.
If none of those options suit the Jays, they'll have their chance to pick up a starter before Opening Day via waivers or a trade, though injuries will no doubt play a part in determining who's available. Just as Stroman's bad news followed in the wake of that regarding Yu Darvish and Cliff Lee, so too will another pitcher's injury steal the spotlight from Stroman.