This was not the script that was anticipated when Alex Anthopoulos traded Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies for a fistful of prospects including Kyle Drabek. Not by a long shot – not for the pitchers or for their teams.
There was Halladay on Friday at the Rogers Centre, playing catch with Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee. Thirty tosses from 60 feet, the first time Halladay had thrown overhand in 19 days since straining a right lat muscle pitching for what is now an old, last-place team. And there was Drabek, once considered a crown jewel in the Phillies system before Anthopoulos acquired him in his first major move as Toronto Blue Jays general manager, collecting balls along the warning track during batting practice without throwing them in, awaiting an examination on Monday by Dr. James Andrews.
Drabek was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and even though there is a mysterious lack of pain, there is a possibility that at 24 he will need to undergo Tommy John tendon transplant surgery for the second time in his still-young career. “They took the tendon from (the wrist) the first time,” Drabek said, before the Blue Jays beat the Phillies 3-0. “We’ll have to see where they take it from this time. I have three left.”
Anthopoulos had brave words before the start of a three-game interleague series against the Phillies, all about taking a run at “this thing,” and how the Blue Jays “plan on continuing to be competitive … (we’ll) never just lay down.” But seriously: with Drew Hutchison taken out of Friday’s game after nine pitches with what was described as right elbow soreness, Brett Cecil brought up after one Triple-A outing to start Sunday and one of Robert Coello or Jesse Chavez in line to start Tuesday backed up by what is statistically the worst bullpen in the American League (Aaron Laffey had to come in for Hutchison on an emergency basis,) meaningful September baseball seems as far away in this city as meaningful spring-time hockey.
Just two weeks ago, you could get phone lines full by suggesting Anthopoulos should try to add another veteran starter to the team with an eye toward deepening the teams rotation knowing young pitchers such as Hutchison and Henderson Alvarez would brush up against innings limits in the fall. Ryan Dempster? Matt Garza? You could slice it either way: rent a pitcher or bring in somebody under control for a couple of years and take a shot at a bunched up American League East. Make it a sexier multi-player deal, if you wanted, by blue-skying about adding in Yunel Escobar to the mix. For those skeptical of the commitment to a winning team on the part of ownership, there was a growing sense that the much-anticipated acid test for Rogers Communications was just around the corner.
So what now? The Blue Jays have enviable young pitching depth in the minors, but much of it is of the callow variety at Single-A, and issues at the Major League level simply cannot impact on the time-table for those pitchers. In just his third professional season, Hutchison had thrown 114, 109 and 103 pitches in his last three starts and had jacked up the velocity on his fastball. He looked good – too good, as it turned out.
In some ways, Anthopoulos’ parameters for a trade remain the same as they were two weeks ago. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and catcher Travis D’Arnaud are knocking at the door, and a controllable Major League starting pitcher was already on the wish list for the winter even without this outbreak of bad health. Addressing that long-term need still fills a short-term need, even though that need has changed.
As Hutchison disappeared down the runway into the clubhouse, Ricky Romero – the staff ace – buried his mouth behind his hands and shook his head – Drabek to his right, Cecil to his left. He took off his hat, lowered his head and rubbed his hands in exasperation across the top of it. It’s mid-June and suddenly the 2012 season isn’t just about selling a playoff dream or even hope for the future. It’s about survival, and it will provide a test of both Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell’s acumen in ways neither man likely expected when they left spring training.
“We’re getting challenges thrown at us from every different angle,” said Farrell, who admitted he was given food for throught when Carlos Villanueva, who saved the Blue Jays early last season, had five strikeouts over four innings coming on for Laffey. “We’ll sort it out. We’ll navigate through it with internal candidates.”