Jays open auditions to replace Doc
32 pitchers will compete for 12 jobs on Toronto's staff
TORONTO -- A construction crew rolled up to Rogers Centre this winter, parking a cherry picker on the south side of the Blue Jays' home stadium in Toronto. One of the workers stepped into the basket and was lifted up to the four-story tall image of ace Roy Halladay.
While Halladay stared off to the right, preparing to fire one of his pitches to an unseen batter, the worker raised a blow torch and -- window by window -- slowly and methodically melted away the colorful pieces that made up the giant poster.
Heading into Spring Training without Halladay's leadership on the field and in the clubhouse, the Blue Jays are facing many unknowns. The most pressing issue is finding a way to fill out a starting rotation that is suddenly missing the significant pile of innings that Halladay provided year in and year out.
Toronto has a long list of pitchers -- mostly young and inexperienced -- who will be vying for roles with the club as starting pitchers come Opening Day. Replacing Halladay, who is one of the game's true aces, is not the issue. It is searching for ways to replace Halladay's workload that has been a primary focus for Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
"We ended up using a total of 24 pitchers last year," Anthopoulos said. "Now you don't have Halladay. We had a lot of guys get hurt, so I don't know that we're necessarily going to need more than that. But we're certainly trying to build depth."
The quest to add depth has led to a surplus of arms for the Blue Jays. In all, combining the rotation and bullpen candidates, Toronto will have 32 pitchers fighting for 12 jobs this spring. For the starting staff, the club has 17 pitchers who have at least a remote chance of making a run at one of the vacant jobs.
It may seem like a lot of arms, and it's possible that Anthopoulos might try to use some of the pitchers as trading chips at some point, but the large group is lacking what Halladay provided: experience. Beyond being the Jays' Opening Day starter for the past seven years, Doc Halladay logged at least 220 innings in six of the past eight seasons.
Among the 17 starters who are competing for a rotation job this spring, only 13 have any innings in the big leagues. In that group, only six have logged at least 100 innings in one big league season. Only one pitcher has logged at least 170 Major League innings in one year, and none have reached 180 innings in a single campaign.
"They're all young," Anthopoulos said, "but they're all talented. They are lacking experience, and, with younger starters, you're going to have good outings and bad outings. And they're probably not going to have a consistent performance from start to finish."
Last season, Halladay compiled 17 wins, completed nine games and finished with 239 innings, despite missing time with a right groin injury midway through the season. The ace right-hander accounted for 24.7 percent of the 964 2/3 innings logged by Blue Jays starters in 2009. Rookie Ricky Romero was second on the staff with 178 innings.
As things currently stand, Romero returns as the likely favorite to step into the No. 1 slot vacated by Halladay's departure. Behind the young lefty is right-hander Shaun Marcum, who missed all of last season with a right elbow injury. Now healthy, Marcum has 64 career starts, and he showed promise in the 2007-08 seasons.
The most likely third starter is righty Brandon Morrow -- acquired in a trade in December with Seattle -- but his time with the Mariners was split between starting and relieving. The Jays plan on keeping him as a starter, but his career high in innings in the Majors is just 69 2/3 frames. Behind Morrow, the rotation picture starts to become increasingly unclear.
Left-hander Brian Tallet has spent the bulk of his career as a reliever, but he stepped up as a starter last year and took 25 turns out of the rotation. He logged a total of 160 2/3 innings last season and is being considered as a starter again this spring. As far as Anthopoulos is concerned, Tallet is in a good position to earn a rotation job.
"Tallet, there's definitely going to be some strong sentiment with him," Anthopoulos said. "He had a run at certain points where he did very well, and he threw 160 innings for us. When you look at the averages in terms of ERAs and innings pitched, for a fourth or fifth starter, he was very solid and was a good stabilizing force."
Other starting candidates, in no particular order, include Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski, Dana Eveland, Scott Richmond, David Purcey, Casey Janssen, Dustin McGowan, Robert Ray, Brad Mills, Luis Perez, Reidier Gonzalez, Zach Stewart and Kyle Drabek. Shawn Hill and Jesse Litsch -- both sidelined with right elbow injuries -- will likely be unavailable until June or July.
If they don't make the cut as starters, pitchers such as Tallet, Eveland, Richmond, Janssen and McGowan might be candidates for bullpen jobs as well. Although they will be given a chance, Ray, Mills, Perez, Gonzalez, Stewart and Drabek are longshots to make the rotation during Spring Training. More realistically, they'll be candidates for promotions at some point during the season.
Anthopoulos thinks that many of Toronto's young, promising pitchers were forced up through the farm system in previous years out of necessity. Putting so many arms in the mix for jobs this spring might allow the Blue Jays to put some of those inexperienced pitchers back on proper development plans.
That said, Anthopoulos believes that this season will give Blue Jays fans a glimpse of the potential some of the team's young starters possess.
"Yes, they're young and inexperienced," Anthopoulos said. "But, the exciting part for me is there's definitely a strong opportunity for fans, when they come to the park each day, when they tune in to watch on TV every night, the guys that they're going to see starting games for us are guys that have a good chance to have a dominant performance.
"They all have very good stuff, but they're also going to be guys that are most likely going to be around for a while and be a part of what we're doing going forward. That's the part that's going to be exciting. The fans are going to get a chance to grow with our players."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.