Jays may go with Litsch in fifth spot
In the meantime, Toronto looking at alternatives for rotation
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays continue to insist that the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation isn't decided. On Saturday, general manager J.P. Ricciardi chose his words carefully, coming as close as he's willing to say that Jesse Litsch will occupy that role.
"We've got five starters at the Major League level," Ricciardi said. "So we're pretty well set there."
Besides Toronto's top four rotation members, Litsch is the lone pitcher among the 11 who made at least one start for the Jays last season to still have a locker inside the clubhouse. The only other candidates coming into Spring Training -- Casey Janssen and Gustavo Chacin -- are no longer in camp.
Ricciardi's comment on the situation came during a discussion about which pitchers, besides Litsch, were being stretched out for starting roles -- possibly for consideration for the fifth spot. In no particular order, Ricciardi said that pitchers Josh Banks, David Purcey and Kane Davis each fell into that category.
"Banks, Purcey and Kane Davis would be the three guys we'd stretch out," Ricciardi said. "That would give us possibly eight [starters on the depth chart]. We've got some kids in Double-A that we like, too -- [guys] that may come like Litsch did last year -- but we're not counting on them right now."
Ricciardi noted that he's been working the phones some this week, trying to find a possible trading partner to obtain more pitching. Toronto is willing to explore the trade market, but the club doesn't have much financial flexibility at this point to pursue any arms via free agency.
"Everybody is kind of in the same boat, looking for sort of the same thing," Ricciardi said. "I still don't think right now anybody is going to do anything until maybe the last five to seven days of Spring Training.
"We're comfortable going north with what we have, for the most part. I mean, if we can upgrade, we'd upgrade. But I just don't think that upgrade is going to be out there [on the free-agent market]."
Last season, Litsch was called up from Double-A New Hampshire in May, when Toronto ace Roy Halladay was sidelined with an appendicitis. Litsch became a fixture in the rotation and finished 7-9 with a 3.81 ERA over 20 starts.
That showing has had Jays manager John Gibbons and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg backing Litch as the potential fifth starter this spring. Litsch would join a strong rotation that already includes Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum.
Janssen, who served as Toronto's primary setup man a year ago, was competing with Litsch for the No. 5 role this spring, until he was shelved for the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder earlier this week. Chacin -- given a slim chance of winning the job when camp opened -- was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse on Wednesday and needs more time to recover from the left shoulder surgery he had in August.
"I think we just have to get Gus built up," Ricciardi said about Chacin, who has been limited to 22 starts over the past two seasons due to various arm ailments. "I would say, just looking at Gus now, [he'd be completely healthy], maybe more toward July, but he's a possibility, too. He's probably the furthest guy away, though."
Banks, 25, is currently in Minor League camp, and he's set to begin his third season as a part of the rotation at Triple-A Syracuse. Last year, the right-hander went 12-10 with a 4.63 ERA in 27 starts with the Chiefs, and he earned a big league promotion in September. In three games, including one start, with the Jays, Banks posted a 7.36 ERA.
Purcey, who was Toronto's top pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, has had a slow progression through the farm system. His tour with Double-A New Hampshire ended prematurely last year, when the lefty needed surgery to correct a stress fracture in his left elbow. Purcey has recovered well, evidenced by the 1.23 ERA he posted over six starts in the Arizona Fall League.
Davis -- signed to a Minor League contract by the Jays in December -- hasn't started a game in the Major Leagues since 2000, when the pitcher was with Cleveland. Last season, the 32-year-old right-hander spent most of the year with Triple-A Ottawa, going 3-3 with a 4.06 ERA in 41 games. Davis went 0-1 with a 5.56 ERA in 11 games with the Phillies last year.
Left-hander John Parrish, who was also brought into camp on a Minor League deal, was once considered as a candidate for a rotation spot, but the Jays have since changed their view. Ricciardi said that Parrish would be a member of the bullpen if he breaks camp with the big league club.
Ricciardi said that Double-A pitchers Brett Cecil (first-round pick in the 2007 Draft), Brandon Magee (fourth-round pick in the 2006 Draft) and Ricky Romero (first-round pick in the 2005 Draft) would all be on Toronto's radar this season.
"We like Cecil a lot," Ricciardi said. "Magee, Romero, they're all throwing really well. We'll see if they speed up the process a little bit."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.