Oh, how time flies in baseball, where even the prior season can feel like forever ago.
The Toronto Blue Jays, and particularly the current head brass led by GM Alex Anthopoulos, can certainly appreciate the feeling when it comes to Brandon Morrow. See, the right-hander was in fact one of the earliest acquisitions by the then fresh-faced executive, landing in Toronto just about a week after the team said goodbye to Roy Halladay. That was back in late 2009, but in baseball years …
In some ways, Morrow was a mission statement: that the Blue Jays would go after high-upside types with a singular vision of building depth that can all come together like a “freight train” one day.
Remember those days? Morrow was just a 25-year-old then, a post-hype former top prospect who’d been through the wringers with the Seattle Mariners, but so full of tantalizing ace-like talent and stuff. And what stuff it was, with the youngster posting ridiculous strikeout rates of 10.95 and 10.19 to lead the league’s starters between 2010 and 2011.
When Morrow finally puts the whole package together, much like the Jays — they’d be unstoppable.
Well, it’s now years later, and both the team and the pitcher are now considerably more jaded having tried to do just that, and have to answer to a different set of facts. For the Blue Jays, that they went all in to put together an engine that would propel this AL East freight train forward, only to see it derailed before it could leave the station.
For the 29-year-old (no longer post-hype) Morrow? That he’s yet to throw a complete season without being hurt, that his strikeouts have declined steadily with a new pitch-to-contact approach, that he’s posted ERAs at or above 4.49 in three of his four seasons, and that he was a -0.1 fWAR player in 2013 coming off yet another injury-plagued season.
In this sense, you could say that Morrow’s career with the Blue Jays and the team’s journey towards being a contender are irrevocably tied — with the only current conclusion being that they’ve failed spectacularly.
And just as Anthopoulos will had into his pivotal fifth season as the team GM to turn the ship around, so too will Morrow enter the potential final year of his contract (there is a $10 million option in 2014) with the Blue Jays; and if you didn’t get where all this was going already, let’s just say that neither should get too comfortable about their futures with the team.
While Morrow is a “lock” for a rotation job in 2014, that’s really more of a figure of speech, because there is actually nothing certain about his role. First of all, he’ll have his forearm strain (basically the mother of all red flags) to contend with, making it all but a certainty that he will again miss some time in 2014. Then there’s the matter of his homer-prone ways, as he dished out an alarming 1.99 HR/9 over 54.1 IP in 2013.
Someone should remind him that pitching to contact only works when a pitcher is getting ground balls, yes?
In short, Morrow is essentially no longer someone with upside that the team is willing to wait on, but instead someone who will be pitching for his job in a potential contract year. He’s well into his prime, and has largely only shown setbacks instead of progress; and if he continues down that path, it might not even be that surprising if he wasn’t in a Blue Jays uniform by the end of the year.
So much for job security, eh?