The Toronto Blue Jays' front office knew the situation when they traded Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies this winter. Staring upward at three powerhouses in the AL East, and seeing the Baltimore Orioles rapidly improving, they had to reload their farm system with young players if they wanted to avoid a perpetual spot in the cellar. Halladay presented them with the best opportunity to acquire young talent and rebuild the team. And here's the thing: even with Doc gone, the Jays' pitching might not be so bad in 2010.
It would seem, at face value, that losing Halladay would be devastating to the Jays' staff, which allowed 4.76 runs per game, 11th in the AL in 2009. But even though Halladay threw 239 innings, the rest of the rotation was ravaged by injuries and there's reason to believe the Jays have the depth and upside in their rotation to improve on last year's performance.
Of the 12 pitchers who started games for Toronto, one was Brian Tallet, a career reliever who posted a 5.41 ERA in 25 starts. Getting him out of the rotation will surely give the club a boost. Another starter was Brett Cecil, a college closer who recently transitioned to the rotation and had a 5.30 ERA. Just 23 years old, Cecil was a first-round pick in 2006, and there's plenty of reason to be optimistic about a guy who averaged a strikeout per inning in the minors. Add the return of Shaun Marcum, who missed all of 2009 while recovering from elbow surgery, with an improvement from Ricky Romero (the club's 2005 first-rounder), and it's not hard to foresee the Jays' staff improving on its 2009 numbers.
CHONE projects the five presumed Blue Jays starters -- Romero, Cecil, Marcum, Brandon Morrow (the Mariners' 2006 first-rounder acquired in an off-season trade), and Mark Rzepczynski -- to post a 4.75 ERA, not much worse than the 4.66 ERA their starters posted last season. It would be highly unlikely for those five to make all 162 starts, but the Jays do have a number of backup plans, including Dustin McGowan, who finally appears healthy after a rotator cuff injury sidelined him in 2009, and Jesse Litsch, who should return mid-season following his own elbow surgery.
None of these guys will be as good as Halladay, at least not this season, but with three recent first-round picks in the fold, there's reason to believe Toronto's rotation will be better in 2010, even with Halladay in Philly.
Joe Pawlikowski is a writer for FanGraphs