The Toronto Blue Jays had every reason to be excited about not just what Marcus Stroman could do on the mound in 2015, but what he could do for their chances of winning their first division title since 1993.

But sadly, the key word is “had.” Whatever hopes the Blue Jays had for Stroman in 2015 are gone now.

Straight from the Blue Jays themselves, here’s the bad news:

Per’s Gregor Chisholm, Stroman hurt his knee during pitchers’ fielding practice Tuesday morning. And though the club is seeking a second opinion, Toronto play-by-play man Mike Wilner says general manager Alex Anthopoulos is “confident” the diagnosis won’t change.

From the sound of things, Stroman is too:

So, there it is. Barring a miracle, Stroman is done for the year.

His injury deserves to be seen as a devastating blow for Major League Baseball as a whole. The 23-year-old was definitely a player to watch in 2015 after debuting to a 3.65 ERA in 2014. He was also a player very much worth rooting for, as anyone who follows him on Twitter knows that he has one of baseball’s more charismatic personalities.

But more to the point, Stroman‘s injury is certainly a devastating blow for the Blue Jays. He figured to be a big part of their drive for the American League East title in 2015, and making up for his absence isn’t going to be easy.

The Blue Jays were good enough to win 83 games in 2014 and made it clear when they added Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson early in the winter that they had their eyes on even more wins in 2015.

The projections indicated that was possible. Entering Tuesday, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections and FanGraphs both had the Blue Jays projected to win 83 games. Given the nature of these things, that’s effectively saying they had a shot at 85-90 wins.

That was with a healthy Stroman, however. That’s an important note, as both systems were anticipating he would be pretty good in 2015:

These numbers may not look like much at first glance, but both WAR projections pegged Stroman as Toronto’s best starting pitcher in 2015, ahead of veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle and fellow youngster Drew Hutchison.

And if anything, they were too conservative. 

One thing the nerd community—to which yours truly belongs—likes to do in preparation for a coming season is dig into things here and there and try to pinpoint up-and-coming stars. We bring this up because Stroman‘s name popped up a lot in these digging sessions.

For example, Doug Thorburn of Baseball Prospectus made a case for Stroman‘s mechanics as the best in the AL East, and FanGraphs‘ Jeff Sullivan highlighted how Stroman had an absurd set of pitch comps. His six-pitch repertoire basically contained Roy Halladay’s sinker, Johnny Cueto’s four-seamer, Jose Fernandez’s curveball, Josh Beckett’s cutter, Gerrit Cole’s slider and Chad Billingsley’s changeup.

According to FanGraphs, Fielding Independent Pitching says Stroman was more like a 2.84 ERA pitcher than a 3.65 ERA pitcher in 2014, as he excelled in the walk, home run and ground-ball departments while getting by OK in the strikeouts department.

What his mechanics and stuff breakdowns did was highlight how he was poised to make good on that evaluation in 2015. A 200-inning, sub-3.00 ERA season wasn’t out of the question.

You can use your imagination. The projections said that merely “good enough” production from Stroman was going to make the Blue Jays a contender. Had he lived up to the loftier expectations instead, the Blue Jays might have emerged as the team to beat in the AL East.

So much for that. Now that Stroman is injured, the Blue Jays must turn to alternative solutions.

To this end, first up are right-handers Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez and left-hander Daniel Norris. The three entered camp with eyes on the No. 5 spot in Toronto’s starting rotation, but now the Blue Jays may have to plan on inserting two of them into their starting rotation rather than just one.

Fortunately, each member of this trio comes with a bright side. Estrada is an experienced starter and was quietly a solid pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012 and 2013. Sanchez and Norris, meanwhile, are both among’s top 50 prospects.

However, each of them also comes with a not-so-bright side.

Estrada’s long-ball tendency is a potential disaster at Rodgers Centre. Sanchez is more about stuff than command at present, which helps explain the buzz about him being used as Toronto’s closer. Norris projects as more of a typical starter, but his starting experience in the majors consists of only one start.

If you’re thinking the Blue Jays could make a trade for an established starter, they most certainly could. But if you have an ace in mind, there are two potential roadblocks.

One is that prospective sellers would presumably use Stroman‘s injury to try and leverage the Blue Jays into giving up Sanchez, Norris or center fielder Dalton Pompey. Another is that, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Blue Jays are lacking in loose change these days:

With this being the case, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Blue Jays go into the season with what they have and see how it works out.

If they’re lucky, that would result in two pitchers from the Estrada/Sanchez/Norris trio proving they can handle themselves. If they’re really lucky, they’d find out that former lefty ace Johan Santana, who signed on a minor league contract, still has some gas in his tank.

If not, however, the Blue Jays would have to see what’s available on the summer trade market. And even if they’re more willing to spend money around then, the likely parity level in the American League could push bidding wars too far for their liking.

So, the Blue Jays are in a tight spot. They entered spring training with a team good enough to build on a strong 2014 season. Stroman‘s injury changes that, and it’s not going to be easy for the Blue Jays to un-change it.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted/linked.

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