Jays need to get better ó now

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero throws against the Seattle Mariners during the third inning...

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero throws against the Seattle Mariners during the third inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Toronto July 21, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:18 PM ET

Alex Anthopoulos is in stealth mode. Under the radar. Quiet. Too quiet.

Something must be happening.

Of course, even if he was here, there and everywhere, out and about and talking up his usual storm, there wouldnít be the slightest hint if something is up. Thatís his style and it serves him well.

But if there is a deal to be made in these days leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline, be assured that the Blue Jays GM will be jumping through hoops to get it done.

The question, as the Jays get set for a six-game homestand this week ó three against the Orioles and three against the Rangers ó is what heís trying to accomplish.

Many teams are expected to be sniffing around Torontoís bevy of available relief pitchers but Anthopoulosís love of draft choices, which he can collect only if they sign elsewhere as free agents, might deter him from dealing.

It is a safe bet that Anthopoulos is neither exclusively a seller nor exclusively a buyer. He could be both if the right opportunity presents itself.

The Jays are at a precarious point in their cycle of development. Anthopoulosís moves to rebuild the franchise into a self-sustaining perennial contender with homegrown players, drafted and developed, then supplemented with a sprinkling of primetime-ready components, has struck a chord with the Toronto fanbase.

Unfortunately, patience can be fleeting, because this process takes time. The fans have not flocked back to the ballpark in droves, understandably enough. While there is approval in general for the program, it is questionable that fans are going to shell out big money until they start to see this team on par with their competition.

In Torontoís case, the competition happens to be New York and Boston, whose wealth all but guarantees them a competitive position year after year. In any other division, with the growing nucleus that is being built around Jose Bautista and Adam Lind on the offensive side and around Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow on the pitching side, fans might legitimately expect that itís time for the Jays to buy a free agent or two to start slugging it out for a playoff spot.

That expectation has to be met by a commitment from the team management and that is where Anthopoulos finds himself. How much longer can they hold off making a play for established players to fill in around the homegrowns?

Thatís probably not a question for this week but more for the coming offseason. But if the Jays are going to make significant moves this week, it needs to be for a player or players who are ready to contribute now and, hopefully, for a season or two to come.

As this season unfolds and that includes not just the big-league Jays but the baby Jays as well, a strong case can be made that an established starting pitcher needs to be added to the mix. There are plenty of excellent pitching prospects in the Toronto system but itís questionable if any of them can win now. Kyle Drabek is still going to be a good pro. So might Zach Stewart, but both have shown they are a step away.

Some of the recent ineffectiveness of the bullpen can possibly be traced to overexposure because the pitchers in the starting rotation are not getting deep enough into games. Ideally, youíd like to see starters routinely get into the seventh or eighth innings. Too often, the Jays starters hit the wall after five or six, leaving more than three full innings, on average, per night to the bullpen.

Offensively, this Jays team is close to good enough. By the end of this week, itís a good bet that Brett Lawrie will be promoted to join a team that has been outscored by only Boston, New York and Texas in the American League this year.

If, as they have been saying for the last couple of years, the team ownership is willing to increase payroll significantly when the time comes, then maybe another established bat would be enough.

But right now, whatís needed is a shot in the arm for a pitching staff that sits 11th of 14 AL teams in ERA and which has averaged less than six innings from its starters.

It isnít about this year. But it is about trying to satisfy the expectations for 2012 of a fanbase, not to mention those of the players currently in the Jays clubhouse.


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