Mailbag: Do Jays need another starter?

Mailbag: Do Jays need another starting pitcher?

How would you feel if Toronto began the season with Shaun Marcum and Josh Towers filling the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation? Is Casey Janssen in the mix, too? I thought he pitched quite well at times last year.
-- Carter M., Saskatchewan

Toronto would probably feel better about its chances if it could obtain a better No. 3 starter to slot in behind Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett. The Jays will surely continue to explore their trade options. It's hard to predict how heading into the season with Marcum and Towers as the Nos. 4-5 starters might affect the club's success.

With a little more than a month to go before Spring Training, though, it's beginning to look more and more as if Gustavo Chacin will bump up to the third spot and Marcum and Towers will indeed be the top candidates for the final two spots. As with almost anything, there's a positive and a negative way to view the situation.

The positive way is to note that Marcum gained valuable experience last season, making 17 starts as a rookie and going 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA over his last seven outings. Another positive is to keep in mind that Towers led the Jays with 13 wins and notched more than 200 innings over 33 starts in 2005. Innings are what Toronto needs to replace now that Ted Lilly is out of the picture.

Then there's the negative outlook, which includes the fact that Marcum is inexperienced and hadn't started in the Majors before last season. It's also important to note that Towers struggled in 2006, when he went 1-9 with a 9.11 ERA in 12 starts and was demoted twice as a result.

In a perfect world, Marcum would improve upon what he learned in his rookie year, Towers would regain his control and pitch like he did in '05 and Halladay, Burnett and Chacin -- all of whom dealt with injuries in 2006 -- would stay healthy all season long. It's not a perfect world, though, and that's why the rotation as a whole currently looks less than dominant.

Janssen could be in the running for a rotation job this spring, too. At the start of 2006, the Jays didn't anticipate having to call up Janssen, who was in Class A the previous year. Over his first nine starts with the Jays, he went 5-2 with a 3.07 ERA. Over his last eight, though, Janssen went 1-8 with a 8.58 ERA. He'd have to really impress during Spring Training to win a job this season.

I think that Scott Downs would make a better No. 4 starter than Towers, based on their performances last season. With Marcum looking like a lock for a rotation spot, do you think this will become an option the Jays will explore?
-- Dave C., Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

It seems highly unlikely that Downs will become a regular starter for Toronto. True, the Jays have used the left-hander in spot starts over the past two seasons, but he was one of the club's most effective relievers last year. Downs has not been named as a candidate for one of the remaining rotation spots.

Downs was 5-1 with a 2.77 ERA in 54 relief appearances in 2006. In the American League, only Boston's Jonathan Papelbon held hitters to a lower batting average with runners on base than Downs (.134). As a starter, Downs went 1-1 with a 9.39 ERA over five outings. Toronto will probably continue to consider using Downs as a starter in emergency situations, but his primarly role will remain in relief.

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Do you think Dustin McGowan will be able to become the fifth starter this year or in the very near future?
-- Stephen S., Toronto

Marcum, Towers and Janssen appear to be the front-runners for the final two rotation spots, but there's an outside chance that McGowan could emerge as a candidate this spring. Toronto has bounced McGowan between starting and relieving for the past two seasons, but he enters 2007 as a starter.

The Jays are currently planning to send McGowan to Triple-A at the beginning of the season. Toronto secured a fourth option year for the right-hander, which means he wouldn't have to clear waivers before being sent to the Minors.

Where will Francisco Rosario be this year? Does he have a shot at the rotation?
-- Jason D., Tustin, Calif.

Rosario has worked predominantly as a starter throughout his Minor League career, and he did make one brief start for Toronto last season. At this point, though, the Jays seem to prefer Rosario as a reliever in the Majors.

Toronto will likely carry seven relievers at the onset of the season. Barring injury, B.J. Ryan, Brandon League, Jeremy Accardo, Jason Frasor, Brian Tallet and Downs all seem to be locks for jobs in the 'pen. Rosario and left-hander Davis Romero could be in the running for the final bullpen job.

Is there any chance the Jays will take a look at Jon Lieber? The Phillies have extra starting pitching, and Lieber could solve Toronto's need for a No. 3 starter.
-- Bryan C., Toronto

Toronto has had conversations with Philadelphia about the possibility of a trade involving Lieber. The talks didn't get too far, and the Phillies reportedly weren't even asking for Jays outfielder Alex Rios as part of any deal. Philadelphia is looking for bullpen help, and Toronto wasn't able to accomodate that need.

What is going to be Lyle Overbay's new number?
-- Nancy H., Etobicoke, Ontario

Overbay's new jersey number hasn't been officially revealed yet. He will not be wearing No. 35 again, though. At the press conference to introduce slugger Frank Thomas, who will wear No. 35 after asking Overbay for it, Toronto's new designated hitter said Overbay might don No. 11. Overbay wore that number early in his Major League career.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.