Two days before Christmas in 2009, Brandon Morrow was traded to the Blue Jays for reliever Brandon League and outfield prospect Johermyn Chavez.
At the time it was hailed as a slam dunk, complete win of a trade for the Jays. They had unloaded a frustratingly inconsistent reliever with electric stuff and a seemingly weak mental makeup in League, for an equally electric, former first round draft pick in Morrow, who the team hoped could become a strong mid-rotation starting pitcher.
For whatever reason, the Mariners used Morrow primarily as a reliever, and ever since joining the Jays he has been a starting pitcher, at times showing amazing and unhittable stuff and at times struggling with command and consistency. Through his 295 IP as a starter with the Jays, he has an ERA of 4.64, with an almost 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio (350:123), and a WHIP of 1.39. They are respectable numbers, but an ERA near five is probably not what most people envisioned when they looked long-term at Morrow.
My question is, at what point in his career do we stop thinking that he has more unharnessed potential to unveil and just become comfortable with the pitcher that he currently is, and decide if that’s a player that has a future with a possible contender Toronto Blue Jays squad in the next year or two?
Everyone talks glowingly – and rightfully so – about Brandon Morrow’s stuff and his potential. But, while he still likely has his prime years ahead of him, this isn’t a fresh-faced rookie whose early career inconsistencies can be blamed on a lack of seasoning.
Morrow has been in the big leagues for parts of five seasons now and at 27 years of age, while we all would still love to see him make leaps and bounds forwards, maybe this is quite simply who Morrow is destined to be? Maybe his career arc will simply be that of someone who on nights he is on can baffle hitters and excite fans, but on nights when he is off can be in for an arduous night?
While we’re all hoping the years ahead see Morrow develop into the shutdown ace his stuff gives him the potential to be, perhaps that’s now an unrealistic bar to set, or maybe it always has been?
It could very well be that he’s simply a guy that has a lack of consistency, who despite great stuff, gives up too many walks, and grooves too many fastballs to ever end up being a consistent top-of-rotation guy.
So is Morrow, as he currently has pitched over the past two years, someone who should be given a pass into the starting five for the forseeable future? With young pitchers like Drabek and Alvarez moving their way into the picture to join established veterans like Romero and any other potential free agent signings down the road, it’s hard to say.
Put it this way … Let’s go back to that trade in 2009. At the time, I – and I think most other Blue Jays fans – loved it. It was definitely time to cut ties with League and adding Morrow was an exciting move. If you could swap those players back right now, in September 2011, would you want League instead of Morrow? Personally, I wouldn’t, but that’s more so due to my dislike of League than it is anything to do with either of their performances. It’s hard to argue with what League did this year though, putting up an All-Star campaign and giving Seattle a reliable late innings option in the bullpen (something the Jays certainly could have used this year).
That being said, it’s hard to truly say Toronto won or lost that trade, this early into it, as League could easily regress next year and Morrow could be more effective, it’s really tough to say.
I know Morrow can and will have better seasons than he is currently having in 2011, but I think people might need to temper their expectations a bit if they expect, at 27 years of age, that he’s still likely to develop into a top-end ace.
* Just as a little disclaimer: While I wrote this post after tonight’s game, I had the idea for the blog post before Morrow got beat around tonight by the Red Sox. I just didn’t want this to seem like I’m being too results-oriented because of Morrow’s latest rash of poor outings.