A friend of mine submitted a question for the next Blue Jays From Away Mailbag that started me thinking. I won’t jump into answering his question here but I’ll use it to open a discussion that has been nagging at me for a while: What are the Blue Jays doing to Ricky Romero?
The Blue Jays have had a revolving door of a roster in 2014. There has been lots of talk about pitching depth. Marcus Stroman made his MLB debut already this season. Folks are glued to the progress of Aaron Sanchez. Heck, even Liam Hendriks (a former Minnesota Twin) got a chance to start a big league game this season. With all of the talk of current Blue Jays pitching success (see Mark Buehrle) and the future contributions of those in the minors, it seems that Romero is disappearing into the background…and beyond.
For years, I have been a fan of Ricky Romero. He was once the ‘ace’ of the Blue Jays pitching staff. His fire and ferocity on the mound endeared him to me. His 2009 through 2011 years were great and culminated in an All-Star nod in 2011. And then, the wheels fell off. He won just 9 games in 2012 while walking 105, compiling a 5.77 ERA. It was so hard to watch. It was as though he had forgotten how to throw strikes. And, his 7.1 innings in 2013 were even uglier.
Take a look at the dramatic drop off in performance:
Romero was sent down. And hard (see below). The Blue Jays did not spare Romero’s feelings and have not since. They are still paying him $7.5M a year for this season and next. They also hold a team option on him for 2016 of $13.1M with a $600K buyout (contract info from BaseballReference.com). Consider a few things: 1) The club has all of this money committed to him 2) The fact that NO team claimed him when he was removed from the 40 man roster which means 3) No team wants to swing a deal for him. It would seem no one in baseball wants anything to do with Ricky Romero. Aside from just plain bumming me out, this highlights something for me: the Blue Jays appear to be letting a commodity waste away into obscurity. Don’t they owe it to themselves, if not the player, to do everything in their power to help Romero return to the AL Beast he once was?
So, what have they been doing? Well, at the end of March , 2013, the Blue Jays sent Romero down to Dunedin to work on his mechanics. This piece by Gregor Chisholm at MLB.com talks about the thinking behind the move. Basically, they watched him struggle in 2012 and considered he might need some changes. They let it go until the END OF SPRING 2013(!) to finally address it. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to address these changes during the off season and have him enter spring with necessary adjustments in tow? Further in the piece, we find out the club wanted to wait to see how the tendinitis in his knees recovered from the off season. But, we also hear that Pete Walker (sort of, almost, maybe) regretted letting it go on so long.
In this piece entitled “Romero Searches for Success” by Alexis Brudnicki at the Canadian Baseball Network, we learn that Romero had actually been battling through pain in his elbow that eventually required surgery. Romero tells Brudnicki that he ‘gutted out’ the season to try and help his team. He put the team first ahead of his own health. He regrets making that decision now, though. Apparently, his knees have still been bothering him. He has been injected with his own bone marrow to attempt to promote the regeneration of the structures of the knee. It is really cool what science can do for athletes these days (although it’s believed that the treatment didn’t help very much). What is not cool is the team not picking up on the fact that he’s been battling through injury.
Granted, a pitcher is responsible for telling the team he is suffering, but how did they not think something was awry healthwise? They’ve said they knew something was off with Romero, yet they took the ‘wait and see’ approach. They stood and watched in what seems like bewilderment…just like the rest of us. Except, we aren’t responsible for addressing the issues. They are.
Now, in the Canadian Baseball Network piece, we hear that Randy St. Claire (AAA) is helping Romero go back to his original mechanics. Far be it for me to question those who know much more than me about this sort of thing, but doesn’t this sound a little like they are making it up as they go along? Meanwhile, Romero is floundering.
In Buffalo, he is not having much success either. Take a look:
Whatever is being done to help Ricky is not working. Perhaps all it is doing is serving to shake his confidence. I remember watching him pitch last season. As he threw walk after walk, the look on his face, the complete lack of faith in his own abilities was very painful for me. Seriously. It broke my heart watching him. I can’t imagine what he felt like, let alone what it would feel like to have that feeling over and over again.
There are those who would say that baseball is about performance and there is no room for emotion. A team cannot get caught up in protecting its players from emotional crisis, etc. However, in the case of Ricky Romero, it would appear that they could be doing more. In fact, it would appear that they are not really sure what they ARE doing. They’ve demoted him, removed him from the 40 man roster, altered his mechanics and altered them back, all while sending the message that they have no idea how to help him. The title of the above piece says it all. Romero is searching. Perhaps, on his own.
The Blue Jays owe it to Ricky Romero to do everything they possibly can to help him rebound. They owe it to him as a financial commodity, as a player and as a human being.