Toronto Blue Jays Banking on the Great Canadian Hope

Will he be the next Joey Votto?

On paper it doesn’t make much sense. The Toronto Blue Jays recently traded starting pitcher Shaun Marcum to the Milwaukee Brewers for 20-year-old infield prospect Brett Lawrie. Last year Marcum, 28, anchored one of the best young pitching staffs in the league (top 10 in virtually every major category and third in strikeouts). The best news for the Blue Jays is that the average age of their main starters at the end of the 2010 season (Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow, Mark Rzepczynski, and Kyle Drabek) was 25 years old.

The fact that the staff was so young and so successful would lead one to believe that the Blue Jays would want to keep around a consistent, veteran presence. And that’s exactly what Marcum was. He was their Opening Day starter last season and went 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA. For his career, he is 37-25 with a 3.85 ERA in 120 career appearances, all with Toronto. Doesn’t get much more solid than that. Seems like the kind of guy you would want to keep around on a staff that is sure to go through many ups and downs in the next couple of years.

So why did the Blue Jays get rid of him?

Maybe the hope is that the oft-injured flamethrower Dustin McGowan, also 28, can come back healthy and take the reigns as the leader of the staff. Given his mechanics and the fact that he throws every pitch 98+ mph, however, I can’t say that scenario is too likely. The other is that Romero, 26, can blossom into the ace everyone hopes he will become. But he was wildly inconsistent last year and may be too young to be a rock in that #1 spot.

So that leaves just one answer: the Jays thought that Lawrie was too good to pass up. By all indications Lawrie was the top prospect in the Brewers organization, but there’s one fact about him that may have persuaded the Jays to make the deal. Lawrie was born and raised in Langley, British Columbia.

Stuck in a division with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, the Blue Jays may have made more of a PR move here than anything else. After watching Joey Votto take home NL MVP honors this year and Justin Morneau win the AL MVP a few years ago, the Jays may not want to see another Canadian pass them by.

But it’s possible that this is more than just a way to get Canadian butts in the seats. Is it possible that players flourish when playing in familiar surroundings? Now, I know that BC is a long ways from Toronto, but the Canadians love any form of Canuck when it comes to baseball. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some recent successful teams and see just how many players came from the area.

Turns out…not much can be proven. We’ll certainly keep an eye on Lawrie in the coming years and see whether he flourishes in the Canadian summer. If he turns out to be a stud, I’m guessing nobody will be lamenting the departure of solid 2-3 starter Shaun Marcum.

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