Luke Prokopec, We Hardly Knew Ye
Jim Turner - March 5, 2003

The last out of the World Series had barely settled into Darin Erstad's glove when Luke Prokopec signed a deal returning him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The young right-hander was one of J.P Ricciardi's more inspired pickups last winter, and was expected to be a mainstay in a young Jays rotation.

One of the best pitching prospects in baseball, the amiable Aussie could have become a very popular and marketable part of the team's identity. Alongside Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter, Prokopec was supposed to join a corps of young arms that in its best seasons could approach Hudson-Mulder-Zitoism.

It didn't work out. Prokopec's electric stuff abandoned him, and he spent his time in the rotation getting stomped like Colonel Sanders at a PETA convention, to the tune of a 6.78 ERA.

As often happens when a young pitcher suffers a huge dip in performance, something was amiss with Prokopec's arm, and after fighting elbow troubles all season, he was diagnosed with a torn labrum. He's undergone surgery, and the Cincinnati Reds thought enough of him to snag him in the rule V draft, but then they still believe in Joey Hamilton. It's unlikely that Prokopec will do anything productive from a mound in 2003.

So, in an upset, Graeme Lloyd retains the franchise lead in wins among Australian-born pitchers, edging Prokopec 5-2. The Dodgers, meanwhile, received a year of quality relief from Paul Quantrill and a starting shortstop in Cesar Izturis, while the Jays got Prokopec and Chad Ricketts, a minor league reliever with closer-like numbers, who missed much of 2002 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. It was still a good deal. Ricketts should be back by mid-season, and a return to form will mean a spot in the Jays pen. Izturis is one of the weakest hitting regulars in the majors, with just 1 homer and 14 walks in more than 400 at-bats, and unless he improves vastly, his glove won't be enough to carry his bat.

While I like Quantrill, he was overpaid, and probably at least a little over-rated, due to his Canadian heritage. Middle relievers, even good ones, are very replaceable commodities, so just getting out from under Quantrill's three-year, $9.6 million contract, made this deal worthwhile.

Prokopec wasn't the only Blue Jay with an injured wing to leave town. Opening Day starter Chris Carpenter, expected by many to have a breakout season in 2002, misread the memo, and had a breakdown season instead, struggling badly before joining Prokopec on the operating table. Carpenter, ninth all-time in victories among Jays pitchers, signed with St. Louis, and isn't expected back until mid-season.

Then we come to Mike Sirotka, product of the famed Gouty for Gimpy trade of 2001, one of the least productive trades for all parties involved, perhaps in major league history. Sirotka logged two years as a Blue Jay, collecting $6.8 million dollars with nary an inning pitched, thus shattering the team's dollars to innings pitched ratio, previously held by Ken Dayley. Sirotka signed with the Chicago Cubs in late October.

Ideally, Ricciardi would've preferred that all three pitchers stick around and broaden the team's talent base, but I think there's an upside to their departures. The last two seasons have been littered with wait-and-sees, especially surrounding Sirotka, as fans and club officials wondered if he'd ever make any kind of contribution. Would Steve Parris ever return to do anything useful? Bob File?

Now the Jays can focus on the arms they do have, without the spectres of Prokopec, Carpenter and Sirotka hovering in rehab stints or waiting with baited breath for reports of throwing pain-free off a mound for 10 minutes.

This spring and this season will be about the Millers, Hendricksons, Thurmans, Arnolds and Majewskis getting their shots, joined shortly thereafter by the next batch of college draft picks to be injected into the system. Prokopec was a good idea that didn't pan out. That the Jays are now showing the ability to identify such talents is encouraging, because not all of them will end up in the care of Dr. Frank Jobe and his colleagues.