Last time we looked at the starting pitching, which was a considerable strength for the Jays in 2016 and could be the same next year – if they stay healthy and JA Happ and Aaron Sanchez’s years weren’t total flukes. I still would like another starter signed on as an insurance policy, so to speak, and suggest trying to bring back RA Dickey, although i rather doubt he’d be wanting such a reduced role.
The bullpen was a little bit of a nail-biting, roller coaster ride this past year, but still on the whole came through well. This was especially true after the trade deadline with the addition of Joaquin Benoit and Jason Grilli. Roberto Osuna has at 21 established himself as one of the most poised and polished closers in the game (and I might add drawn considerable attention from the crew at TBS-TV who were all but in awe of him in nationally-broadcast playoff games) and got only better under the pressure of October. Throw in suprise Rule 5 rookie Joe Biagini, and Grilli, who’s contract option is apparently being picked up and if they just re-sign Benoit ( who was lights out with Toronto, allowing just one earned run in 23+ innings) they should be in great shape for right-handers in the ’17 bullpen. Toss in someone like Ryan Tepera or Bo Schulz , or perhaps Gavin Floyd if he’s healthy in spring and it should be a strength to work with.
The left side is cause for more concern. For the past couple of years, southpaw bullpen has equated to Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup for Toronto. This off-season though, Cecil is a free agent and neither was all that reliable or stellar in ’16 anyway. Loup will be back, presumably, but the 5.02 ERA and .288 opponents average this year were career worsts for the low-throwing Louisianan. Mind you, that was in a small sample (21 games) but even that has to be tempered by the realization that the sample was small because he was relegated to the minors most of the summer due to poor performance. Perhaps an off-season adjustment to his delivery might help.
Cecil is more of an enigma. Intellectually I know not to make too much of the W-L of a reliever, but still his 2016 1-7 looked ugly. Maybe that idea was heightened by his 3.93 ERA and .269 opponent’s average, both worst for him since 2012. On the other hand, his August-September performance was quite good (4 earned runs in 17 2/3 innings) and his K:BB ratio was great as usual – 45:8. As much as during the season it seemed he’d buckle under pressure, in the post-season, under real pressure, he shone, keeping the opponents hitless and off the board in 6 appearances. The Jays should make an effort to keep him around, but it’s questionable whether he’s still worth the $3.8M he got this year, let alone a raise. Also questionable, in this season’s market, is whether other teams with a barer cupboard of pitching wouldn’t jack his value up into the stratosphere. There is likely to be an unfortunate lack of left-handed pitching in the sub-Chapman price range on the market this winter.
If Cecil did fly the coop, a pitcher worth investigating would be Travis Wood of the NL champs. As the Jays did with Cecil, the Cubs have transitioned Wood from a middling starter to a star specialty reliever. this regular season he appeared in 77 contests for Chicago, going 4-0 with a 2.95 ERA and holding left-handed hitters to a meagre .128 average and .217 slugging percentage. He’d be a great asset for Toronto in the late innings- but would also in all likelihood cost more than his current $6M. A cheaper but slightly less-effective option would be to go after “Scrabble”, Mark Rzepcynski, well-liked still in Toronto and coming off a reasonable year in Oakland. He did, however, pitch better against righties than lefties, curiously enough. Once again, it all comes down to dollars and cents, and that in turn likely is dependent upon knowing where Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are come April.
I’ll be back in a few days with a few final thoughts on the 2016 campaign and ideas for the winter ahead, as well as (hopefully) some kudos to the Indians. Take me out to the ballgame…