OK… we’ve got the Blue Jays 2020 starting rotation in good shape now courtesy a mix and match from the likes of Carlos Carrasco, Hyun-jin Ryu, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark to supplement the existing arms of Matt Shoemaker and the best of a bevy of youngsters like Trent Thornton, Anthony Kay or Jacob Waguespack. That brings us back about 300 feet in the stadium to … the bullpen.
Last year’s bullpen wasn’t “lights out” but actually functioned reasonably well for Toronto, especially considering how much they were called upon due to the unreliable starters. So it might seem little needs doing to it. That’s true…ish.
The star of the bullpen is fittingly, the closer. Ken Giles. Disliked in Houston, Giles has been terrific in his run in Toronto and seems to have fit in very well. His 1.87 ERA and 83 Ks in 53 innings was not that far off All star Roberto Osuna (whom he was traded for) without the stigma of domestic violence hanging over him. He is arbitration eligible and expected to get about $8M if he goes to it. Needless to say, there’s a vocal minority around the Jays organization clammoring to trade him to save money and rake in another minor league prospect or two.
I on the other hand, would see him as the cornerstone of the bullpen and a good piece for the competitive future and would be looking to extend out his contract for a couple more years. It would take a blockbuster offer to get me to give up the one Grade A component of the ‘pen.
With the rosters expanding to 26 in 2020, Toronto is expected to likely run a 13-man pitching staff (which is the new maximum allowed) meaning 8 in the bullpen. While there are enough arms already, the issue is with the quality of them, especially now that Tim Mayza (the most reliable lefty last season and team leader in appearances) is gone for the year with Tommy John surgery. Add to that the team’s baffling DFA of both Ryan Tepera, a relative veteran despite having just parts of 5 seasons behind him, and Justin Shafer, a hard thrower with a few control issues but high upside, and there’s a definite need to add on.
The good news is that the additions needn’t be as many or as high-profile as the rotation calls for. The Jays will still have some decent arms back there, including Derek Law (who was second on the club last year with 58 appearances), Wilmer Font and a guy some on MLB.com called the team’s MVP- Sam Gaviglio. I wouldn’t put him in that category, but he certainly has taken to his important role as a “long man” in the bullpen well, and hurled 95 innings out of it last season with a solid 4:1 K:BB ratio. However, there is still a need there.
First and foremost, with Mayza’s injury, they don’t have any reliable southpaws left for the bullpen. While my “plan” would probably add Daniel Norris and convert him to relief, they still would need one conventional left-handed arm there. Big Drew Pomeranz would be a good fit, having fallen out of favor as a starter but finishing the year strongly in the Brewers bullpen, with a 2.39 ERA and a great 45:8 strikeout to walk ratio. He only turned 31 so could have a long bullpen life ahead, so I’d offer him a decent three year contract at a good rate for such – maybe $20M over the three. Tony Sipp would be a good fall-back option, although at 36 he shows signs of decline. But he’d be a good one year addition as long as at a low price.
They could use another veteran righty or two as well, and there are several good free agent options who shouldn’t break the bank, like Collin McHugh and former-Jay Tyler Clippard. I’d try to get at least one of them, and failing that, chat with our scouts (who seem very capable in that narrow field of evaluating under-the-radar relief pitchers) and try to trade for one, which shouldn’t be difficult. The Rodney Dangerfield’s of the baseball world, “middle” relievers get tossed about freely and cheaply and a decent right hander or two could probably be acquired for one of Toronto’s extraneous young, but so-so outfielders like Jonathan Davis or Derek Fisher, or perhaps for a low-level minor league pitcher.
Right – that’s a serviceable bullpen… onto the position players next!
ADDENDUM: only an hour or so after I posted this, Toronto announced they signed AJ Cole to a minor league deal…a perfect example of picking up a decent veteran RH with experience (Cle. last year) on the cheap. A smart though small step forward.