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.
Team Record: 12 – 16 (.429)
4th place all month
Player Of The Month – Randal Grichuk
The bar wasn’t set all that high but Grichuk delivered, as he did in June. Randal’s batting average didn’t budge during the final months but his 8 double, 6 homer performance meant a .553 slugging percentage. Coupled with ongoing solid OF defense, that merits a tip of the cap. Grichuk is showing himself to be a tremendously streaky player. If Toronto can find a way to keep him hot longer, he might become the star they had hoped he would be.
Pitcher Of The Month – Ken Giles
Second month in a row for the newcomer who says he’s enjoying his time here more than he did last year when he won a World Series in Houston. Giles was close to perfect in his 9 appearances this past month, going 7 for 7 in save opportunities and not allowing an earned run. An honorable mention to rookie Thomas Pannone who was 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA through 6 games (4 of them starts.)
Story Of The Month – Win One For The Gibby
No one was surprised but it was made official during the last week of the season that manager John Gibbons was departing the team after the season wrapped up. Gibbons earned the respect of his players, and the fans by being a “player’s manager” and being a far more approachable, chatty manager than the theoretically-more-talented John Farrell whom he replaced. Gibbons leaves as the second winningest Jays manager ever, behind only Cito Gaston (with whom the team won 2 World Series, of course.) Gibby and the organization found a classy way to end his tenure, with a joint news conference before the final home game, allowing Toronto fans to show their appreciation.
Next up, later this week we look at the whole year in summary and perhaps the playoff outlook. In the meantime, a few quickie predictions for the post-season:
NL— wild card Colorado
NLDS – LA over Atlanta, Milwaukee over Colorado
NLCS – Milwaukee … who woulda thunk it?
AL– wild card Oakland … yes, NY should win easily. But those A’s are just surprising
ALDS – Boston over Oakland, Houston over Cleveland
ALCS — Boston
World series… to be continued!
Team Record – 13 – 15 (.464)
4th place in AL East all month
A lacklustre month, with a record that looks better than it was perhaps given that there were 10 games against the worst pair of team’s in the game, Baltimore and Kansas City. The month ended with one-time MVP Josh Donaldson traded to Cleveland and classy outfielder Curtis Granderson off to Milwaukee.
Player of the Month- Kendrys Morales
Morales brought a little excitment to the city by hitting homers in 7 straight-games, best in Jays history and only a game off the whole MLB record. On the month, he hit 9 HR and had a pretty admirable .563 slugging percentage. Not a new version of 1992 Dave Winfield or ’93 Paul Molitor, but still a major league hitter and in a league without an Ortiz, one of the better DHs around. Honorable mention to the surprising but up-and-down Randal Grichuk who hit .317.
Pitcher of the Month – Ken Giles
His teammates didn’t set the bar very high. Toronto was giving up over 5 and a half runs a game, and opponents racked their scores up into double digits 6 times in the month. Newcomer Ken Giles in his first month with the team, never made it look easy…in 11 innings he gave up 4 homers and opponents hit .313 off him… and Yahoo sports writers even suggested he might be trying to help Philadelphia win against his own team. All that said, he was 7 for 7 in save opportunities for the Jays, and added a precarious but real stability to the back of the ‘pen. No matter how we try to spin it, there were simply no good starting pitchers for the team when viewed across the month.
And By the Way –
In case you’re wondering about some ex-Jays… since being traded, Steve Pearce is doing just fine in Boston as a backup first baseman and outfielder. He’s hitting .278 with 6 homers and a (career best) .394 OBP in 33 games with the Sox. All Star JA Happ has been all-star calibre with the Yanks… in 6 starts, he’s 5-0 over 34 innings (an average of 5 2/3 innings per game , same as with toronto earlier) and a pretty respectible 3.38 ERA. He’s certainly helping NY keep in the race, albeit a longshot, to win the division.
Seungwhan Oh has been very good in the mile high city, having a stellar 1.32 ERA and one win, one save in 15 relief appearances with the Rockies. John Axford , with LA Dodgers, and Aaron Loup with Philly each are on the disabled list now and did little in their new unis so far.
Story of the Month – Trailer of Upcoming Attractions
We got to see the catcher-of-the-future, Danny Jansen who’s looking very at home at the plate and behind it, outfielder Billy McKinney who seems better than Yankees scouts suggested when he was traded for Happ, and southpaw starter Thomas Pannone, who was brilliant against Baltimore , flirting with a no hitter, in his first start then was hit hard by the same team 6 days later. None look like All Stars yet, but all show potential for a great future, and when added in to the likes of Guerrero Jr, Bichette and Tellez perhaps point towards a great team on the horizon.