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The 2011 Bullpen Situation

First off, I am quite excited to be collaborating with Mat and contributing to Jays Journal. I have been a lifelong Jays fan, and having a love for the sport of baseball as a whole has sent me on many trips across Canada and the U.S. to watch this great game. I plan on channeling that passion into high quality content for all of you to read, and do whatever I can to help Jays Journal become one of the best sites on the internet to follow. That being said, there are many more important things than my brief personal introduction, and one of those is the 2011 bullpen of our Toronto Blue Jays.

The Jays bullpen was definitely an area of concern heading into the off-season, and will likely endure some sort of face lift before Opening Day 2011. The Jays used 16 different relievers throughout 2010 to post a 4.09 ERA, good for 10th in the AL and 21st in MLB. The Jays bullpen was near the bottom third of a lot of pitching categories including hits, home runs, and OPS. The Jays have decisions to make on Downs, Frasor, and Gregg, as well as many internal candidates to consider. This does not include free agency or anybody the crafty Alex Anthopoulos could acquire in a trade either. Let’s look at impending free agents Downs, Frasor, and Gregg first:

Scott Downs – To say Downs had a great year would be an understatement. How good was his 2010 production? In 67 games this season, Downs posted a tidy 2.64 ERA in 61.1 innings pitched. He tied career lows with a 6.9 H/9 and a 0.4 HR/9, and established a new career low with a 2.1 BB/9. There was not a lefty with at least 60 appearances that had a lower ERA in the AL. Not only would that kind of production be very hard to replace, but his veteran presence would be quite beneficial in 2011. This is especially the case in dealing with fellow southpaw starters turned relievers in David Purcey and possibly Marc Rzepcynski. Being one of the top left handed relievers in baseball likely won’t come cheap, as Downs is sure to receive a raise from the $4M he made in 2010, but hopefully Rogers will see Downs’ value both on and off the field and offer him a contract for 2011.

However, should Downs, a Type A free agent, decline an arbitration offer from the Jays and test the market (which he likely will do), he would at least net the Jays 2 relatively high picks in the 2011 draft. Downs’ proven track record and the fact he’s a lefty increase his chances of another team willing to give up their picks to sign him.

Jason Frasor – Frasor had another solid, healthy year with the Jays in 2010. Despite starting the year as the closer and eventually losing the job to Kevin Gregg after some struggles, his 69 appearances were 2nd on the team (good for 15th in the AL) and he had an intriguing 9.2 K/9. Frasor could definitely be replaced easier than Downs, although Frasor’s unexpected qualifying as a Type A free agent creates a dilemma. The Jays will likely offer him arbitration, but the market for a team willing to surrender 2 draft picks for a right handed non-closer isn’t exactly booming. It is still possible Frasor pitches for a different team in 2011, but he could accept arbitration (if the Jays offer it) and return in 2011.

Kevin Gregg – The Jays have a tough call with Gregg. He posted a career high 37 saves and nearly tied a career low with a 3.51 ERA, even with his 6 blown saves. He also posted a respectable 8.8 K/9 and 0.6 HR/9. The Jays can exercise a $4.5M option for 2011, or a $8.75M option for the 2011 and 2012 seasons with a $0.75M buyout. He also logged the most saves as a Jay since B.J. Ryan notched 38 in 2006, and interesting considering he did not take the closing reigns until almost 1 month into the season. While it wasn’t necessarily pretty every time Gregg came trotting in, he still got the job done and was a valuable veteran at the back end of the bullpen . With every other free agent closer requiring the loss of at least one draft pick, there aren’t really many options other than trades or promoting an existing reliever to close games. While AA said during the end of season press conference that he does not necessarily consider veterans a necessity in the bullpen, Gregg could likely return for the 2011 season, especially if both Downs and Frasor walk. Should the Jays offer him arbitration and Gregg signs elsewhere, his Type B status will at least net the Jays a sandwich pick.

INTERNAL CANDIDATES

Shawn Camp – Camp led the Jays in appearances as well as innings pitched, and was 2nd on the team with a 2.99 ERA. He was tied for 10th in the AL in appearances, and is bound for a raise in arbitration from the $1.15M he made in 2010. Consider him virtually a lock for 2011 as a long reliever.

Casey Janssen – Janssen had remarkably similar numbers to his Type A free agent teammate Jason Frasor. His ERA of 3.67 was good for 3rd on the team among right handers, and 68.2 innings pitched was 2nd only to Camp. He’s arbitration eligible and will receive a raise from the $0.7M he earned in 2010. Very likely he’s in the pen in 2011.

David Purcey – Purcey showed serious potential in his first full season as a reliever. In 33 games he posted a 3.71 ERA and a respectable 8.5 K/9. He did have some control issues at times, but with Brian Tallet‘s departure…err…possible departure, Purcey could be relied on as a primary lefty option out of the ‘pen, especially if the Jays don’t bring back Downs. It’s almost guaranteed he’s with the Jays in 2011, whether it be in a situational role or long relief.

Jesse Carlson – Carlson received a late promotion to the big club and appeared in only 20 games at the MLB level this season. The results weren’t exactly spectacular, where he posted a 4.61 ERA to go along with a 1.317 WHIP. As a fan of Jesse’s personality and work ethic, he could put in the offseason work to have a good spring and have an outside chance of cracking the Jays next year.

Josh Roenicke – Having success at the AAA level, Roenicke has laboured in his Major League appearances. This flamethrower from the Scott Rolen trade has shown glimpses of success as evidenced with his 8.5 K/9, but his constant control issues (6.2 BB/9) will likely have him start the year out at AAA.

Rommie Lewis – After an injury shortened season where he posted a 6.75 ERA at the Major League level, Lewis has had successful shoulder surgery and could be in the mix as a 2011 southpaw option with a strong spring. It really depends how he bounces back from surgery.

Taylor Buchholz – A harmless waiver claim from Colorado by Anthopoulos, Buchholz returned from Tommy John surgery near the end of the year and did not surrender a hit in 2 appearances for the Jays. As someone who posted a 2.17 ERA in 63 games in 2008, he represents another low cost, high reward pickup for the Jays. It will be interesting to see what kind of spring he has, but he could be a dark horse for a role in 2011.

FREE AGENTS

The majority of quality free agent relievers this off-season require a surrendering of a draft pick. That being said, certain relievers would definitely be worth the price, but the Jays won’t likely be too active on the free agency front for relievers. Notable names include:

Type A – Tampa Bay’s Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and Rafael Soriano, along with Minnesota’s Matt Guerrier

Type B  – Tampa Bay’s Joaquin Benoit, Minnesota’s Jesse Crain and Jon Rauch, J.J. Putz of the White Sox, and Pedro Feliciano of the Mets

Other – Philadelphia’s Jose Contreras or Florida’s Will Ohman

Out of all of these possibilities though, the main realistic option that jumps out would be taking a chance on Tampa Bay’s Joaquin Benoit. He had an unbelievable first year back from surgery posting a 1.34 ERA in 63 games with an impressive 11.2 K/9. He did all of this in the AL East playing with the Rays, and what salary and how many years Benoit is asking for could be the deal breaker.

Well there you have it! If you were looking for information about Brian Tallet and Jeremy Accardo, I will have more on them in another article later in the week. In the mean time, I encourage everyone reading to sign up with FanSided and start some discussion on posts in the comment section below.

Until then!

-JM

Tags: Alex Anthopoulos Bullpen Free Agents Jason Frasor Kevin Gregg Scott Downs

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