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Rebuilding the Jays Pen

OK, I’ve received quite a few emails asking questions about the Jays pen and what it may look like in 2011. Everyone seems to be on the same page in terms or the Jays letting Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Brian Tallet, and Kevin Gregg walk away, but the potential replacements and what the pen will look like seems to be on everyone’s mind right now so I’ll take a stab at it and see where the chips may fall. For a review of what the bullpen situation is, I recommend reviewing Jared Macdonald’s earlier post here.

The Closer Situation:

There are 2 trains of thought when it comes to closers and I’m sure we know exactly where Alex Anthopolous stands on the issue. There’s 1 train of thought that says you must have a top notch closer to win in baseball, and there’s another that says that you can find a good enough option out there without having to overspend. Well, last off season when Alex Anthopolous took Kevin Gregg on, everyone thought he was crazy. They said he’s get eaten alive in the AL East and would never become the closer. They preferred Scott Downs or Jason Frasor in the role. Well, now that we know what we know, and 37 saves later, Kevin Gregg looked like a decent pickup to fill the void left behind by the injury plagued BJ Ryan.

Now, that’s not to say that this off season will be different. There are some options sitting out there that look very attractive for the Jays and that could help solidify an area that I credit with enough losses to cost the Jays a playoff run. If the Jays pen had been better in 2010, it’s possible that they could have made a better run at the end of the year. Here are my candidates, put in the role either by trade, by FA acquisition, or internally:

Through Trade

1 – Heath Bell – 6-1/ 1.93 ERA/ 70 IP/ 56 HA/ 1 HR/ 28 BB/ 86 Ks

This guy is my top choice if I have the goods to get him and can afford the talent transfer. Not only is he still relatively young at 33, but he’s a great club house presence, would add leadership to the pen, and has been as dominant as it gets in recent years. If the Padres have any chance of being competitive over the next decade, they’re place in the daunting scenario of being forced to trade both Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell. Feels like the Doc Halladay deal did for the Jays, but Gonzo is their big fish. Heath may cost the Jays 2-3 prospects depending on the talent, but he won’t cost a king’s ransom like Gonzo will. It would be a pipe dram for the Jays to get both, but how great would that be?

I know what many people are thinking, take Heath Bell out of San Diego, and maybe he gives up more hits and more HRs, spiking his stats to the negative side. I don’t buy that one bit and can prove it as follows:

Bell’s home stats: 35 games, 131 batters faced, 30 hits allowed (.229 avg), .303 OBP, 2.25 ERA, 19 saves, 13 walks, 48 Ks

Bell’s away stats: 32 games, 122 batters faced, 26 hits allowed (.213 avg), .297 OBP, 1.59 ERA, 28 saves, 15 walks, 38 Ks

Not only did hitters fare worst against Bell while he was on the road, but he lowered his ERA by a fair amount, indicating that he’s more than comfortable feeling the heat of unfriendly crowds.

The cost? I’m not sure, but starting with decent SP and OF prospects would be a good start. They may also have interest in David Cooper or Michael McDade who could give them some protection once they deal Adrian Gonzalez. The Jays would probably want to extend Bell for another 2 years as he is entering his last year of Arbitration after making $4,000,000 in 2010, but they are in a position to afford him and would get exactly the kind of leader the pen needs for a fair price.

2 – Jonathan Papelbon -5-7/ 3.90 ERA/ 67 IP/ 57 HA/ 28 BB/ 76 Ks/ 1.269 Whip

There are 2 obvious reasons for including Jonathan Papelbon on this list. First, the hiring of John Farrell means that Jonathan would be reunited with him and would be controlled by someone who knows exactly what all of his durability issues are. Second, the Red Sox have had serious issues with Jonathan’s contract demands, making it unlikely that he’ll be their closer in 2011 or beyond. They have Bard waiting to take the role on as soon as Jonathan leaves.

As much as I’d like to see the stare-down boy in Toronto, I just can’t see how the Red Sox would want to deal him within their division and to the up-and-coming Jays, so I make the likeliness of this acquisition extremely low to say the least. It’s still possible, as Alex has proven that there are ways of getting things done, such as a 3-way deal involving the Dodgers for example, where Boston would acquire Jonathan Broxton and the Dodgers would get a player from Toronto – just food for thought.

Still, I don’t see it as being likely, and do believe that the Jays will find their closer elsewhere for 2011. If they do get their hands on Papelbon, it’ll be for the 2012 season, when he becomes a FA. Does this mean the Jays might just be looking for a closer for 2011 in hopes of landing Papelbon in 2012? Interesting thought. The good, if they did this, would be that they get an experienced closer who’s won it all before. The bad is that they would get a very expensive aging closer who has declined recently and can’t go 2 days in a row as often as others might.

3 – Leo Nunez – 4-3/ 3.46 ERA/ 65 IP/ 62 HA/ 21 BB/ 71 Ks/ 1.277 Whip/ 30 saves

Why the Royals felt that Mike Jacobs was worth this young live arm is beyond me, but that’s what it cost the Fish to get this guy on board. He can get the key K when required but is definitely less of a sure thing than Bell or Papelbon. The nice thing about Leo is that he is controllable through 2012, with 2 years of arbitration eligibility remaining (he made $2,000,000 in 2010) and has also been willing to revert to the setup role if it fits the club’s plans. Clay Hensley pushed him for the role in Florida and did very well in it. Since the Fish are attempting to sign Dan Uggla and are thus looking to lower costs, Leo becomes the prime trade candidate that can be replaced by Hensley in the closing role.

The Jays would have to give up a lot less to get Nunez in comparison to Papelbon and Bell, and get to have him as closer for the next 2 seasons. Leo has some A.L. experience while pitching with the Royals for over 159 innings in 4 years, his last 2 there being very productive as he settled into his role in the pen with a sub 1.241 whip each year. Look for 1 or 2 prospects to be the cost in this case, as the Fish love to gather young controllable players.

4 – Jonathan Broxton – 5-6/ 4.04 ERA/ 62.1 IP/ 64 HA/ 28 BB/ 73 Ks/ 1.476 Whip/ 22 saves

I’m throwing Jonathan Broxton into the mix simply because he’s the perfect buy low candidate that Alex Anthopolous seems to focus on when looking at trades. If you would have asked for Broxton in trade before the 2010 season, you would have been asked for an ace pitcher or all-star caliber player, but this off season, after an implosion and a really messy divorce later, you could possibly add the big guy for a lot less.

The short of it is this, Ned Colletti’s hands are tied in Los Angeles until the divorce is all settled and the control of baseball operations returns to normal. The Dodgers owe Jonathan 7 million in 2011, which would be a nice chunk of change to use towards acquiring other team needs. The Jays can afford to take a shot on him at that cost, see how he pans out, and if he stinks, they can cut him loose at no cost after the 2011 season when he becomes a FA. If he does great, the Jays can attempt to re-sign him if the price is right, or let him walk as a Type A or B FA, where they get their favorite picks for the following year’s draft. It’s a winning situation in any case, as the Jays would have the leverage either way and are only putting short-term financial risks on the line.

What would he cost? I have no clue to tell you the truth, but this deal could possibly grown to include Matt Kemp if you ask me. He really ruffled some feathers in LA last season and may be in need of a change of scenery. If the Jays offered a SP, RP, and 3-4 prospects, the Dodgers could be tempted depending on the talent included. Kemp is arbitration eligible until 2012, and could become a FA in 2013. I really doubt the Kemp part would be included, so I’ll leave it at Broxton for 2 decent prospects or a prospect and a RP such as Shawn Camp.

Through FA Acquisition

You’re all thinking what I’m thinking, aren’t you? Rafael Soriano just threw a lights out – and healthy – season in the A.L. East for a division rival and proved he has the stuff to take his team to the next level. He’s a FA and can take the role on without question.In my opinion, he’s the only RP out there worthy of getting the role and the only one the Jays could chase – although they’ve said over and over again that they won’t be major players on the FA market, making this an unlikely acquisition route.

There is 1 premium closer on the market, just 1. There are a ton of teams bidding for one, so I’d say the costs will be way over value. Add to that the fact that Rafael would cost the Jays their 1st round pick, and it makes this scenario a non-issue that I would be shocked to see come to reality. Therefore, I’ll end it here by saying that if the Jays do acquire another FA player to be their closer, such as Octavio Dotel or Brian Fuentes, I will be shocked and sad simultaneously, as both are downgrades from Kevin Gregg.

Through Internal Options

Everyone seems to be overlooking the fact that the Jays may very well try to get someone comfortable as the closer without needing to acquire one. Here are my top 4 internal candidates to take on the role, if the Jays just don’t land what they’re looking for in trade.

1 – David Purcey

I know, he lacks experience in the pen, but this guy has enough pitches and poise to take the role on without question. He has a tremendous arm, is an intimidating mound presence at 6’4″ 240 lbs, and got his first MLB save last season – his first as a full time reliever. He can get swings and misses in key situations and presents a challenge to other teams since he is a lefty. He’s a real option for the role and if not, is my top choice as a replacement of Scott Downs in the pen.

2 – Zach Stewart

This seems like the Joba Chamberlain style RP/SP/RP/SP dilemma, but with all of the arms the Jays have brought on board and Zach’s wicked slider/fastball combo, they could easily bring him up as a RP. He was a closer periodically in the minors and only has 1 full season as a starter. I know the Jays would prefer to keep him in the starting role, but he has such a great 1-2 combo of pitcher, along with a change up he improved greatly in 2010 that he could become a dominant closer. Sure, he’s young and would have a steep learning curve, which is why he may begin the year simply used in the pen, but he could grow into the role by year’s end, making the acquisition of a closer this off season unnecessary.

3 – Jeremy Accardo

He’s had the role before with success and just wasn’t given a shot to keep the role after BJ Ryan returned from injury. He’s proven that his stuff can be on and off since then and it’s no guarantee that he’ll wear a Jays uniform in 2011 after being lied to by management about his use with the Jays all of 2010. Still, if he signs and is placed in the closing situation, I expect him to do well.

4 – Casey Janssen

Casey is also big at 6’3″ 235 lbs and already has 7 saves to his credit in MLB. The problem with Casey is his ineffectiveness against LHB who hit .283 against him last season with a scary .382 OBP. He also has fewer chances of getting key Ks than Purcey would as he lacks the true K pitch.

The Rebuilt Jays pen, if I had my pick of which of the above to come true, would look as follows:

CloserHeath Bell RHP

SetupDavid Purcey LHP

SetupJeremy Accardo RHP

PenShawn Camp RHP

PenJesse Carlson LHP

PenCasey Janssen RHP

Long Relief Specialist/ Spot starterTaylor Buchholz RHP

BackupsJosh Roenicke RHP, Rommie Lewis LHP, Ronald Uviedo RHP, Shawn Hill RHP

That list above is something close to what we can expect at this point. The only big question is the guy at the top of the pile. Will it be Bell, Broxton, Nunez, Papelbon or other RP from another team, or will it be an internal candidate? I vote for the trade option, as I fully believe that Alex has his eyes trained on making the playoffs in 2011, which definitely requires a shut-down guy to close out games.

Topics: Brian Tallet, Casey Janssen, David Cooper, David Purcey, Jason Frasor, Jeremy Accardo, Josh Roenicke, Kevin Gregg, Michael McDade, Rommie Lewis, Ronald Uviedo, Scott Downs, Shawn Camp, Shawn Hill, Taylor Buchholz, Zach Stewart

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