Relief Options Getting Slim for Jays: AA True to His Word

When asked about how active the Jays would be this off season in the Free Agent market, Alex Anthopoulos stated that the Jays are more likely to be active in the trade market than they are to be active in the Free Agent market. The Jays GM is staying true to his word and the Jays have yet to make one single signing, although they seem to be linked to every single possibility out there. One has to wonder if player’s agents are taking advantage of the fact that the Jays have a lot of budget room remaining and a GM who has yet to build a reputation.

The only real areas of concern for the Jays at this point are relief pitching and the 1B/DH situations. Neither are dire needs, as the Jays do have some players on the team that could fill the relief roles (as you can see in our depth chart page) and DH options are a plenty out there. Still, the current pen situation, as explained very well recently by JJ’s own Jared McDonald, leaves a lot to be desired. Not only have the Jays lost Scott Downs, Taylor Buccholz, and Jeremy Accardo, but they are also about to lose 2010 closer Kevin Gregg to the Orioles and have already dealt away most of their top minor league relievers in Tim Collins (Yunel Escobar deal), Trystan Magnusonand Daniel Farquhar (Rajai Davis deal), leaving them with fewer minor league pitchers to bring up to fill any holes.

There are, however, some options that may have been overlooked as we head for 2011. One of these options should be ready for the beginning of the season, while the other would be ready sometime in June or July. One could easily replace Brian Tallet – and then some – while the other could very well become the closer of the future for the Jays. I’m speaking of Jesse Litsch or Marc Rzepczynski, and Dustin McGowan.

If the rotations remains as is expected today, it should look as follows:

I would contend that the pitcher who doesn’t get the 4th start, Litsch or Rzepczynski, would make one fine long reliever and spot starter for the Jays in 2011. The fact that each one would remain with the team also allows for one to take over from Drabek should he need to be optioned to AAA following some possible struggles.

The second option, Dustin McGowan, is one that has been talked about plenty amongst Jays fans. Pitchers do not recover easily from shoulder issues. Just ask Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Mark Mulder to name a few. McGowan, and the Jays, would be very well served to bring Dustin and his fierce competitive nature back in a relief role. The fact that he would only be required for short outings would provide a better chance of success and would allow him to add a tick or two of velocity on his pitches without fear of re-injuring his shoulder. With stamina always being an issue as a pitcher returns from injury, McGowan would also be able to return to the 25-man roster much more quickly as a reliever and could thus help the Jays in 2011 and try to prove that he is worthy of a contract in 2012 and beyond.

There are also all of the options listed in the depth chart, but still, one has to think that the Jays would like to add at least 1 pen arm before the 2011 season kicks off….right?

The current pen with AA/AAA options listed below look like this:

Looking the list above over, we can see that the Jays are probably only in the market for 1 reliever – a closer. If the Jays really believe that one of Dustin McGowan, David Purcey, Jason Frasor, or even Zach Stewart could close, they don’t really need to make a move at all, in FA or trade. If, however, they would like to have a bridge between the current pen options and their future LONG-TERM closer, they need to make an acquisition of some sort. That brings me to the list of RP still available, or not, on the FA market today, most of which the Jays have been linked to (almost every single one of them).

As those players come off the “possible acquisition list”, some pretty prominent ones still remain. The problem is that as they become fewer, the price will increase as multiple teams feel the heat of a dwindling list and zone in on the same players. Here’s the remaining likely suspects being chased by the Jays and others to fill a closing role:

  • Octavio Dotel – The Jays have been rumored to be very interestedin his services. Although Dotel is older than most other options, he is also the most likely to accept a 1-year deal of all tested and experienced closers. That makes him attractive to the Jays who would like to bring in a long-term closer at some point between 2011 and 2012.  He is the most likely to sign with the Jays as a result.
  • Bobby Jenks- Who can trust what they’ll get from BJ? The last time the Jays brough a BJ on board things didn’t turn out so well. He’ll cost a whole lot more than Dotel, carries a lot fo risk, and is probably receiving enough interest to garner a multi-year deal, not something I believe the Jays would be willing to provide on the high-end of the RP salary scale. The Rays are rumored to be moving in on a deal for Bobby, so we’ll let them see how it works out. It will be curious to see how long and lucrative the deal is, however. It could be that all Bobby’s looking for is a chance to close and redeem himself.
  • Chad Qualls – Had an ugly 7.32 ERA in Arizona, in the NL, so why would an AL team invest in him? Oh, wait, the Rays did in 2010 and it wound up resulting in a 5.57 ERA and 1.429 whip. Not an option in my opinion.
  • Brian Fuentes- Still one of the most under rated relievers available on the market, Fuentes would very much fit the low-risk and high-reward mold the Jays look for. The hangup is the price he may be asking for and the fact that his old team, the Rockies, may have some interest in bringing him back. Fuentes is still young enough to provide a good 2-3 years to any signing team. I could see the Jays turning to Brian if the Dotel signing doesn’t work out and make him my number 2 candidate as a result.
  • Rafael Soriano – Will cost a king’s ransom in $ and is said to be looking for a 3-year deal at a minimum. Good luck with that, and to the team that takes on that serious injury risk. The fact that he would cost the Jays their 1st round pick and that they’d have to hand it to TB makes him a very unlikely – if not impossible – signing candidate for the Jays.
  • Jon Rauch- For some reason I can see Rauch heading back to Minnesota or Washington. They both need the pen help and have both been shutout of the list of RP signed above. He saved 17 games for Washington in 2008 and saved 21 games for Minnesota last season when Joe Nathanwent down to injury. The fact that Minnesota has already lost Guerrier and cain makes me believe that they’ll push hard for Rauch, and since their chances of winning are stronger than Washington’s, I expect they’ll land the massive RHP (6’11″ 290 lbs). If not, he remains a very viable option for the Jays closing role. He only made $2,900,000 in 2010 and so would be affordable. He is my third option for the Jays.

So, there we have it. My 3 viable options remaining for the Jays closing role are as follows, in order of likeliness:

(1) Octavio Dotel – (2) Brian Fuentes – (3) Jon Rauch

I very well could be wrong, but I expect one of those 3 pitchers to be signed by the Jays and also expect it could be the only RP signing they make. As the argument above states, the Jays already have a lot of options in their relief depth and also have a wealth of up-and-coming starters who could be converted to the relief role. As such, I expect the majority of the funds that Alex Anthopoulos will spend in the FA market to go towards signing a DH once the closing situation is resolved. 

Personally, I like the way the pen looks with David Purcey playing a prominent role there and with the possibility of adding Dustin McGowan to it down the road. I believe that this combination could be great to close things out and still hold out some hope that Zach Stewart could become a very dominant late innings reliever as well. After all, if Texas can justify have a talent like Neftali Felizclose games, surely the Jays can “afford” to allow a talent such as Stewart to do the same. That’s why I like the 3 I listed above. All 3 could be had on short-term deals that give the Jays flexibility in the near future.

And who knows, maybe Jonathan Papelbon will decide to sign with the Jays and to be reunited with John Farrell when he becomes a FA after the 2011 season. You just never know! After all, although AA has been true to his word about staying out of the bulk of the FA frenzy this off season, he can be just the opposite next off season, when the FA depth will be much better and deeper at the top of the heap!

- MG

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  • stump

    With the re-signing of Edwin Encarnacion it would seem that AA and company are not seriously shooting for a wild card spot in 2011.
    If this assumption is correct, then it is doubtful that AA will spend any significant $$ for a closer in 2011.
    My guess is he will tinker with a couple of his in house options (Zach Stewart, Jesse Carlson, etc.) and if they don’t pan out, the Jays will be out of the race anyway and it will be “wait until 2012″ when a better team can be fielded. This allows players like Arencibia and Lind a season to gain experience at C and 1B respectively and demonstrate if they are capable of playing these positions at the Major League level. Otherwise, they will both be packaged in trades at some point in the next year.

    Best case scenario would be that the Jays somehow stay in the wild card race into the summer months and AA then adds a big bat and another arm for the final push for the AL pennant or a wild card spot.

  • Mat Germain

    thanks for the great comments as usual stump, but please remember that the Jays won 87 games despite a “down year” from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, despite a lackluster performance from Travis Snider, and despite the lack of speed aka Rajai Davis. When you take those 4 things into account, and the advancement of my favorite power prodigy – JP Arencibia – you should be very happy that Edwin is returning AND that he won’t be playing 3B ;)

    • stump

      Your points are well taken Matt, but the Jays pitching staff was deeper last season. Subtract Shaun Marcum, Scott Downs, & Kevin Gregg and we have issues with the 2011 pitching staff. Marcum contributed 13 wins last season and Downs & Gregg combined for 37 saves. Without adding a big time closer, it is doubtful that the current staff will be able to replicate these numbers.

      Also auditioning 3 new position players at 1B,3B and C is bound to hurt the club in 2011, especially behind the plate and at 1B. I agree that almost anyone could play 3B better than Encarnacion.

      I hope that all three (Lind, Bautista & Arencibia) prove to be quick studies, but that is not likely to happen, especially behind the plate, where the learning curve is usually quite steep.

      As I stated in an earlier post, I am quite willing to wait another season or two to witness the re-tooled Blue Jays, who will surely contend in the AL east. I would also love to see it earlier, but it definitely will require a much larger investment by ownership than the $2.5M contract awarded to Edwin Encarnacion.

  • Jared Macdonald

    I think it is very safe to say the Jays will not have as good of a 2011 as 2010, simply because of the subtractions to the roster.

    Losing Marcum, Downs, and Gregg, it will be very hard for the Jays to get similar results to what those 3 contributed last year, let alone improve on them with new staff.

    Any improvements Hill and Lind make at the plate could be cancelled out by regressions from Wells and Bautista. That being said though, I wish for nothing more than for all four of them to have great 2011 campaigns.

    Add in also that a now Cito-free Travis Snider WILL be getting everyday at bats, so surely his numbers should improve. But keep in mind Arencibia will likely experience some growing pains at the MLB level and likely won’t replicate the numbers John Buck put up in 2010 (although it would be awesome if he did!)

    The addition of Rajai Davis, depending on how much playing time he gets, could really work to the Jays’ favor in 2011 as well.

    Like you, Stump, I’m more than okay with letting the youngsters grow for another season and see what they have. A rotation of Romero/Morrow/Cecil/Drabek/Stewart or Rzep (barring any other moves) is fine by me.

    I’m actually more excited for the 2011 season than I was for the 2010 season, which was more than I had ever been in my entire time of being a Jays fan! (19 years)

    It’s an exciting time to be a Jays fan, period, no matter what happens in 2011!

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