Left-handed relievers available to the Jays on the free agent market

Near the end of September, Alex Anthopoulos told the media that the Jays are “certainly going to have to go the free agent route in the bullpen” this offseason, saying that the team just doesn’t have enough quality internal options heading into 2012. That’s not surprising, as the Jays sent Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, and Jason Frasor packing in order to acquire Colby Rasmus in July, and all three of Shawn Camp, Frank Francisco, and Jon Rauch likely won’t be returning next season, either, so the Jays’ ‘pen is pretty bare at the moment.

The departures of Rzepczynski, Trever Miller, David Purcey, Brian Tallet, and Wil Ledezma this season have left Luis Perez as the Jays’ only left-handed relief option going forward.

I’ll have a few trade candidates in an upcoming post, but here’s a look at a few left-handed relievers that could be options for the Jays via free agency.

George Sherrill | 2011 salary: $1.2 million

Jays fans know all about Sherrill, as he spent his entire career in the American League with Seattle and Baltimore until midway through 2009. He suffered the worst season of his career with the Dodgers in 2010, posting a 6.69 ERA/5.20 FIP in 36.1 innings, and was particularly awful against right-handed hitters who hit .427/.516/.707 off of him.

But, as a member of the Atlanta Braves’ top-ranked bullpen this past season, Sherrill was used more in situations where he was likely to have success, and the results speak for themselves. He allowed 33 hits and 12 earned runs in 36 innings (3.00 ERA) striking out 38, which was good for a 9.5 K/9, his highest mark since 2008. Sherrill’s 3.08 FIP and 3.0 BB/9 almost exactly matched his previous career-lows, and he was exquisite with inherited runners, as only four of 37 (11%) scored.

In addition to the numbers, though, what was really noticeable about Sherrill this past season was how he completely revamped his approach on the mound. He got ahead in the count by throwing first-pitch strikes 69% of the time, which was not only a new career-high, but well over 8% higher than any figure he recorded in his previous seven seasons. This mindset also helped him record a career-high 45% ground ball rate, his highest in over five years, and a new career-low 33% fly ball rate.

The key to Sherrill, though, is using him almost exclusively against left-handers, as it’s well-known that he has a hard time getting righties out. While the .236 average and .722 OPS he held right-handers to in 2011 were below his career norms,  Sherill did record a 5.06 ERA against them as well; a stark contrast to his tidy 1.35 ERA against lefties. Plus, 11 of the 12 walks he allowed in 2011 were to right-handed hitters.

Though he pitched a career-low 36 innings this past season, Sherrill’s new mindset on the mound and the fact he wouldn’t command a large salary make him one of the more appealing southpaw free-agent relievers. His dismal 2010 campaign has ensured he won’t rank on Elias’ list of free agents, so he wouldn’t cost the Jays anything in terms of draft pick compensation, either. If the Jays could afford to carry a lefty specialist for the season, Sherrill could be that guy if worse came to worse.

Darren Oliver | 2011 salary: $3.25 million

Having turned 41 years old last week, Oliver showed this past season that he’s clearly capable of shutting down opposing hitters, even into his forties. The main drawback with Oliver is that he projects to rank as a Type-A free agent, meaning the Jays would have to give up a draft pick just to sign him, but other than that, he has been as consistent as any reliever could be over the last six seasons. From 2006-2010, Oliver went 20-6 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.153 WHIP, and 7.4 K/9 in 352 innings spread across stints with three different teams.

This past season with the Rangers, though, Oliver fashioned a clean 2.29 ERA and 2.77 FIP in 51 innings, with 11 walks — good for a career-low 1.9 BB/9 — 47 hits, and 44 strikeouts. Left-handers and right-handers had nearly an identical OPS off of him — .587 and .594, respectively — and he was even better for the Rangers after the All-Star break, as they geared up to clinch a playoff spot. The 10% drop in his ground ball rate and 9% increase in line drives this season over his 2010 campaign are things to note, but it’s hard to ignore how successful Oliver has been for six straight seasons.

Oliver could likely be had for a salary similar to what he made in 2011, but it really comes down to whether he’s worth giving up a draft pick or not.

Other

Aside from Lopez, Sherrill, and Oliver, there aren’t many guys left that would be worth considering. The Giants will likely exercise their option on Jeremy Affeldt, which leaves Rangers lefty Mike Gonzalez as an option, but his numbers haven’t been fantastic over his last two seasons at a $6 million salary.

J.C. Romero and John Grabow will be free agents, and Hideki Okajima and Damaso Marte are rehabbing from injury-plagued years, but none of those four are too appealing, either.

-JM

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Topics: Alex Anthopoulos, Darren Oliver, George Sherrill, Javier Lopez, Toronto Blue Jays

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  • juanguzman

    maybe javier lopez, but i’d pass on all the others. if that’s the best free agents availabe, then make some trades or look to the minors.

  • juanguzman

    maybe javier lopez, but i’d pass on all the others. if that’s the best free agents availabe, then make some trades or look to the minors.

  • dbenson1399

    I have a question, why are relievers so flaky year to year? At most positions, a guy is solid for a couple of years, you mostly know what you have, but it seems with relief pitching, with a few notable exceptions … Riveria, Downs, etc. they can be brilliant one year and the next, you wouldn’t trust them with a 10 run lead. I remember Jesse Carlson was lights out one year and the past 2 seasons he hasn’t cracked the bigs except for a couple of shorts stints where it was obvious that he should not be in the bigs.

  • dbenson1399

    I have a question, why are relievers so flaky year to year? At most positions, a guy is solid for a couple of years, you mostly know what you have, but it seems with relief pitching, with a few notable exceptions … Riveria, Downs, etc. they can be brilliant one year and the next, you wouldn’t trust them with a 10 run lead. I remember Jesse Carlson was lights out one year and the past 2 seasons he hasn’t cracked the bigs except for a couple of shorts stints where it was obvious that he should not be in the bigs.

  • keith72

    Lopez and Sherrill are definitely good options. I think Gonzalez and Oliver will be too pricey in terms of number of years. Sherrill is definitely only a lefty specialist and hopefully Farrell has learned by his misuse of Dotel, that a guy can serve a perfectly good role coming in to face 1 or 2 batters. Especially in the AL BEast.

    I personally think that they will deal/ sign a #2 starting pitcher and move Cecil to the pen. Especially when you look at Cecil’s versatility & career #’s against LHB’s. Plus having him in the pen gives us 3 or 4 guys (depending on if Litsch is included in the deal) that can go multiple innings. We will likely need that flexibility with McGowan and Alvarez on inning limits in 2012.

    So assuming that AA gets Darvish or deals for a starting pitcher, the pen shapes up as: Janssen, Perez, Villaneuva, Cecil & Litsch (if they are not included in a potential deal). So I see there being room for 2 free agents. One should be a proven LOOGY with the other being a high leverage guy. IMO you will also see Carenno & Beck floating between the Jays and Vegas next year.

  • keith72

    Lopez and Sherrill are definitely good options. I think Gonzalez and Oliver will be too pricey in terms of number of years. Sherrill is definitely only a lefty specialist and hopefully Farrell has learned by his misuse of Dotel, that a guy can serve a perfectly good role coming in to face 1 or 2 batters. Especially in the AL BEast.

    I personally think that they will deal/ sign a #2 starting pitcher and move Cecil to the pen. Especially when you look at Cecil’s versatility & career #’s against LHB’s. Plus having him in the pen gives us 3 or 4 guys (depending on if Litsch is included in the deal) that can go multiple innings. We will likely need that flexibility with McGowan and Alvarez on inning limits in 2012.

    So assuming that AA gets Darvish or deals for a starting pitcher, the pen shapes up as: Janssen, Perez, Villaneuva, Cecil & Litsch (if they are not included in a potential deal). So I see there being room for 2 free agents. One should be a proven LOOGY with the other being a high leverage guy. IMO you will also see Carenno & Beck floating between the Jays and Vegas next year.

  • Jared_Macdonald

    I think it’s because of the small sample sizes relievers amass from year to year. A reliever usually pitches between 30-60 innings a year during which a lot can happen. A few bad innings here and there, and their stats are completely inflated.

    I’d say it also kind of ties into the fact that there are so many different ways a reliever can come into a game. Not only do starters hurl something in the neighborhood of 150-180 innings for a larger sample, but they start every game off fresh.

    That’s why it’s easy to understand Alex Anthopoulos’ hesitancy to fork out lucrative multiyear deals to relievers.

  • Jared_Macdonald

    I think it’s because of the small sample sizes relievers amass from year to year. A reliever usually pitches between 30-60 innings a year during which a lot can happen. A few bad innings here and there, and their stats are completely inflated.

    I’d say it also kind of ties into the fact that there are so many different ways a reliever can come into a game. Not only do starters hurl something in the neighborhood of 150-180 innings for a larger sample, but they start every game off fresh.

    That’s why it’s easy to understand Alex Anthopoulos’ hesitancy to fork out lucrative multiyear deals to relievers.

  • Jared_Macdonald

    @keith72 I agree with you Keith, that a lefty specialist could work just fine in a Toronto bullpen. I don’t think the organization has given up on Cecil just yet, but should they sign a top starter this offseason (which they certainly need) it would certainly crowd the rotation and force someone out.

  • Jared_Macdonald

    @keith72 I agree with you Keith, that a lefty specialist could work just fine in a Toronto bullpen. I don’t think the organization has given up on Cecil just yet, but should they sign a top starter this offseason (which they certainly need) it would certainly crowd the rotation and force someone out.