With guys like Marc Rzepczynski, Tim Collins, and Scott Downs ranking among the top left-handed relievers this past season, it’s been interesting to see former members of the Jays organization have success with other teams.
After looking at the free agent crop of left-handed relievers that the Jays could choose from on Tuesday, here’s a look at three, more easily obtained southpaws that could be traded for to help the Jays’ 2012 bullpen, at a relatively low price.
Hisanori Takahashi (LAA) | 2011 salary: $3.8 million
If you haven’t heard of Takahashi, that’s understandable. He spent his first Major League season as starter and reliever with the New York Mets in 2010 before being converted into a full-time reliever with the Angels this year.
The 36-year-old put together a solid year for his first season in the bullpen, finishing fifth in the Majors with 68 innings pitched. He has a full arsenal of pitches, a five-pitch mix that keeps hitters guessing. His primary fastball is far from overpowering since it’s usually clocked below 90 mph, but his go-to off-speed pitches, his changeup and slider, are great complements to it. He’ll occasionally sprinkle in a cutter and a 67 mph curveball for good measure as well.
He finished the year with a 3.44 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 61 appearances, finishing 18 games in the process. His strikeouts dropped from last season, but so did the amount of hits he allowed, as the 58 he allowed worked out to 7.7 per nine frames. He’s an aggressive pitcher early in the count, and he upped his ground ball rate to over 40 percent this season while cutting down on his fly balls by almost 10 percent as well. After pitching better against lefties than righties during his time with the Mets, Takahashi actually reversed those figures this past season with the Angels, holding lefties to a .733 OPS but right-handers to a .599 OPS.
The Tokyo native will make $4.2 million next season, making him the highest paid member of this list next season, but if the Jays do in fact make the push for Japanese phenomenon Yu Darvish this winter as rumored, it might benefit the team to bring in Takahashi as well should they land Darvish.
Sergio Escalona (HOU) | 2011 salary: $417k
Once again, Escalona is probably another player that you have never heard of. After taking almost five years to crack the Phillies’ big league roster after his signing in 2004, Escalona pitched all of 13 innings for the Phils in 2009 before spending all of last season in the minors with Double-A Reading. The Astros acquired him for a minor league second baseman before the 2011 campaign, though, and the move paid off for them.
Escalona, who just turned 27 years old in August, went 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA (4.04 FIP) in 27.2 innings for Houston, primarily in seventh and eighth inning roles. He allowed 24 hits, issued 11 walks, and struck out 25, good for an 8.1 K/9. Until he could prove otherwise, Escalona might be better in a lefty specialist role, since right-handers hit .333 with a .859 OPS off him compared to the .188 average and .590 OPS that lefties managed. Both samples were under 75 plate appearances, though, so a small size.
Escalona could likely be had for a mid-level prospect, and he’s set to make the league-minimum salary next season. The only asterisk with him, though, is that he sprained his ankle after tripping over a glove in batting practice early last month and he finished the season on the 60-day DL. With the Astros having other lefties like Wesley Wright Fernando Abad also in their bullpen, they might be a bit more inclined to move Escalona.
Craig Breslow (OAK) | 2011 salary: $1.4 million
Instead of going for a guy like Randy Choate who had his best season in three years in 2011, a guy like Breslow could be a decent pickup if he can return to his 2009-2010 form. The 31-year-old finished with a 3.79 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 59.1 innings for the A’s this season, the 15th-highest innings total among left-handed relievers in the Majors. His WHIP took a beating because of the 69 hits he allowed in those 59 innings (10.5 H/9), which was a big difference from the six hits per nine innings that he averaged during the two seasons before.
His strikeouts totals dropped off this year and he’s given up home runs in the past, but Breslow has the ability to log considerable innings while pitching evenly against righties and lefties alike, as evidenced by his 3.28 and 3.50 ERAs against them over the last three seasons, respectively.
With Oakland also having Jerry Blevins and pricey veteran Brian Fuentes as other southpaws in their ‘pen, they might be more willing to let Breslow go. He’s arbitration-eligible and would has likely earned a raise from the $1.4 million he made this season.