For the second consecutive offseason, Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is once again faced with the task of restocking the Jays’ bullpen, with an emphasis on a permanent closer.
There are many expensive relievers available on this year’s free agent market but, as the Tampa Bay Rays proved this past season, a bullpen can be completely overhauled on the cheap and still be a strength.
In fact, here are four relievers that we profiled last year as potential options for the Jays that signed with other clubs. They performed very well this past season and did so for a combined salary of $6.325 million, while the Jays opted to sign Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, and Jason Frasor instead for a combined $13.75 million with mixed results.
Takashi Saito | 2011 salary $1.75 million
Kyle Farnsworth | 2011 salary: $3 million
Original Jays Journal post: December 26, 2010
Though he pitched a career-low 26.2 innings this past season at the age of 41, Saito had yet another great year for the Brewers as another one of their dependable arms. Pitching primarily in the seventh inning ahead of the Crew’s one-two punch of K-Rod and John Axford, Saito allowed just six earned runs all season while extending his streak of logging more strikeouts (23) than hits allowed (21) to six consecutive seasons. He was effective overall but particularly nasty to right-handed hitters, as evidenced by his sparkling 1.69 ERA and .177 average against, and he allowed just four hits in seven shutout innings during the Brewers’ postseason run.
As for Farnsworth, he represents the closer on this list. Though he hadn’t registered a save since 2008 prior to this season, he had a solid 2010 campaign and the Rays decided to bring him on as their closer in 2011 on a one-year deal plus an option. He thrived in the full-time closer’s role, going 5-1 with a 2.18 ERA in 57.2 innings, while managing a career-best walk rate, his lowest hits per nine innings since 2005, and as a solid eight strikeouts per nine frames. Unsurprisingly, the Rays exercised his steal of a $3.3 million option for 2012.
Alfredo Aceves | 2011 salary: $0.65 million
Original Jays Journal post: December 4, 2010
Aceves suffered an injury-plagued 2010 campaign and broke his collarbone in an offseason bicycle accident that year, but I thought of him to be an ideal long relief option for the Jays anyway, likely on a minor league contract. He wound up signing that minor league deal, but with the Red Sox.
After starting the year with Triple-A Pawtucket, Aceves was called up after just eight innings and went on finish the year 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 114 big league innings. Subtract his four starts, though, and he finished with a 2.03 ERA in 93 relief innings, which were a MLB-high. He averaged just 6.6 hits per nine innings, thanks to limiting both lefties and righties alike to an average right around the Mendoza line.
Joel Peralta |2011 salary: $0.925 million
Original Jays Journal post: December 3, 2010
After quietly posting a 2.02 ERA in 49 innings in 2010, Peralta was non-tendered by the Nationals at the end of the season and the Rays snatched him for $925,000.
Though his low ground ball percentage and high fly ball rate appeared to be concerns, Peralta proved otherwise this past season with the Rays by logging a 2.93 ERA and stellar 0.916 WHIP in a team-high 67.2 relief innings. In addition to managing a 3.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Peralta was devastating against left-handed hitters, as he held them to just a .155 average and .435 OPS.
Not only did three of these four pitchers sign with division rivals, but they were all constantly praised by announcers throughout the season. These pitchers — consisting conveniently of a long reliever, seventh inning man, setup man, and closer — clearly represent how a team doesn’t need to spend big money on relievers in order to have big results, and it will be interesting to see what new faces are added to the Jays’ bullpen for 2012.