You know your team is in a good position when December is coming to a close and the biggest remaining question for the team revolves around a 42-year-old middle reliever. Such is the life of the the Toronto Blue Jays, who wasted no time in reworking their roster like it was a video game.
Now, as the calender flips from 2012 to 2013, Toronto is left only with what will happen with left-hander Darren Oliver, who is teetering between playing another season or retiring from the game. One could hardly fault the Blue Jays, who exercised their club option on him for next season, for wanting to wait him out either. Oliver was arguably the MVP of the bullpen in 2012 after he was worth nearly 2 wins last season according to Baseball-Reference while posting a 2.06 ERA.
Still, while Oliver is reticent to his decision for next season, the Blue Jays need to start thinking about alternative should he not return. Luckily, the team has a fairly deep bullpen, even without Oliver, including two lefties.
Brett Cecil would immediately benefit from Oliver’s retirement. Without options remaining, Cecil would otherwise be fighting for a roster spot in spring training and will be looking to make the team as a long-reliever. The transition from the rotation to the bullpen was not kind to Cecil last season, with the southpaw getting knocked around in his 12 relief appearances, surrendering 7 runs in 12 appearances.
However, the true beneficiary from Oliver’s departure would be second-year man Aaron Loup. Loup was Toronto’s Rookie of the Year in 2012, posting a 2.64 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in 33 games. Amazingly enough, Loup walked just two batters while striking out 21 over 30.2 innings pitched. Hitters also failed to tag him for a single home run the entire season.
Oliver’s greatest strength is his ability to get lefties out while still maintaining effectiveness against right-handed hitters as well. Loup would essentially become Toronto’s go-to guy for that role after holding left-handed hitters to a .462 OPS while right-handers were held to a .638 mark.
|vs RHB as LHP||27||54||4||14||4||1||0||1||10||10.00||.259||.638||.311||132||69|
|vs LHB as LHP||31||58||4||12||2||0||0||1||11||11.00||.207||.462||.255||70||43|
The other benefit of a Darren Oliver is his ability to pitch multiple innings. While Loup was used sparingly in the majors, his minor league resume shows that he has the ability to stretch out and eat innings when the team truly needs it. With the depth at the end of the bullpen in Casey Janssen, Serio Santos, Steve Delabar, and Brad Lincoln, Loup’s ability to take the ball multiple innings will not cost the late inning corps either.
So while the Blue Jays would love to see Darren Oliver return in 2013, especially with the thoughts of a World Series resting on the minds of the fan base, the team has the ability to move forward without him.
Still, it would be nice to win one with the ageless lefty playing an integral role.