In a move that will make many Blue Jays fans very happy, Darren Oliver has agreed to return to the organization for 2013 at the agreed upon contract option of $3M.
It was just a few weeks ago that Darren Oliver, aka “Black Magic” (that is both a serious nickname and the best nickname ever) was contemplating retirement if he did not either receive a pay raise from the Blue Jays, or if he could not play closer to home in Texas by playing for the Rangers organization via trade. Luckily, Alex Anthopoulos called his bluff and went on looking for relief help through free agency. Earlier in the week, Jon Heyman tweeted that the Blue Jays were looking to acquire the likes of Francisco Rodriguez, Matt Lindstrom, Matt Capps, Jose Valverde, Kyle Farnsworth or Brandon Lyon to fill the bullpen help needed. About a week ago it appeared the Blue Jays would not be able to get Darren Oliver back to fix their bothersome bullpen, and just an hour prior to this news our own Kyle Franzoni had written a piece praising what Lyon could bring to the Jays, so this news is a pleasant surprise for most of us.
Just how great was bringing back Darren Oliver was to the Blue Jays? Over the past 5 seasons he has averaged an ERA of 2.52, with each successive year’s ERA lower than the previous year, resulting in a career low 2.06 ERA with the team. His 0.48 HR/9 was beaten only by Aaron Loup on the club last year, who miraculously did not give up a single home run over 30.2 innings. He left 84.9% of baserunners on base last year, and had a very modest 2.38 BB/9 innings. There are concerns with his age, as he will be entering his 20th (and likely final) season in the majors, however with a 1.1 fWAR last year and coming back for a $3M contract, it is likely that he will yield a great return for what his value is worth.
What does this mean for the rest of the bullpen? With Darren Oliver set to be a late inning shutdown guy, the guaranteed jobs left belong to Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos as setup/closer (still pending), Steve Delabar, and finally Brett Cecil as lefty specialist (seeing as he is out of options). The Blue Jays now must decide if they want a 7 or 8 man bullpen, with Aaron Loup, J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers, Brad Lincoln and Jeremy Jeffress remaining. Likely Happ will start the 2013 season starting in Buffalo, as he has an option left. If Gibbons decided to go with 7 relievers, it’ll mean that Loup would likely be optioned to Buffalo, with either Rogers or Jeffress staying with the club and the other is put on waivers. If he goes with 8 relievers, Aaron Loup might remain with the club. Update: After a conference call with reporters, it appears that Alex Anthopoulos has decided to stretch Lincoln out during Spring Training, in hopes of making him the team’s 7th starter. If he doesn’t make the bullpen after Spring Training, he will be optioned down to Buffalo to start, alongside Happ. It’s an interesting move that could effectively help swing who won the Snider/Lincoln trade further along the road.
With only 27 days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, the long wait for baseball is nearing its end. Darren Oliver’s return to the Blue Jays may be the only worthwhile news until mid February, but hopefully the 2013 season will make the wait worthwhile.