Free Agency: Blue Jays Bullpen Options


The offseason is officially underway and the Toronto  Blue Jays have already made their presence felt, acquiring a potential long term solution at second base and reaching out to the agents for numerous free agents. However, the rumour mill has remained quiet in the area that has to be considered the Blue Jays most pressing need; the bullpen. While a bullpen is typically considered to be the part of a team that is most easily overhauled, there is still quite a bit of work to do if the Jays plan to contend in 2015.

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The 2014 opening day bullpen remained relatively intact compared to the 2013 version that performed so well, but after early season injuries to Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos, and an inconsistent first half by Steve Delabar that saw him demoted to Triple A on June 17th, they were forced to rely on Dustin McGowan to get key outs late in games. While he performed admirably, it was obvious that they needed more. With Casey Janssen becoming a free agent, the team options on Dustin McGowan, Sergio Santos, and Brandon Morrow being declined, and the uncertainty of what to expect from Steve Delabar, the Blue Jays are going to need their returning pieces to remain effective, and seek outside reinforcements through trades and free agency.

Brett Cecil continued to excel and has emerged as one of the premiere left handed relievers in the league, with the ability to retire both left handed and right handed hitters effectively. Aaron Loup, another left hander, also had another terrific season despite seeing his walk rate more then double (1.7 walks per 9 innings pitched in 2013, 3.8 in 2014). After the two lefties, there remains a lot of question marks. Aaron Sanchez came up during the second half and dominated hitters the rest of the year. It looks likely that he’ll open the 2015 season back in the bullpen, but he holds a lot more value as a starter. Todd Redmond also looks to reprise his role as the long man out of the bullpen where he performed well in 2014. Assuming those four open the season in the bullpen, it still leaves three spots available, including a major hole in the closer role.

There is no shortage of options available to the Jays this offseason, however the bullpen is typically something you don’t like to spend a lot of money on, considering the vicious inconsistencies many relievers seem to experience on a year to year basis. The one advantage to this, though, is that it makes it easier to look for potential bargains in the free agent market from relievers who are coming off of down years or battling their way back from serious arm and shoulder injuries like Tommy John Surgery. While the latter can be a scary thought, most of these injuries have become so commonplace in this industry that recovery isn’t only hoped for, it’s expected.

Sergio Romo

It’s hard to include Romo in the list of relievers coming off of down years, seeing as how he’s coming off a season where he posted more than a strike out an inning and a WHIP under 1, but his 3.72 ERA was his highest since 2009 and he lost his closer role to Santiago Casilla who dominated hitters all season. His peripherals make him a good bet to bounce back in 2015, and a chance to close again may make Toronto an attractive landing spot. It remains to be seen whether he’ll come at a bargain price as there’s going to be multiple teams smart enough to sign him as their closer, especially after his fantastic post season. However, compared to most of the other options available with previous closing experience, Romo looks like one of the safest bets to bounce back and produce at an elite level in 2015.

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Rafael Soriano

Whereas it’s hard to decipher whether Sergio Romo will be a bargain because his peripherals suggest that 2014 was more of a fluke than anything else, Rafael Soriano doesn’t look like he’ll come at a discount because he’s represented by super agent Scott Boras. While Soriano’s 2014 ERA of 3.19 looks solid enough,  it was aided significantly by a phenomenal 0.97 mark in the first half. He was a completely different pitcher in the second half with a 6.48 ERA. Opponents hit better than .300 against him in that time, and at 35 years old, that definitely has to raise a red flag. Nevertheless, he has a history of success in the A.L. East, and it’s possible he could be looking to score a one year deal to try and rebuild his value. If he were represented by anybody else, I’d say he would be a good option to sign to a one year contract, but being represented by Scott Boras, even if Soriano has to settle for a one year deal, he’ll be paid very well to do so.

Luke Hochevar

A more intriguing buy low option would be former first overall draft pick Luke Hochevar, who is coming off of Tommy John Surgery during spring training of this past season. He started throwing again in September, and is hoping to be ready to go at the start of the season barring any setbacks. A converted starter, Hochevar thrived after being moved to the bullpen in 2013, posting a 1.92 ERA and well over a strike out per inning. He comes with more question marks than the other two, but he should also be significantly cheaper and is much younger.

There will likely only be room in the payroll for one of these players, and there’s going to be a lot more work that needs to be done in order to solidify the Jays bullpen, but signing one of them will at least help to plug a hole in the back end of the bullpen, especially if they want to move Aaron Sanchez into the starting rotation where he holds so much more value to the organization. Regardless of where Sanchez ends up, the Jays are going to have to stock up on a couple of right handed arms for the back of the bullpen. There is no shortage of options for the Toronto Blue Jays to look at this offseason, but unless they want to spend $15 million and lose a draft pick going after somebody like David Robertson, they are likely going to have to take a look at some of these types of pitchers and weight the cost of acquiring them against the risk involved in signing them.