Free Agent Relief Options For the Jays


We’re all aware that Jays need to beef up their bullpen. The strength of 2013 became one of the banes of 2014. The Jays are likely to add 1-3 relievers to bolster this area. Others will be brought in for a tryout to compete with the Jays’ existing set of bubble bullpen arms. The only incumbent relievers who figure to be locks for 2014 are Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup and Marco Estrada (who could be an unlikely contender for the rotation). That leaves four or five spots up in the air. Zak Knox outlined some of the Jays’ internal options here. Wilton Lopez, Rob Rasmussen, Gregory Infante, Todd Redmond and Bobby Korecky could also be in the mix internally.

The positives of our current group are our two dominant lefties, the potential of relief prospects, the abundance of average relief depth, and the fact that the Jays can retain almost all of that depth regardless of who they bring in via trade or free agency. Only Todd Redmond, out of the aforementioned group, is out of options. This is bad news for poor Chad Jenkins, who could be shuttled up and down again this year, but good news for fans and flexibility for Alex Anthopoulos. The con is that average options or potential, while nice to have, won’t cut it on their own. 

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In searching for free agent relief help, we must keep in mind that the Jays shouldn’t be looking for more average, lower end bullpen guys. They have enough of those. The Jays need reliable, impact high leverage relievers. This also means that they shouldn’t acquire any reclamation projects on major league deals—they don’t want to tie themselves to potential dead weight. It should also be noted that relievers are fickle creatures—notoriously hard to predict and prone to vast performance fluctuations year to year. Here are some of the remaining names:

Rafael Soriano: A definite improvement. His age could make him somewhat cheaper than Romo. His flyball tendencies could be worrisome in the Rogers Centre (0.48 GB/FB).

Francisco Rodriguez: Still a good closer but his FIP and HR/9 have been trending up the past few years. He is still 32 and has an impressive pedigree, however that will also make him more expensive than he is likely worth. MLBTR says two years/14m.

Casey Janssen: Had a down half year but had three great years before that. We’re familiar with what he can do. MLBTR did not release an expected contract for him but 5-6m seems reasonable considering the relief market.

Sep 20, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Casey Janssen (44) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Toronto Blue Jays won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

That’s it for established closing options. Out of that group, Casey could provide the most bang for our buck. Casey and the Jays distanced themselves from each other as evidenced by public comments from both sides. But if Casey waits too long, he could find himself in a position where the Jays are the best option and likewise, the Jays could eventually come to the conclusion that Janssen might provide them with the best value for what they’re willing to spend. It doesn’t seem probable, but if I may use a hockey analogy: James Reimer is an example of an estranged player and team eventually seeing that they were best for each other all along. How sweet.

I’d be comfortable with Soriano or Rodriguez at 6-7m but if it were up to me, I’d prefer to bring back Casey. He has a better FIP and WHIP than the other two over the past 5 years and he’d likely be cheaper.

Burke Badenhop, Matt Albers and Dustin McGowan would be right handed non-closer improvements. Neal Cotts and Tom Gorzelanny would be lefty improvements. I would expect those gentlemen to be in the 2-4m range and be more likely than the remaining closer options to pique Alex Anthopoulos’s interest as the off seasons wears on. 

There are guys like Jason Grilli, Joe Beimel and Joba Chamberlain who are available but are too risky for a recovering bullpen. Then there are guys like Mike Adams and Tim Stauffer who just aren’t enough of an improvement over the status quo. There are the major league reclamation/renovation projects who should be avoided like Alexi Ogando and Chris Perez. The only reclamation projects I’d consider would be Craig Breslow or potentially John Axford in a reduced role (I doubt either player would be a fan of what I would offer though).

Next: Who is the Blue Jays' Ace?

A number of reclamation/renovation relievers could be brought in on a spring training invite. The biggest diamond in the rough could be Jesse Crain. He missed all 2014 but was dominant for several years prior. Matt Lindstrom had a terrible 2014 and has injury issues but he also has a lot of upside. Brian Wilson might agree to an arrangement like this as well (as outlined by Keegan Matheson here). Then there’s guys like Sergio Santos. On a spring training invite? Why not.

Looking at this list of remaining free agent relievers (a complete one is available here) and considering the current market climate, it’s not surprising that Alex Anthopoulos is looking more at swinging a trade right now. As the off-season wears on though, I’d expect Alex to take a second look at some of these potential options for the bullpen.