Blue Jays Morning Brew: Unfinished business, low-cost relievers, and the under-valued Brett Cecil


You can almost smell the fresh-cut grass already, as we stand a mere 54 days from the required report date for pitchers and catchers in Dunedin. Of course, thoughts of Spring Training aren’t the first thing on the minds of Toronto Blue Jays fans who at the present are just worried about staying warm during the coldest months of the year. However, thoughts of the impending baseball season are enough to warm anyone up, even in the depths of January.

But before we get too far along in our anticipation of spring, the Blue Jays themselves still have quite a bit of unfinished work to put behind them. While the team has been quite busy this offseason, Owen Sanborn at Call to the Pen notes the team still has question marks at second base, center field, the bullpen, and the back-end of the rotation. Now while I’m not completely agreeing with the thought that the Blue Jays have a thin rotation or that center field will necessarily be an issue, the team does obviously have issues to address at second base and in relief. However, if the Blue Jays do add another piece in the rotation, that seems doubtful at this point in the winter, it does allow Toronto to be more creative with Aaron Sanchez, by placing him in the back of the bullpen where he excelled late last season.

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Along a similar thought process, Nick Ashbourne (congrats on the gig Nick!) at Sportsnet takes a look at some low-cost relievers that could appeal to the Blue Jays on a buy-low, bounce-back basis. Of particular interest is Ronald Belisario, who was roughed up a member of the Chicago White Sox last season, but has a pedigree as a solid late-inning reliever and his peripheral stats like FIP and SIERA may be indicators that his 2014 was more a product of poor luck than it was of outright poor pitching.

Coincidentally, while Mr. Sanborn of Call to the Pen lists Brett Cecil as the Jays closer as a possible weak point, Tyler Birss at CttP profiles Cecil along the lines that we know him, as one of the most underrated relievers in the game. Birss notes that rising strike-out rates and an almost unhittable curveball (16 hits on 369 thrown in 2014) have helped to transform Cecil from a failed starter into a dominant late-inning machine. Whether the Blue Jays are ready to move forward with Cecil as the team’s closer remains to be seen, but it could make more sense to build the bullpen around him at this point rather than investing heavily in one of the few remaining closers on the market (i.e. Francisco Rodriguez or Rafael Soriano).

From the bullpen to prospects, we move on to a look at Blue Jays minor leave shortstop Dawel Lugo. After trading highly-touted shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto in the Josh Donaldson swap, the Blue Jays exercised a bit of faith that Dawel Lugo was improving. Formerly thought of as an offense first shortstop that may not stick at the position, Brian Crawford at Baseball Essentials notes that Lugo is making strides defensively. However, Crawford also notes that while Lugo is making those strides, pundits and fans alike have also been drawn to fellow prospect Richard Urena, who could push Lugo to second base long-term.

Finally, and as a bit of break of sorts on the analysis, John Lott at the National Post takes us on the first of a two-part tour of baseball’s instant replay system and the comfort level of the Blue Jays in that system. As Lott notes, the single most frustrating part of the replay system is the stalling of managers walking slowly to the umpire and standing there patiently awaiting the thumbs up from the dugout. It was a walk we came to know and love from John Gibbons, who was one of the most prominent users of the appeal system, even if he was maddeningly unsuccessful at the same time.