Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
The Blue Jays are watching from the sidelines as an expensive relief market begins to thin, but some recent non-tender free agents could emerge as value plays
It’s been a busy stretch of Blue Jays rumors at the MLB Winter Meetings, but there’s been little in terms of action. A market saturated with cash-wealthy organizations and the inflating value placed on MLB bullpens has priced Toronto out of their most needed market thus far, with recent deals to Mark Lowe and Ryan Madson being the tide that raises all boats on the B-level relief market.
Rumors over the past week to ten days have linked the Blue Jays to “impact power arms” and relievers with past closer’s experience. We took a look at several cost-effective options that fit that description last week, but even those free agents have begun to find paydays. The Colorado Rockies scooped up both Jason Motte at $10 million over two years and Chad Qualls at $12 million over two. What a time to be a free agent reliever.
If you can’t be rich in baseball, you’ve got to be creative. The waiver wire and trade market will become more prominent shopping grounds for the Blue Jays, along with the Rule 5 Draft later this week, but some recent non-tender free agents could fill the market with some potential value plays.
Non-tender names don’t often gain the same open market buzz as free agents who have spent the last month on ‘Top 100 Available’ lists, and admittedly they’ve all been non-tendered for a reason, whether it be undesirable arbitration increases or injury. The talent remains present, though, so let’s dive in with eight recently non-tendered pitchers that make some level of sense in Toronto.
We’ll focus primarily on relievers, but throw in a starting pitcher at the end for good measure.
Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Cishek (Age 29)
2015 MLB: 55.1 IP | 3.58 ERA | 1.482 WHIP
Starting at the top we have Steve Cishek, who’s been a dominant closer in the not-so-distant past. After being drafted and developed in the Marlins system, the sidearming Cishek posted save totals of 34 and 39 in 2013 and 2014. Stretching across his four most successful seasons in Miami (2011-14), he pitched to a cumulative 2.70 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 174 of his 249 appearances resulting in a GF.
As you’ve already assumed, the 2015 season wasn’t as kind to Cishek. The first half of the season saw his ERA balloon to 4.50 in Miami over 32.0 innings before a deal sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals in late July. His performance would improve marginally after the trade, but there’s still reason for worry with his peripherals.
For starters, Cishek’s K/9 fell to 7.8 in 2015 after a career high of 11.6 in 2014 and totals of 9.0+ in the three seasons prior. His walk numbers also spiked. Some of this can be linked to a slight regression in velocity, as Cishek lost approximately 1.0 MPH on average off his two primary pitches (sinker and slider). His slider also took a noticeable step backwards, going from a PITCHf/x value of 4.0+ in four straight seasons to a 2015 value of -1.0.
St. Louis made the non-tender call to avoid his $7.1 million salary, and while nobody with a functioning arm will come cheap on this market, he won’t be demanding an albatross ‘pen deal. This match still doesn’t line up logically for me, given the budget limitations and recent inactivity. Rumor has it that the Mets are also interested. If Toronto chooses to quickly adapt to this week’s climate, however, Cishek offers much of what they’re seeking.
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