Blue Jays Arnold Leon: The man in the middle

Mar 20, 2016; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Arnold Leon (68) at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2016; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Arnold Leon (68) at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The 27-year-old Mexican reliever joined the Blue Jays in a minor deal from the Oakland Athletics in early January, but hasn’t made many headlines since

Nobody is talking about Arnold Leon, and in some ways, that’s a good thing.

After coming over from the Oakland Athletics on January 5th, Leon has very quietly occupied a spot on the 40-man roster while putting up excellent numbers across his brief spring appearances.

Though 7.0 innings pitched in six spring games, Leon has allowed no runs with just two hits against and two walks. Not nearly enough to draw legitimate conclusions from, of course, but the 27-year-old Mexican certainly hasn’t hurt his standing with the club.

Still, though, Leon could be a man without a home.

Working in his favour, beyond those spring stats, is some role versatility and the fact that Mark Shapiro went out of his way to commend Leon’s spring training earlier in the week during a Fan 590 appearance.

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Leon originally joined Oakland’s farm system as a 19-year-old in 2008, but spent the majority of his Minor League career as a relief arm until more recently. After working as a full-time starter in 2013 and 2014 (to average results), he was moved back into the bullpen after being recalled for his Major League debut last season. In 26.2 MLB innings he would post a 4.32 ERA with 19 strikeouts.

Also working for Leon is the fact that he is out of options. He is joined by other relievers such as Steve Delabar in this sense, and Rule 5 pick Joe Biagini will need to be offered back to the San Francisco Giants if he does not crack the opening day 25-man roster. If a Blue Jays starter were to need a brief stint on the disabled list to begin the year then Leon could make sense as an eighth bullpen arm to cover the first week-plus (considering the flexibility allowed by off days), but as it stands, he’ll be exposed to waivers prior to opening day if not selected for a ‘pen job.

For Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins to seek out and acquire Leon, though, there had to be something they liked on the field.

Perhaps the better question is, then: Is Leon unique enough to this roster to find a role?

Much of the bullpen has already been determined. Brett Cecil, Drew Storen, and Roberto Osuna will likely be joined by Randy Choate and the loser of Aaron Sanchez and Gavin Floyd. Add in Jesse Chavez as the long man and Toronto is left with one open job.

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Some higher-ceiling arms like Delabar, Bo Schultz, or Pat Venditte could make a lot of sense there, but without high strikeout tendencies, Leon doesn’t seem to fit the big picture here. Chavez will be capable of multiple innings and so will Sanchez or Floyd. Roberto Osuna may be tasked with extended outings in higher-leverage situations, as well, so the need for length may not earn Leon much rope.

At the end of the week, though, maybe this is a good problem. The Blue Jays could certainly be at risk of losing a player or two on waivers, but that is the product of a strong roster.

The potential still remains that Leon would pass through to triple-A, a la Chad Jenkins earlier in the offseason, but there doesn’t seem to be a simple-fit home for him on the Major League pitching staff at this time.