For all the work that the free agent market did to make old favourites Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion more affordable options for the Blue Jays, it’s done them no favours when it comes to the bullpen.
This isn’t an issue of the whopping deals handed out to the top-end closers, or even Brett Cecil and the four-year, $30.5 million deal he signed in St. Louis. It’s the rich deals being found on the second tier of the market that are limiting the Blue Jays’ opportunities.
On Thursday, the Colorado Rockies signed reliever Mike Dunn to a three-year, $19 million deal. Dunn is one of the market’s stronger lefties remaining, but regardless, his 4.02 ERA over the past two season with WAR totals of 0.3 and 0.1 is, frankly, something that many teams find on the waiver wire.
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Dunn’s splits are stronger against left-handed batters, but not dominantly so, and with 1.0 MPH dropping off his fastball last season, it’s reasonable to question the signing. In the end, Dunn in still a talented reliever and a player’s value is what the market it willing to pay them, not a penny more or less, but that’s not an encouraging sign for teams looking to budget shop.
Another Thursday signing was former Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa, who landed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Miami Marlins. This comes a month and a half after Tazawa was left off of Boston’s playoff roster.
The 30-year-old right-hander posted a 4.17 ERA over 49.2 innings last season, good for a 0.2 WAR. His 2015 season (1.1 WAR) was better than his 4.14 ERA that season suggests, but with some declining velocity of his own and nine home runs allowed in 2016, this is a rather generous deal for Tazawa.
Some one-year deals have followed this trend, including Koji Uehara‘s one-year, $6 million deal with the Cubs that actually looks to be good value for Chicago and Joaquin Benoit’s one-year, $7.5 million deal with the Phillies.
Benoit was brilliant after coming to the Blue Jays and has been one of the league’s steadiest relievers since 2010 (outside of his ugly start to 2016 in Seattle), but at 39, $7.5 million is big money. Within this context, Jason Grilli‘s $3 million for 2017 is looking very comfortable for the Blue Jays.
Veteran right-hander and consistent producer of wonky contact Brad Ziegler could be the next reliever to cash in, and while he’d profile well in a Blue Jays’ bullpen, his value will be ballooned out of the reach of many teams.
Toronto won’t be completely boxed out of this market by any means, but if a gem can be found through frequent dips into the minor-league free agent pool, or a more creative approach, that’s looking like an easier path at this point.