The Toronto Blue Jays’ offseason transactions haven’t been short on quantity — they’ve just lacked name-brand recognition.
Minor-league signings continue to roll in, most recently with lefties Jeff Beliveau, T.J. House, and Brett Oberholtzer. Pair those moves with the Rule 5 Draft and waiver claims, and it seems like the Blue Jays have been bolstering Buffalo’s lineup more than their own.
Frequently dismissed as “dumpster dives”, these minor-league signings often determine the floor of a team, something that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have focused on heavily (see Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, etc.). The risk-to-reward ratio remains an easy gamble, though, with the cost of a minor-league free agent not being enough to even dent an organization’s payroll if they don’t pan out.
Swinging and missing on a minor-league deal, within the context of today’s market, is equivalent to dropping a dime between your seat and armrest as you fumble for change in the drive-thru.
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The reward, on the other hand, comes in boosting the quality of those four or five players that play just a handful of games each season. Think Scott Diamond, Arnold Leon, Dustin Antolin, or Jimmy Paredes. All entered the organization differently, but in a division that’s entirely likely to be decided by a single game, those cup-of-coffee players can quietly make the- difference.
FOLLOW THE NUMBERS: In 2016, the Blue Jays got lucky. Or they were extremely well-prepared and pro-active (a bit of both, as always). They sent just seven starting pitchers to the mound, and while Aaron Sanchez‘s innings and Marco Estrada‘s back caused the odd tinkering, no significant rotation move was needed due to injury.
In the five seasons prior, Toronto used a dozen or more starters four times.
In the American League East last season, the average team used 8.8 starting pitchers (let’s call it 9) and 22.6 relievers (let’s call it 23).
OPENING DAY, TODAY
If opening day were today, how would the Blue Jays’ top nine starting pitchers and top 23 relievers look?
Starters (likely): Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano, Joe Biagini, Mike Bolsinger, T.J. House, Brett Oberholtzer (9)
Starters (deeper): Glenn Sparkman, Casey Lawrence, Jarrett Grube (3)
The 12 names above get awfully thin towards the end, and beyond that, Toronto might be forced to rush a prospect to the MLB level. That doesn’t fit the current regime in any way, so adding a pad between those prospects and any level of urgency will continue to be a priority. Pitchers like House are a perfect example of that.
Keep in mind, however, that these arms come with variables. There are out-of-option arms (Bolsinger), Rule 5 restrictions (Sparkman), or pitchers that could go to the bullpen based on their talent alone instead of just being stashed away (Biagini).
Bullpen (likely): Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, Danny Barnes, Ryan Tepera, Bo Schultz, Aaron Loup, Chad Girodo, Jeff Beliveau, Leonel Campos, Matt Dermody, Dominic Leone, Chris Smith (12)
Bullpen (Deeper): John Stilson, Tim Mayza, Wil Browning, Dusty Isaacs, Kender Villegas, Philip Walby (6) And since this leaves the Blue Jays at 18…
Bullpen (Prospects): Conner Greene, Ryan Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley, Angel Perdomo, Jon Harris (5)
The likely outcome this spring will see 1-to-3 of the starting pitchers from above move down to this bullpen group, but regardless, there are some true Google names in this rundown.
For the Blue Jays, the good news is on the calendar. Mid-way through December, there is plenty of opportunity remaining on the bullpen market even with the inhibiting contracts being handed out to mid-range relievers.
Franklin Morales was signed just before the 2016 season opened in early April, and while an injury fully negated his value, Morales was a quality arm to find at the time. Through January and February, then especially through late March when rosters around the league feel a squeeze, bullpen assets will become available.
Given the current state of Toronto’s depth, a handful of those names will surely land in blue.