In Blue Jays’ circles, the suggestion of signing a big-money relief arm is met with a common refrain.
“Don’t you remember B.J. Ryan?”
In 2005, Ryan was a startling signing for the Blue Jays, who handed him the biggest contract for a relief pitcher in MLB history at the time: Five years, $47 million. This was the same offseason that the Blue Jays added A.J. Burnett, Troy Glaus, and Lyle Overbay in an attempt to end their long playoff drought.
The big lefty had just recently discovered himself after a slow start to his career in Baltimore, and the year prior, had saved 36 ball games with a 2.43 ERA while striking out 12.8 batters per nine innings.
B.J. Ryan was eventually cut midway through the 2009 season, and earned a full $10 million in 2010 to not throw a pitch for the Blue Jays. His case still stands as one of the many cautionary tales about paying relievers entering their 30s, but for that one year in 2006, Ryan was worth every penny and more.
That season, Ryan posted a 2.7 fWAR, ranking him as the fifth-most valuable reliever in all of baseball behind J.J. Putz, Takashi Saito, Jonathan Papelbon, and Joe Nathan. His 1.37 ERA ranked him fourth among qualified relievers while his 38 saves put him fifth.
His fastball was nearly unhittable, and his slider, which Ryan threw almost one-quarter of the time, complemented that perfectly. Blue Jays fans were treated to a steady diet of post-save fist pumps as the fire and lightning graphics played up the wall and across the video board. Until Tommy John came a-knockin’.
After a handful of poor outings to open 2007, Ryan was forced to go under the knife and missed the full season. He did bounce back nicely in 2008 after a very quick return to the mound, posting a 2.95 ERA with 32 saves, but his arm was never the same.
By the time of his release in 2009, Ryan had lost the closer’s job and held an ERA of 6.53 in July.
Granted, using Ryan as an apples-to-apples comparison for modern relievers is a leap. All elbows are created differently, and for every 28-year-old that burns out overnight, there is a Jason Grilli, Joaquin Benoit, or Darren Oliver.
Ryan didn’t fall into that latter group, but for a quick six months one decade ago, he was one of the most electrifying athletes that the city of Toronto had to offer.