Scrape that barrel: Left-handed relief options for Blue Jays

Oct 11, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Javier Lopez (49) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning of game four of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball game against the Chicago Cubs at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 11, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Javier Lopez (49) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning of game four of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball game against the Chicago Cubs at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports /

Aaron Loup, Chad Girodo, Matt Dermody, and Jeff Beliveau still represent the Blue Jays’ strongest left-handed relief options

The beginning of the MLB off-season is like walking into a designer store. The music is soft, the products are beautiful, and it even smells nice.

Then you look at the price tags.

For the Toronto Blue Jays and a long line of teams looking to improve their bullpens through free agency, that’s been their experience. The Blue Jays are especially thin when it comes to left-handers, and despite some recent minor-league additions, it’s likely that a handful of names are still added if the club plans on finding talent through quantity and competition.

Here are a few less-frequently discussed names to monitor.

Javier Lopez, 39  —  2016 organization: San Francisco Giants

The veteran just finished off a three-year, $13 million deal in San Francisco and is a left-handed specialist in the truest sense imaginable. Over his past five seasons, Lopez has appeared in 349 games but pitched just 179.0 innings. In 2016, that grew even more extreme with 26.2 innings over 68 appearances. A well-built roster can handle that level of specialty if the reliever is at the top of their game, but Lopez posted an uncharacteristic 4.05 ERA last year with a -0.6 fWAR.

If Lopez does choose to continue his career, he does still offer teams a career .572 OPS versus left-handed hitters. Those extreme splits haven’t gone anywhere, and with a ground ball percentage that consistently sits above 60%, there’s bound to be interest from a needy team.

Brian Matusz, 29  —  Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs

Blue Jays
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Matusz saw his value plummet in 2016, coming off a strong 2015 season where he posted a 2.94 ERA and 0.5 WAR. A back injury derailed Matusz early in 2016 and he never quite got back on track. The former top prospect was very tough on lefties in 2015, however, holding them to a .186 average and .565 OPS. His splits were very strong at the MLB level prior to that, too, so if Matusz is healthy, he’ll get a long look somewhere.

Cesar Ramos, 32  —  Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers

Blue Jays fans will know Ramos from his seasons in Tampa Bay where he had some modest value as a multi-inning reliever and occasional starter. After a great 2015 season in Los Angeles (2.95 ERA over 52.1 IP, career-best 0.6 WAR), Ramos couldn’t find it in 2016.

The home run ball ate the lefty alive with Texas, as he surrendered 12 in just 47.2 MLB innings. This came with Ramos losing over 1.0 MPH off his average fastball, slider, and curveball velocities, so teams may be hesitant to view 2016 as a simple outlier.

Alex Torres, 29  —  Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants

Added togethers, Torres’ four MLB seasons (154.1 IP) paint an encouraging picture with a 2.52 ERA and 9.2 strikeouts per nine. His control remains an issue, however, with 5.0 per nine at the Major League level and 32 walks in 38 innings at triple-A Sacramento in 2016. Somewhere, a pitching coach will get the spring project of rediscovering the reliever that was worth 1.3 WAR with a 1.71 ERA for the Rays in 2013.

Neal Cotts, 36  —  Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers

Cotts made the rounds at triple-A last season, earning a cumulative 3.83 ERA but no shot at the Majors. At the Major League level in 2015 between Milwaukee and Minnesota, Cotts had a 3.41 ERA and is a few years removed from an out-of-nowhere campaign that saw him post a 1.11 ERA (1.7 WAR) over 57.0 innings with the Rangers. After holding opposing hitters to an OPS under .600 the past two seasons (all levels combined), someone will have a home for Cotts later in the off-season.

Colt Hynes, 31  —  Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics

The Blue Jays thought enough of Hynes to bring him back last off-season, and the lefty was previously acquired by Cleveland in a minor deal back when Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins were still with the organization (though he didn’t pitch for them). Hynes is a career minor-leaguer, make no mistake about it, but his splits against lefties in the minors are fairly strong (and consistent).

Next: Bullpen projections according to Steamer, ZiPS

*Deep Pull:
Juan Grullon, 26  —  Texas Rangers

Grullon debuted in the Texas system all the way back in 2007, pitched well until 2011, then vanished from organized domestic baseball until the winter of 2014. Baseball America noted in early 2015 that, to the best of their knowledge, he had been pitching in an independent league in Japan prior to pitching a few innings that winter in the Dominican league and eventually returning to the Rangers.

Despite not posting the strongest overall numbers between high-A and triple-A the past two seasons, Grullon has been difficult on lefties. He held them to a .585 OPS in 2016 and .617 the year prior. His delivery doesn’t feature many moving parts and comes at a three-quarter angle, maybe slightly lower. If a team moves Grullon into more of a specialist’s role (he’s typically pitched multiple innings), there might just be something there.