At least two right-handed relief jobs are open for competition in the Blue Jays’ current bullpen picture
Toronto’s bullpen rebuild is facing an uphill battle. Not only is the left-handed relief market seeing its traditionally ballooned prices, but even the righty market has spiked with the recent shift towards impactful and specialized bullpens.
Look no further than Junichi Tazawa, who inked a two-year, $12 million deal with Miami just two months after being left off of Boston’s playoff roster.
On Wednesday, we looked at a handful of left-handed relievers that were a little “off the board”. Time for the righties:
Joe Smith, 32 — 2016 organizations: Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs
Smith isn’t generating much buzz on the open market after splitting a 3.46 ERA between L.A. and Chicago, largely because of his career-high eight home runs allowed in 2016 and some unfavourable peripherals that resulted in a -0.4 WAR. He’s never let his MLB ERA slip above four, however, and the 10-year veteran is usually good for a ground ball rate of 50% or higher from his sidearm release angle. It also doesn’t hurt that Smith pitched five very strong seasons in Cleveland from 2009 to 2013.
Matt Belisle, 36 — Washington Nationals
Belisle signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Nats last February that worked out very nicely for Washington. The veteran posted a 1.76 ERA and 0.7 fWAR, thanks in large part to his tidy 1.4 walks per nine innings (always a strength of Belisle’s). He avoided hard contact better than he ever has in 2016, which could normalize, and used his slider a little more than average. Belisle won’t be pitching the eighth inning in any 2-1 games, but he’s still good for a trustworthy sixth or seventh.
Trevor Cahill, 28 — Chicago Cubs
Cahill is at a crossroads in his career, but not necessarily in a bad way. He had some success as a starter earlier in his career, including a pair of 200-inning seasons in 2011-’12, but eventually lost his effectiveness and was cut by the Atlanta Braves in late 2015. After Chicago scooped him up and began using him primarily as a reliever, things changed for the better. This past season, Cahill posted a 2.74 ERA over 50 appearances with 9.0 K/9 and a career-high fastball velocity of 92.4 MPH. He’s likely to have teams interested in him as both a starter and reliever.
Peter Moylan, 38 — Kansas City Royals
Moylan’s story isn’t a common one, at this point. The Australian-born righty has undergone two Tommy John surgeries, and at 38, is still coming off a season where he still held some modest MLB value. Over 44.2 innings for the Royals, Moylan put up a 3.43 ERA and 0.2 WAR. Most important from the Blue Jays’ perspective, however, is Moylan’s career ground ball rate of 61.6% that still hasn’t gone anywhere. His sinker-slider combo won’t fry the radar gun, but it’s still getting the job done.
Yusmeiro Petit, 32 — Washington Nationals
Washington chose the $500,000 buyout over Petit’s $3 million salary in 2017, which isn’t the greatest of compliments, but remember that the Blue Jays were linked to the Venezualan last off-season. After keeping his ERA steady between 3.56 and 3.69 from 2013 to 2015, it spiked to 4.50 in 2016. He’s been a part-time starter as recently as 2014, however, and offers a strong walk rate, both of which will continue to earn him looks.
Preston Guilmet, 29 — Detroit Tigers
Guilmet continues to pitch very well in the minors, but struggles to seize any MLB opportunity given to him. He worked the entire 2016 season at triple-A, putting together a very nice 2.77 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts per nine and just 1.6 walks. He’s no flamethrower, but with a consistent track record of success in the upper-minors, he’s a great piece of organizational depth.
Guilmet is somewhat of a known asset, too. Toronto claimed him off waivers in 2015, where he lasted a successful month in Buffalo before the DFA mill churned again. He was also drafted and developed by — you guessed it — Cleveland, where he peaked with strong campaigns in double-A (’13) and triple-A (’14).
J.J. Hoover, 29 — Cincinnati Reds
Hoover showed some real flashes in 2013 and 2015 for the Reds, posting an ERA south of three each season with velocity that could reach up and touch the mid-90s. After the door opened for him to take over Aroldis Chapman‘s closer’s role permanently in 2016, Hoover responded by allowing 28 runs in 18.2 innings. No typo.
The worrying aspect of that was his fastball velocity, which slipped almost 2.0 full MPH on average, but he did far much better and regain his strikeout numbers when back in triple-A. Hoover remains a shot in the dark on an arm pushing 30 and losing velocity, which on the free agent market, is a very, very common commodity. He’s shown that he can do it at the MLB level, though, which will give him a nudge ahead of others.
Aaron Barrett, 28 — Washington Nationals
Barrett has spent his full career in the Nats’ system, and for a quick minute in 2014, it looked like he was about to step forward as a legitimate MLB reliever. That season, he broke out with a 2.66 ERA in 50 appearances with a strikeout ratio of 10.8 per nine.
Tommy John derailed his rise, unfortunately, and while rehabbing this past July, fractured his elbow which required another procedure. There will still be interest, however, and teams will be willing to take a chance on his power arm returning.
Kevin Jepsen, 32 — Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins
Jepsen is hitting the market a year too late. In 2014 and 2015 combined, the long-time Angels’ reliever put up a 2.47 ERA over a 149 appearances while averaging a strikeout per inning. His 2016 was a different story as his velocity dipped, his ground ball rate dropped, and his home run rate spiked. Jepsen’s receding velocity and lack of success caused him to turn to his slider 27.5% of the time (career average: 17.5%), so interested teams will need to assess the likelihood of a bounce-back.
Eduard Santos, 27 — Oakland Athletics
Santos might have been on an MLB bullpen trajectory with the Angels for a few seasons before his move to Oakland, but he’s still got a chance given his recent numbers. Santos 3.43 ERA at triple-A last season and a 2.47 ERA in double-A the year prior (including 12.0 K/9). His control remains inconsistent, but if he’s given the chance to max out his velocity in single innings instead of working multiple frames, there could be something there. A key to his success the past two seasons has been pitching left-handed hitters very, very well.