Blue Jays: Who will stay and who will go from the bullpen?

Brendan Panikkar
May 9, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mike Bolsinger (49) pitches against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
May 9, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mike Bolsinger (49) pitches against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Toronto Blue Jays are having one of those years where nothing seems to go right with the health of the team. It is well documented who is on the disabled list as of May 11th so I won’t list those names.

With the addition of Francisco Liriano to the DL, the Blue Jays have more of their payroll on the DL than on their active roster. It isn’t pretty, but they’ve somehow managed to stay afloat.

When you break things down with the team, it looks as follows:

Bench – Mike OhlmanChris Coghlan/Darwin BarneyKendrys Morales*

Rotation – Marco EstradaJoe BiaginiMarcus StromanAaron SanchezMike Bolsinger

Bullpen – Danny BarnesLeonel CamposDominic LeoneRyan TeperaAaron LoupJ.P. HowellJoe SmithJason GrilliRoberto Osuna

The Blue Jays are operating with a 9 man bullpen and 3 man bench, but technically it is a two man bench since Morales is not on the DL but cannot DH. Let’s look around at some of the news in relation to the men on the disabled list.

  • Troy Tulowitzki – Expected to head out on a rehab assignment this weekend, re-join Blue Jays in Atlanta on May 17th.
  • Russell Martin – Though nothing is official, it appears Martin will return after his 10 days on the DL is completed. That would be a tentative return of May 18th at Atlanta.
  • Francisco Liriano – Manager John Gibbons thinks it will be the minimum of 10 days for Liriano on the DL. If so, a return of May 20th at Baltimore which would line-up with Mike Bolsinger‘s turn through the rotation.
  • Aaron Sanchez – Expected to be activated in time for Sunday, May 14th vs. Seattle Mariners.
  • Josh Donaldson – No concrete timeline other than potentially late May.
  • J.A. Happ – Silence. No real news has been reported about Happ.

This brings it to the time of the piece where we dive into what I want to talk about. The bullpen has 9 men in it which certainly means two relievers will be out of jobs at the major league level when some of these guys are activated.

Locks

It goes without saying that there are four men who are guaranteed spots and will not be going anywhere, for now. Smith has been dynamic to the tune of a 2.12 ERA and 1.73 FIP all while posting a K/9 of 13.24. That’s well above his career norm of 7.67 K/9, so some regression in that department will happen, but Smith has been fantastic. Osuna is Osuna. He isn’t going anywhere.

J.P. Howell and Jason Grilli are both locks who are not going anywhere in the next couple of weeks, but that may change and I will cover that later.

More from Toronto Blue Jays News

Almost Locks

Aaron Loup has been much better in 2017 than 2016. That is largely because he is healthy and velocity has come back. Loup does have options, but he has pitched well minus a few outings and he is a left-hander.

Ryan Tepera is the other almost lock to not leave the Blue Jays bullpen. Tepera has always had good stuff and was dominating AAA in 2016. He is putting it all together and in the month of May, he hasn’t allowed a run in 5.2 innings. In fact, since April 21st when he pitched 3.0 innings in relief at Los Angeles, Tepera has only allowed 3 runs in 13.1 innings.

On the Bubble

There is one interesting name I have in this section of the bullpen and it’s Danny Barnes. Danny Barnes is a highly touted arm and was even projected by ZiPS to post a 1.1 fWAR in 2017. As a reliever, anything above 1.0 generally means you’re very good. Barnes has options and I feel the Blue Jays organization for strictly asset management purposes, could send Barnes down depending on how things pan out. However, Barnes should not be the one to go. He should be a lock for the rest of the season.

Demoted

In my mind, the two arms that will be gone by the time the Blue Jays homestand is done next week Wednesday is Leonel Campos and Dominic Leone. Campos is the easiest and most obvious to go once Sanchez gets activated on Sunday.

Dominic Leone is the other that I think will be gone when Tulowitzki gets activated on Wednesday. It is likely between Danny Barnes and Dominic Leone. Leone started his season quite well posting a 2.61 ERA through his first 8 appearances. However, since April 28th, Leone has surrendered 6 runs in his past 6 appearances. Leone does have options, so he can go down freely. Barnes has come up and pitched well, so between Danny Barnes and Dominic Leone, Leone is likely the odd guy out once Tulowitzki is back.

Post May 18th

Bench – Luke MaileEzequiel Carrera/Steve PearceDarwin Barney/Chris Coghlan, Ryan Goins

Rotation – Same as above

Bullpen – Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, J.P. Howell, Jason Grilli, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Aaron Loup

We’ve seemed to have sorted the bullpen once May 18th rolls around. It’s simple between now and then. Campos goes back down for Sanchez. In my mind, Leone goes to Buffalo when Tulowitzki gets activated. The bullpen will be unaffected when Russell Martin returns as Mike Ohlman will be sent down.

It’s past May 18th where the bullpen picture could get interesting. I’m assuming J.A. Happ doesn’t return until June, maybe even mid-to-late June as there has been next to nothing reported on how Happ is doing. Joe Biagini is likely to continue in the rotation going forward until J.A. Happ returns. That leaves Josh Donaldson and Francisco Liriano.

Liriano is likely the first back. As noted earlier, John Gibbons said they expect Liriano could be good to go after his 10-day DL stint. That lines up Liriano to return May 20th, which is also Mike Bolsinger’s turn in the rotation. Bolsinger threw the ball quite well in his first Blue Jays start on May 9th. Bolsinger is out of options and would need to clear waivers to remain in the Blue Jays organization. If Bolsinger throws the ball well in his next start or two, he would certainly be claimed. Casey Lawrence was claimed today (May 11th) by the Mariners.

For strictly asset management, unless Danny Barnes is throwing the ball well, Barnes likely would be the next to be sent down to Buffalo to keep Mike Bolsinger in the organization. Bolsinger also profiles quite well as a long man in the bullpen, which could allow for the emergence of Ryan Tepera to throw in more high leverage situations. In this situation, it would be simply who’s throwing the ball better between Aaron Loup or Danny Barnes. Loup being a left-hander means he’d likely be the favourite to stay. If Bolsinger does not throw well in his next start or two, the Blue Jays likely DFA Bolsinger and hope he goes unclaimed.

Post May 20th

Bench – Same as above

Rotation – Francisco Liriano, Marco Estrada, Joe Biagini, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez

Bullpen – Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, J.P. Howell, Jason Grilli, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup, Mike Bolsinger

Josh Donaldson will likely be the next one back, but that would not affect the bullpen. Chris Coghlan would be gone. It’s not until J.A. Happ returns will the bullpen and rotation have some tough calls to make but those are well down the road, so it is impossible to speculate.

Next: Blue Jays: What to do with Ryan Goins

The bullpen will be somewhat reshaped over the next few weeks, but I feel the bullpen will look like the bullpen I have in the post-May 20th section.

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