The Toronto Blue Jays bullpen was an unexpected bright spot in 2017 with the emergence of many little-known relievers, can the Jays bullpen catch lightning in a bottle and repeat their performance in 2018?
This offseason free agent relievers have made off like bandits cashing in on the open market however the Jays have stood pat, poised to roll with their surplus of affordable bullpen arms from 2017. The likes of Ryan Tepera, Dominic Leone, and Danny Barnes were all household names among Jays fans by season’s end.
With many vacancies around the diamond still needing to be addressed the bullpen is nearly written in stone for the upcoming season. The addition of a proven set-up guy would be a nice luxury but not a necessity as the Jays have Roberto Osuna, Aaron Loup, Carlos Ramirez, Tepera, Leone, Barnes and possibly Joe Biagini penciled in as the odds-on favourites to make the trek north after spring training.
A little talked about move last season was the waiver pick-up of Dominic Leone from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of November. The 26-year old was lights out for the better part of the 2017 season making 65 appearances out of the pen for manager John Gibbons. Leone went 3-0 with a 2.56 earned run average fanning 81 in 70.1 innings and a 2.2 WAR on the bump.
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Leone had experienced success at the major league level previously with the Seattle Mariners accumulating a 2.17 earned run average in 57 games in 2014. However, he had been unable to duplicate those numbers until last season.
Ryan Tepera took that proverbial next step in 2017 asserting himself as a reliable bullpen arm leading the team with 73 appearances. The 30-year old went 7-1 with a 3.59 earned run average while striking out 81 and accumulating a 1.2 WAR last season. Tepera had 2 saves last season and could see regular 8th inning duties setting the table for Osuna.
Another unexpected surprise last season was the rise of Danny Barnes as the 28-year old proved he can compete on the big club. Barnes racked up 60 appearances with a respectable 3.55 earned run average and a 1.4 WAR last season.
Even Aaron Loup lowered his ERA in 2017 and looked more like the Loup of 2014 for much of the season. Closer Roberto Osuna struggled in the second half of the season but still managed to earn 39 saves and should be good to go come April.
Look for newcomer Carlos Ramirez to get a long look during Grapefruit League action play to make this team. Ramirez was flawless on the farm last season and impressed during his September call-up proving he is ready to contribute at the top level.
If the Jays can acquire or sign another starter Joe Biagini would be relegated back to the bullpen where he has enjoyed success in the past. The 2016 version of Biagini would really solidify the pen if the aforementioned hurlers can repeat their 2017 performances.
The bullpen is very cost effective and now has a proven track record, however, we all know how volatile a pen can be from season to season. So here is hoping the Jays can catch lightning in a bottle twice and the boys can clone their 2017 success moving forward.