After using Dominic Leone as a trade chip to acquire Randal Grichuk, the Blue Jays could probably stand to add one more bullpen arm to the mix.
We’re roughly three weeks away from when pitchers and catchers report to spring training, and there are a lot of good baseball players still looking for their next contract. We’re started to see more action in the last week or two, and now that we’re inside a month it’s likely things will start moving at a pretty quick pace in free agency, at least compared to how this offseason has gone overall.
For the Blue Jays they’ve done almost all of their work via the trade route, and for the most part it’s been a solid play for Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro. They brought in Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte in separate trades to shore up their middle infield depth, and also struck a second deal with the St. Louis Cardinals (where Diaz came from as well) for outfielder Randal Grichuk, a power hitter set to make just 2.6 million in 2018 and who has three years of contract control remaining.
While Grichuk may have been forced out of the Cardinals full time starting outfield picture, that doesn’t mean that he’s not a valuable player, and those aren’t free on the trade market. While I’m a big fan of the trade for the Blue Jays, there’s no doubt that it came with a cost of some sort. The Blue Jays sent one of their better known minor league pitchers in Conner Greene, who had lost a lot of the lustre from his prospect status. Of course, the bigger part of the deal was reliever Dominic Leone, who had an outstanding year in 2017 and is a bargain at 1.085 million, especially when you consider the cost of bullpen upgrades on the open market.
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The Blue Jays have some depth in their bullpen picture, which is why they felt they could use Leone as a trade piece to begin with. There’s no doubt that a starting point of Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, and Danny Barnes is an enviable back end of the bullpen, especially when you consider their bargain contracts in their youth. There’s also veteran Aaron Loup, who despite all of his adventures throughout his tenure, still appears like a lock to make the team again.
From there things get a little murky, but that doesn’t mean that’s where the talent ends. Carlos Ramirez had an incredible season in the minor leagues and continued his shutout streak well into his cameo in the big leagues as well. Left-handers Matt Dermody and Tim Mayza figure to battle for the second spot for southpaws, assuming the Blue Jays carry two, and others like Al Albequerque and Rhiner Cruz could take a serious run at making the team as well. Maybe Joe Biagini even returns to the bullpen as well, and in the case would step right into the spot Leone occupied last year.
Despite the relatively decent depth, I still think the Blue Jays would strongly benefit from adding another bullpen arm. Maybe that comes in the form of moving Biagini back after signing a starter to round out the rotation, or maybe it’s from a few more minor league deals like the ones they’ve handed out this week. The bullpen is always a volatile area, and taking a few gambles never hurts for sure, after all, Biagini was acquired as a Rule 5 pick.
That said, I really feel like the Blue Jays would be well advised to add another proven commodity before they break camp. Maybe that comes through free agency, or maybe it’s by trading an outfielder once other teams start to trim their rosters as well, and I would expect that Atkins and Shapiro have their eyes and ears peeled for just that sort of thing, as they’ve talked about.
Fortunately it’s an area that they can play out a bit more, especially as they continue to weigh options for the starting rotation and possibly elsewhere. The closer we get to spring training beginning, the more likely a bargain could be had in an area like the bullpen, and given the decent strength in the depth chart it’s not a desperate need for the Blue Jays. It sure would go a long way to helping the unit return as strong or better as they were in 2017 though, and it doesn’t even have to be the fanciest or most expensive addition. In this case, one more solid piece for the bullpen should be all they need, at least for now.