There’s a good chance the Blue Jays will be among the teams looking for bullpen options on a MiLB deal throughout spring training. Looking at who is already in house, how great is the need for the Blue Jays to keep shopping?
The numbers don’t do the Blue Jays’ bullpen full justice from 2017, but those of us that watched on a regular basis are well aware of the important role they played last season. As the rotation struggled to stay healthy and pitch deep into games, the bullpen was heavily relied upon and things could have been a lot worse in Toronto if not for the performance of that unit.
Most of the gang is back together for 2018, with the exception of Dominic Leone who was traded to the Cardinals, and a few others like J.P. Howell, who didn’t play a huge role last season anyway. The group will be built around the likes of Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, and others, and it might be one of the more interesting spring battles for John Gibbons and company to sort out.
Beyond the three listed above there are a lot of question marks. The club avoided arbitration with Aaron Loup who returns for another season on a $1,812,500 deal, and will hope to build on a better 2017 season after struggling for a few years. He’ll have some competition from the left side as well with newly inked Craig Breslow looking to secure a job, as well as a couple talented youngsters in Tim Mayza and Matt Dermody. The Jays have gone light from the left side in recent years, but something tells me at least two of these four will break camp with the team, with the likely bet being on Loup and Breslow, for better or for worse.
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After that we’re likely looking at two more spots for the rest of the group to fight over, and there are a few variables to be determined. One of the bigger questions is whether Joe Biagini will start his season in the rotation in Buffalo, serving as depth for the starting five, or if he’ll re-join the bullpen where he thrived in 2016. There are solid arguments for either decision, but if the Jays decide to use him in the bullpen to help with the loss of Leone, that brings the group to six.
If they do keep Biagini focused on starting then there could be two spots, but at the very least there will still be a spring battle over one job either way. As we’ve mentioned above, there’s a good chance the Blue Jays could look to continue to add before Opening Day as well, both through the avenue of free agents still looking for a job, and possibly from those who are cut from other teams as spring training presses on.
For now, that last spot or two will likely come down to Carlos Ramirez, John Axford, Al Alburquerque, and maybe Jake Petricka. Ramirez was sensational last year in Triple A and into his MLB stint, but could also serve as depth with minor league options. Alburquerque was quietly pretty good for the Royals and White Sox in 28 innings last year, posting a 2.50 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP. The 34 year old Axford struggled through an injury riddled year in 2017, but had 25 saves as recently as 2015, and has the whole Canadian thing going for him. Petricka was excellent earlier in his career as well, and will hope to find the form that earned him a 2.96 ERA in 73 innings in 2014.
Once again, there’s a good chance the list of names grows before the final decisions are made, but if I were going to place my money on the seven names to start the season I’d go with: Osuna, Tepera, Barnes, Loup, Breslow, Axford and Alburquerque, and the potential for a quick change among those last three if things aren’t working out. I’m willing to bet that John Gibbons would take Biagini in his bullpen, but I’m also going to guess that he begins the season as a starter, at least until a significant need comes up. I also like Ramirez, but his having minor league options will work against him.
Regardless of what the final arsenal ends up being, there should be a enough talent to get the job on most nights. If the rotation can provide a little more length than they did last year, they might even have the chance to be an elite group.