Blue Jays: A bullpen battle full of worthwhile gambles

DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 27: John Axford
DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 27: John Axford /

The Blue Jays have a group of guaranteed members of their bullpen, and the rest of the spots will likely go to a group of worthwhile veteran gambles.

The Blue Jays have been one of the busier teams this offseason, even if most of their work has been of the under-the-radar variety. They had a lot of holes to fill on the 25 man roster, and there was some turnover that needed to happen after a disappointing 2017 season, and Ross Atkins and company have done just that. They brought in depth in the outfield, in the middle infield, and in the rotation by signing Jaime Garcia.

One other area they’ve quietly addressed has been the bullpen. While it’s an area they haven’t spent a huge amount of money on, the front office has brought in a slew of veteran options to choose from. When you consider how volatile the bullpen can be at the best of times, it’s probably a worthwhile strategy, especially when you’re rounding out a talented nucleus like what the Blue Jays already employ.

Among the group that are pretty much guaranteed a spot are Roberto Osuna as the closer, and Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Aaron Loup, and new acquisition Seung-hwan Oh. That leaves two spots to fill out the bullpen, and it’s also possible they could break camp with eight relievers depending on how things shake out. They’ve done it before to get creative with protecting pitching depth to start the season.

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Those final two spots could go to several different veterans the Blue Jays are auditioning in house this offseason. They could also decide to add a second left-hander, which means one of Matt Dermody, Tim Mayza, or veteran Craig Breslow would get the gig. Otherwise, they signed Canadian John Axford early this winter, and other veterans like Al Alburquerque, Jake Petricka, and the recently signed Tyler Clippard.

There’s also guys like Taylor Guerrieri and Carlos Ramirez that could draw serious consideration. To further cloud the picture, the possibility exists that the Blue Jays could choose to make Joe Biagini a reliever to open the season, though that seems unlikely at this point.

Put it all together and it’s a quiet job of assembling a potentially formidable group, while not overspending to do so. I’m definitely in favour of spending when necessary, but I cringed when I saw some of the contracts going to middle relievers this offseason, (which oddly enough, was one of the quicker groups to sell in this ridiculous market), so I like the strategy that Atkins and Mark Shapiro employed here.

With a strong core group including Osuna, Oh, Barnes, Tepera, and arguably Loup, there’s room for the Blue Jays to look for some lightning in a bottle. If I’m okay with them doing that in any area, it’s in the bullpen, because of the aforementioned volatile nature of the position.

I might be optimistic, and that happens a lot at this time in the baseball calendar for me, but I like the chances of one or more of Albuerquerque, Axford, Clippard, Petricka, or Breslow providing great value on a minor league contract, and those are the kind of wins that can make or break a tight race like the one the Blue Jays will take on in the AL East.

As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a big minor league contract, and for Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays I think they’ve done a solid job of bringing in worthwhile gambles this offseason. You never really know how things will work out in the bullpen year to year, and there might be a home run or two already under contract. Maybe not, but I like the group they’ve taken a chance on anyway.

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