Blue Jays: Do they need a long man in the bullpen?

TORONTO, ON - JULY 6: Ryan Tepera
TORONTO, ON - JULY 6: Ryan Tepera /

With the battle for the bullpen starting to take shape, there’s a chance the Blue Jays won’t have a designated long man. Do they actually need one?

We’re just over a week from the first game of the season for the Toronto Blue Jays, and with that we’re starting to get a better idea of what the roster might look like. Obviously injuries will factor into who actually breaks camp, but for the most part it looks like the bulk of the team will be ready to go for game one.

One of the areas that’s been a competitive this spring has been in the bullpen, with the final decisions yet to be made. The Jays return the likes of Roberto Osuna as their closer, and also veterans like Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Aaron Loup, and new acquisition, Seung-hwan Oh. That’s where it gets complicated, as there are a number of suitable candidates for that the last two spots.

There are several veterans in camp on minor league deals, as Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have done a great job of getting a look at veteran talent on the cheap. The leading two candidates are probably Canadian, John Axford, and more recent signee, Tyler Clippard. Both have closer’s experience and have looked  good during Grapefruit League action.

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There are others in the mix like Al Alburquerque, Tim Mayza, and more, but if I was going to put money down today, my guess is Axford and Clippard will at least open the season in those positions. Things can change quickly, especially near the beginning of a new season and with minor league contracts, but it’s looking more and more likely that those two will get the first crack to stick with the roster.

If that’s the case it’ll mean two things for John Gibbons‘ bullpen. For one, he’ll only have one left-hander to use, as was often the case last season with Aaron Loup being the only southpaw. Secondly, he’ll be left without a true long man in the group, something that could require roster juggling more than anything else.

The closest thing to that description would likely Ryan Tepera, and it’s possible he could fill the need on the (hopefully) rare occasion it’s needed. He was frequently used as the 8th inning man for Osuna last season, but with Oh, Barnes, Axford, and Clippard kicking around, Gibbons could get create with how he uses his weapons.

It’s also possible the Blue Jays could go with another one of their available bullpen options to break camp, or they could even keep their eyes and ears open for other veterans becoming available in the last week before Opening Day. Good examples over the last couple days include Fernando Abad, Antonio Bastardo, and several others, with the possibility for more in the coming days. That said, if another move is made it’s likely that it’s of the left-hander variety, rather than looking for a long man. There are in house options for that like Luis Santos, or even Joe Biagini, if the need were to become dire.

Of course the question of whether the Blue Jays need a long man will likely come down to the health and performance of their starting rotation. If the five man group of Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, and Jaime Garcia can all pitch in their regular turn, the burden will be a lot easier on the bullpen in 2018 than it was last year. If that’s the case, maybe they won’t need a long man, at least to start the season.

Over the course of 162 games, it’s pretty much a guarantee that they’ll need someone out of the bullpen who can pitch multiple innings at some point. However, to start the season it looks like the Jays could forego that role in their bullpen for the sake of keeping around a couple of veterans like Axford and Clippard on minor league deals. The roster juggling will likely go on for a few weeks anyway, but for now the Jays have more good right-handers than they have spots for. That’s rarely a bad thing, whether you’re lacking a second lefty or a traditional long man.

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