Blue Jays: Reliever market playing into management’s hands again

TORONTO, ON - JULY 2: Seunghwan Oh #22 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the tenth inning during MLB game action against the Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre on July 2, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 2: Seunghwan Oh #22 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the tenth inning during MLB game action against the Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre on July 2, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have played the relief market beautifully the last few years. They are in position to do that again for the Toronto Blue Jays.

When Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro took over the front office, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays were able to easily identify a trend when each season’s rosters were constructed in the off-season. They wait for the free agent market to come to them to snag a quality reliever or two right before Spring Training. That seems to be happening again and there’s one name that wouldn’t surprise me to see them consider. Cody Allen.

It doesn’t have to be Cody Allen, but he certainly makes sense. Before going into the rationale for wanting Allen, let’s look at who the front office has snagged, mainly by free agency late in off-seasons, that ended up making the roster:

When you sign relievers this late in the off-season, there’s always going to be some risks that you take that they simply might not work out. For that matter, the majority of relievers are so volatile that production can be tough to predict. Drew Storen, Gavin Floyd, and Jake Petricka weren’t train wrecks like J.P. Howell was. Those three did contribute to the team and Storen turned into Joaquin Benoit.

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Joe Smith, John Axford, and Seung-Hwan Oh worked out quite nicely for the Blue Jays, and they were able to flip each one of them for something in return. Tyler Clippard had his moments where he was effective, but then had moments where he made Blue Jays fans want to pull their hair out. The Blue Jays acquired Samad Taylor and Thomas Pannone from the Cleveland Indians for Smith. Pannone has already pitched for the Blue Jays in the bigs. John Axford turned into Corey Copping, who could be a bullpen piece at some point. Seung-Hwan Oh turned into Chad Spanberger and Forrest Wall.

The front office has played the relief market quite nicely over the last few seasons and many expect them to do so again before the season begins. If they do, Cody Allen is my top target and I do believe he can be had on a very similar deal to Seung-Hwan Oh.

The Blue Jays signed Oh to a very cheap deal of $2 million over one year, plus a team option for 2019. Oh made $1.8 million plus incentives in 2018 and was flipped to the Rockies, who gave the Blue Jays a decent return. The extra year of control certainly helped the return. Oh will be pitching for Colorado again in 2019 at $2.5 million.

Why were the Blue Jays able to sign Oh to such a team friendly deal? He struggled in 2017 with the St. Louis Cardinals and was signed after the team had reported to spring training. Oh did fail a physical for the Texas Rangers earlier in the off-season, but the Blue Jays were able to get him on a team friendly deal.

Oh’s 2017 saw him lose the closer’s role he won from Trevor Rosenthal in 2016. He appeared in 62 games, had an 8.19 K/9, 1.52 HR/9, a 4.10 ERA, and 4.44 FIP. That’s a far cry from his 2016 season where he was worth 2.6 wins, had a 11.64 K/9, 0.56 HR/9, 1.92 ERA, and 2.13 FIP. The Blue Jays took a risk on Oh, which was worth it on such a cheap deal and it paid off. Oh wasn’t quite his 2016 self, but he was much improved from 2017. Oh finished with a 10.40 K/9, 1.05 HR/9, 2.63 ERA, and 3.29 FIP.

Cody Allen is coming off a season where he was worse than Oh in 2017 in many regards. Allen wasn’t 100% healthy in 2018, but he still was a far cry from his 2017 self. He finished 2018 with 10.75 K/9, 4.43 BB/9, 1.48 HR/9, 4.70 ERA, 4.56 FIP, and 0.0 fWAR. He wasn’t very good.

Just a season prior, Allen posted good numbers and was worth 1.5 wins with a 12.30 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 1.20 HR/9, 2.94 ERA, and 3.19 FIP. Allen has always had problems with walking guys, and the home run ball has become an issue for him the last few years. He has also experienced velocity losses each of the last few seasons since the end of 2014, when his fastball averaged 96.4 MPH. In 2018, that fastball sat at an average of 94.0.

Allen could still bounce back and be more like his 2017 self. There are quite a few similarities to Allen and Oh. They both had good seasons followed by really poor ones. Oh sat on the free agent market until February. Allen is still on the free agent market and his market has been very quiet.

Given the Cleveland connection with Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro, the fact relievers will start to get desperate and settle for jobs, and that the Blue Jays could still use a few arms, this is a match to me. It makes sense and the Blue Jays likely would give Allen more money than they did with Oh. If you add the team option for 2020, taking a risk on Cody Allen could be quite beneficial for Toronto. If he flops, he’d be cheap enough to let go or just keep around as an arm. If he bounces back, he could get you a nice return at the trade deadline.

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The reliever market is coming into the Blue Jays wheelhouse and Cody Allen does seem to fit the mould of what the Blue Jays have done the last few off-seasons.