After the Yankees signed yet another high-leverage reliever, the Blue Jays might be wise to stock up on a few of their own to sell on the trade market in July.
As of Thursday afternoon the Yankees’ bullpen just got even scarier after they signed Adam Ottovino to a free agent contract of 27 million over three years. He’ll join an already ridiculously talented group that includes Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, and Jonathan Holder. That’s some kind of depth.
The Blue Jays are going to see that group a lot this year, as they always get their fair share of games against the Yankees as AL East division rivals. While it won’t be fun trying to collect hits in the late innings, it could be a chance for the Jays to see how this aggressive bullpen approach works for New York, and how it could be used to their advantage.
First of all, the Yankees investment in their bullpen is pretty unprecedented. There are teams that have sunk heavy dollars into the bullpen before, but the Yankees arguably have half a dozen guys that could close a game for most teams around baseball. While GMs have chased the best starting pitchers for years, the Yankees elected to go with more of a middle of the road approach there, and invest the bulk of their resources in the bullpen. If it works, expect a lot of copy cat type stuff to take place around the game, even more than there already is with the focus on the bullpen.
However, the Blue Jays might be wise to take a lesson from the Yankees’ focus on the bullpen and apply it to their offseason. What I mean is, I don’t remember there being a premium on bullpen talent like this in the past, and I believe it’s an opportunity for the Blue Jays to create more trade assets for when July and August roll around this year. And considering the amount of talented arms still looking for work at this late stage of the offseason, the Blue Jays should have a hard look at who is still available and consider making some offers.
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I’ve talked about how the Blue Jays will wait out the market and look for low-cost arms like they did with Tyler Clippard, John Axford, and even Seunghwan Oh last winter. I suspect they’ll still do that too. However, when you consider that we’re in the middle of January and there are still a few higher end options available, there could be some bullpen bargains waiting to happen. One could argue that the deal that Ottavino just signed to join the Yankees is a bargain in itself.
In order for this type of strategy to work you’re probably best suited to stick to one year deals, or maybe adding an option like the one that Oh had attached to his contract last year with the Blue Jays. The “rental” bullpen arm is what really seems to sell in July, and it’s also easier to convince a free agent to come to Toronto during a rebuild if they know they’ll likely be traded to a contender this summer.
Having a gander at the list of available free agents, I’m pretty sure that Craig Kimbrel will still find a decent multi-year contract, so he’s out. Beyond him though, I still think the Blue Jays should consider one or more of the next tier that could include: Cody Allen, Tony Sipp, Shawn Kelley, Justin Wilson, Brad Brach, or Greg Holland. That’s not an exhaustive list by any means, especially in an area like the bullpen where results can vary so much year to year.
I realize that there are some on the above list that may not be interested in coming to Toronto for the 2019 season, but on the right contract offer there could be more than enough interest. It’s possible that a guy like Allen may want to look for a closer’s gig, but otherwise the rest of the arms have late-inning experience, and could all end up as reasonable bargain candidates, especially now that we’re less than a month from when pitchers are supposed to report to Spring Training.
Sometimes you have a plan for how you want to do things, but if the market shifts in your favour then you have to be able to adjust on the fly. I’m confident that the Blue Jays want to stick to their rebuild plans and give plenty of their young arms a shot in the big leagues this season, perhaps even in the bullpen. However, there is still a pretty obvious need for more depth, so why not set your sights a little higher now that the market is playing in the buyer’s favour again?
I have no idea idea if Ross Atkins and company are exploring such a thing, or if they’re waiting for more John Axford types to simply ask for a job. While they do have a strong minor league system, they didn’t get the type of return one would look for, for guys like Josh Donaldson, or even Roberto Osuna or J.A. Happ (Although those were better), and could look to further stock up with some trades again this summer. In order to do that, they probably need to sign a few guys that will be of interest to contenders later in the season, and there are still a few available in free agency as we speak.