Blue Jays should stock the bullpen with free agent arms

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 27: Daniel Hudson #46 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the ninth inning during MLB game action against the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre on April 27, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 27: Daniel Hudson #46 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the ninth inning during MLB game action against the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre on April 27, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Blue Jays may or may not be in line to get themselves a premium starter this off-season, but they should definitely add to the bullpen like they did last winter.

As Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins start to sort out their goals for this off-season, there is going to be at least some pressure to add to the big league roster. While the front office has already admitted that they could have an active winter, they’ve already thrown some water on the fire on the idea that they’re going to “win the off-season” with significant roster additions.

That said, that doesn’t mean that the front office can’t put this team in a better position to win in 2020 than they were this past season, even if a lot of the improvement will come from a talented young lineup that mostly debuted in 2019. What this team really needs is some help with their pitching staff, and in particular their starting rotation.

The unfortunate part about this upcoming free agent group of starters is that very few of them fit appropriately with the Blue Jays’ assumed competitive window. The focus won’t necessarily be on winning in 2020, but rather starting to supplement this group so that they can make a real attempt to make the playoffs in 2021 and beyond. With that in mind, I don’t know that the Blue Jays will be pursuing a veteran starter like Cole Hamels or Madison Bumgarner, and they’re probably at least a year away from being a legitimate contender for a top-end free agent like Gerrit Cole. There are fits that could make sense like a Zack Wheeler or maybe a Jake Odorizzi, but it remains to be seen if the front office will spend that kind of money or make that type of multi-year pact.

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There are starting pitchers that the Blue Jays should definitely explore adding, but even if they can’t add a significant building block to their rotation I hope the front office is prepared to spend that money and more on the bullpen. As we saw with the Blue Jays and nearly every other team in baseball this year, it’s an area that’s becoming more important all the time, and it was also a particularly helpful group for the Blue Jays in 2019 for a couple of reasons.

Not only did the bullpen help Charlie Montoyo get through portions of the calendar with as few as two starters on the roster, they also provided some help for the minor league system as well. The Blue Jays may not have traded their most valuable bullpen arm in Ken Giles before the deadline, but they managed to make deals for Daniel Hudson to go to the Washington Nationals, and David Phelps to hit to Chicago to pitch for the Cubs.

Phelps wasn’t healthy as a Blue Jay for long, but both veterans added value with the innings they were able to provide in Toronto, but also in that they brought a prospect return in exchange for their one-year rental contract. I’d be fine if the Blue Jays made the investment of extending Ken Giles beyond the 2020 season, but otherwise I hope they have their eyes on a variety of opportunities that were similar to what they got out of Hudson and Phelps last year. They could use the help and support for their starting staff, and also the possible trade pieces by the time July rolls around.

As the front office continues this rebuild and starts to flip the script toward competing, there aren’t a lot of potential trade chips left beyond the pieces that are deemed redundant or expendable. They won’t have veterans that are near the end of their deals like Marcus Stroman, Eric Sogard, or Aaron Sanchez, unless they bring some in. I’m sure that Atkins and company are interested in having an extended look at some of their successful stories from 2019 like Wilmer Font, Jason Adam, and more to help fill out next year’s group, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have their eyes peeled for more potentially flippable assets.

Next. Rumour has it that Gibby could get back in the game. dark

That type of opportunity will exist again this off-season, just as it usually does. As Atkins said earlier this week, “it’s about picking the right player”, and perhaps that’s the kind of idea he has in store to help continue to build this roster, at least for now. And whether or not they get the players they have their eyes on this winter or not, there are still plenty of reasons to invest in the bullpen. It may not come until later in the off-season, as Atkins has shown he likes to wait on the reliever market, but here’s hoping they do just that.