The Blue Jays might be done their search to improve the starting rotation, but they could still use some help for the bullpen. How do things look right now?
As my colleague Clayton Richer wrote the other day, it’s time for the Blue Jays’ front office to shift their focus to improving the bullpen, and I’m sure now that teams are back from their mini-break over the holidays that Ross Atkins and company are doing just that.
It’s strangely comforting that the Blue Jays have addressed their rotation needs so strongly this early in the off-season, as the group will feature veterans including Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Matt Shoemaker, and likely one of the plethora of young starters that had an opportunity in 2019. The bullpen is in a much different place, and there are a lot of question marks as things stand right now.
If the season were to start today, we know that Ken GIles would be the closer and the anchor of the group. Beyond him, Sam Gaviglio will likely return, as could Wilmer Font, who is out of minor league options and impressed last season. Speaking of minor league options, new acquisition Anthony Bass doesn’t have any left either and would appear poised to make the team with a decent spring. One would also think Shun Yamaguchi will be in the bullpen, so long as he doesn’t win the fifth starter’s role during Spring Training.
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The remainder of the Blue Jays current pitchers still have minor league options remaining, which gives Atkins and company plenty of flexibility. The 40-man roster features guys like Thomas Pannone and Jordan Romano, who could compete for a bullpen gig during Grapefruit League play, and then a whole bunch of young arms that currently profile as starters, such as Jacob Waguespack, T.J. Zeuch, and many more, who could factor into the equation in a long-relief role.
While they have enough arms to fill out a bullpen, ideally the club would be able to add an upgrade or two before Opening Day. That will be especially necessary if they do end up trading Ken Giles before he hits free agency next off-season, although the rumour mill has been pretty quiet around the Blue Jays’ closer. Provided they retain “100-mile Giles”, here’s how things look at the moment, keeping in mind there’s a very good chance that the majority of MLB teams will roll with an eight-man bullpen in 2020, when the 26th man is introduced.
1- Ken Giles
2- Shun Yamaguchi
3- Wilmer Font
4- Sam Gaviglio
5- Anthony Bass
6- Thomas Pannone
7- Jordan Romano
8- Jacob Waguespack?
That’s not an inspiring group, and it lacks help from the left side other than Pannone. With an improved rotation the need shouldn’t be as great as it was last season, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Unfortunately the free agent market has gotten pretty thin, however, that likely wasn’t going to be the course of action for the Blue Jays anyway. They’ve had a lot of success by waiting out the reliever market and signing veterans to cheap or even MiLB contracts, such as they did with Tyler Clippard, Daniel Hudson, and even John Axford. They’ve already added A.J. Cole on a MiLB deal, and chances are they’ll be keeping their eyes on the reliever market as the off-season progresses.
There’s also the issue of the 40-man roster, as the Blue Jays will have to remove someone from their full list in order to add an upgrade. Chances are that starts with someone like Breyvic Valera, or maybe an outfielder, but it could come down to someone like Romano competing for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen, which would also secure his place in the organization.
The Blue Jays have yet to announce when their pitchers and catchers will start reporting to Spring Training, but a few teams that have announced are shooting for around Feb 11th, which is just over five weeks from now. That should give the Blue Jays’ front office plenty of time to find a few more relievers to strengthen the bullpen picture, and maybe even help the Blue Jays put together a surprisingly good team in 2020.