The Blue Jays need to improve their pitching staff ahead of the 2021 season, and if they can’t get the starters they seek, why not build a super-bullpen?
Since the Blue Jays have yet to make a significant roster addition outside of re-signing Robbie Ray, there are a lot of ways their offseason could still go. That’s especially the case because the free agent market has been ice-cold throughout the winter, with the Jays seen as one of the few teams looking to spend significant money.
The starting rotation remains as arguably the most significant area of need, even if the Blue Jays have quite a bit of depth capable of filling the role. Ideally they’d be able to bring in another #1 or #2 starter to boost the ceiling of the group overall, but those kind of arms are hard to come by, as we’re seeing again this offseason. Unfortunately the only ace-level free agent this year is Trevor Bauer, and it’s hard to say if there are any more available for trade after the Padres made headlines before Christmas by acquiring both Blake Snell and Yu Darvish.
While I still think the Blue Jays would be wise to bring in another veteran starter or even two, what if they switched up their strategy a bit? By that I mean, maybe the best approach for the immediate term is to build a super-bullpen? It’s worked well for the Yankees in recent years, and there’s an argument that the Jays could look to follow a similar model.
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As things stand, the Blue Jays arguably have two candidates for their closer’s job in Jordan Romano and Rafael Dolis. I’m confident that both can do an above-average job as long as they can stay healthy, but Romano’s trip to the IL in 2020 showed you can’t always rely on that. It’s likely that the bullpen will also include Ryan Borucki, Shun Yamaguchi, and maybe Ross Stripling as long as he’s not being used as a starter.
That’s not a bad place to start, but the group is still lacking a few pieces. Usually the Blue Jays go bargain hunting for the bullpen, and they’ve generally done well with that strategy, but this offseason may provide another opportunity worth considering. There are already reports that Liam Hendriks has visited the new facility in Dunedin this week, and his dynamic arm would be a significant addition.
Why stop there? Brad Hand could have been had before Cleveland designated him for assignment, but oddly enough, no team was willing to take on his 10 million contract. MLBtraderumors.com predicted that Hand would land a two-year deal for 14 million, with Hendriks receiving three years and 30 million. I mean, that’s not a terrible way to spend 17 million a year if those predictions end up being close. Kirby Yates was lights out in 2019 before arm injuries derailed him last year, and he could be a great bounce-back candidate to roll the dice on as well. There are others who could make a big difference at the back of the bullpen too, such as Trevor Rosenthal, Blake Treinen, Alex Colome, and even bringing back Anthony Bass.
As I’ve already mentioned, having enough starters really isn’t the issue, as the Blue Jays currently have a depth chart that includes Hyun Jin Ryu, Nate Pearson, Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, and Ross Stripling, as well as less experienced options like Anthony Kay, Trent Thornton, Thomas Hatch, Julian Merryweather, Alek Manoah, and more. We know that manager Charlie Montoyo is prone to a short leash with starters anyway, so maybe we’re focused on the wrong area?
Let’s say the Blue Jays could sign Hendriks, Yates, and Bass, which you might be able to do for less than 20 million for per season. You could realistically bridge the fifth inning through the ninth with that trio along with Romano, Dolis, and even Borucki. If the Blue Jays are only asking for 4-5 innings from Roark, Ray, Stripling, etc, that seems a lot more doable, especially with a dangerous offence. It could also keep their lesser starters from seeing the daunted third time through the lineup, which seems to be Montoyo’s preference most of the time.
I’d still like to see Ross Atkins sign a player like George Springer or DJ LeMahieu, and even bring in another legitimate starter to help Ryu at the top of the rotation. However, if those opportunities don’t materialize in the right way, there are other ways to significantly improve the roster. In an offseason where it looks like the price for bullpen help might be down a fair bit, the Blue Jays could be wise to focus on the bullpen.