Blue Jays: Fix the bullpen with another quality starting pitcher

Mar 28, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins speaks during a television interview before the home opener against Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 28, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins speaks during a television interview before the home opener against Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

It was inevitable that the Blue Jays’ overworked bullpen was going to unravel at some point, and it’s probably time for Ross Atkins to address the problem.

That said, I don’t know that the Blue Jays GM needs to rush out to find more bullpen reinforcements, but rather the support likely needs to come more from the starting rotation. What this pitching staff needs more than anything is another starter who give them what Hyun Jin Ryu and Robbie Ray did this weekend, which is provide 7.0 innings of quality work.

That kind of length from the rotation has been an uncommon luxury for Charlie Montoyo this season, even if he arguably has too quick of a hook with his starters from time to time. Ryu has thrown just shy of 6.0 innings per start at 53.1 over his first nine turns through the rotation, and Ray has been very similar through his first eight starts, having thrown 47.1 frames. Otherwise Steven Matz has been the only other starter to average even five innings, and more often than not Montoyo is having to piece together a game plan with far too many arms involved.

With such an effective bullpen in the early going the strategy was working pretty well for a while, but we all knew it would catch up to them at some point, and it appears that’s the case with their recent performance. It doesn’t help that the ‘pen has been ravaged by injuries either, as they’ve missed significant time from Julian Merryweather, Rafael Dolis, Jordan Romano, David Phelps, Tyler Chatwood, Ryan Borucki, Anthony Castro, and more, and they didn’t even get to debut their projected closer in Kirby Yates before he was lost for the year.

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While the knee-jerk reaction to solving the recent bullpen woes would be to acquire some relief reinforcements, I think the Blue Jays would be better served to look for another reliable starter. They’ll have to be careful, because “reliable” and “work horse” are terms they used when they signed Tanner Roark ahead of the 2020 season, and we all know how that worked out. Having said that, they can’t be afraid to pursue another veteran who should be good for a consistent effort of six innings or more, and they might need to move up the timeline for when they start their shopping.

In an ideal world the Blue Jays would probably wait until July before looking to make a trade like this, which would be better for a few reasons. It would give them a more accurate idea of their needs, and more time to evaluate their own assets throughout the organization ahead of making a deal. In a year where pitching injuries have been all too common across baseball, it may also give them more of a guarantee that their shiny new piece will be healthy down the stretch when they’ll need him the most.

The problem of course, is that not many teams are going to commit to the idea of being sellers at this still-early stage in the schedule. For example, it’s entirely possible that the Washington Nationals will concede at some point this year if they can’t climb out of the basement of the NL East. That might mean they could look to trade a prized veteran starter like Max Scherzer, and that’s the kind of acquisition the Blue Jays should be very interested in. Are the Nationals going to entertain something like that in May? Of course not. Even in last place place in the NL East they’re still only 2.5 games from first, and I’m sure they haven’t forgotten that they started out 19-31 in 2019 before turning things around and winning the World Series that year.

Having said that, there are probably at least a handful of teams that have already accepted their fate for 2021, and might even be willing to entertain an early season deal. The Diamondbacks are 18-30 and firmly buried 12.5 games behind the Padres (and 11.5 behind the Dodgers), and Colorado isn’t much better at 18-29. The Pirates aren’t going to be contending for anything this season either, and if the Twins don’t turn things around in the next few weeks, they could look to sell off a few pieces too.

More likely the Blue Jays will have to rely on their internal options for the time being, and it’s good to see that Montoyo has let his starters pitch deeper into games more recently. It’s one thing to ask that of Ryu, Ray, and even Matz, but they’re going to need more length from guys like Ross Stripling (as long as he’s in the rotation), Anthony Kay, or even Trent Thornton. I know the calls for Alek Manoah are growing louder as well, but there are plenty of reasons to put that off for a while yet, and the need for an immediate impact is pretty real. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie who is just starting their MLB career.

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Again, the options are going to be fairly limited in the immediate term, but if the Rockies would discuss someone like Jon Gray (free agent at the end of the year, 3.48 ERA over 9 starts), or the Pirates would talk about an arm like Tyler Anderson (4.73 ERA over 9 starts, making just 2.5 million this year), maybe those are discussion worth having right now. At the very least I’m sure Ross Atkins is making a few phone calls, because it’s pretty clear his pitching staff could use a little help.