It’s no secret that the Blue Jays batting order has the ability to put the ball in play. With four players collecting over 100 RBI, five with an OPS over .800, and seven with over 20 home runs, the Blue Jays possessed one of the top offensive lineups across the league this season, finishing first in terms of OPS (.796), slugging (.466), home runs (262), and with the least strikeouts (1218) while placing second behind the Houston Astros in terms of batting average (.266) and RBI (816).
Even with all this firepower, the Blue Jays finished one game shy of a potential tiebreaker to make it into the postseason, finishing with 91 wins when the magic number would be 92, accomplished by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox who moved onto the Wild Card.
This was a disappointment for a team that was on such a hot streak in September just to fall one game short of moving on, especially with a team that had George Springer and Cavan Biggio back and healthy to finish off the season.
So how did a club that hit so well end up here?
One of the main reasons was the bullpen, where injuries early in the season and throughout the campaign saw the club use a variety of different relievers, pitching to mixed results. Factor in some rough seasons from veteran pitchers like Rafael Dolis, Tyler Chatwood, and Brad Hand, who were given a little bit too long of a leash by manager Charlie Montoyo, and some of the games the club blew late in the game earlier in the season came back to bite them in a big way.
The Blue Jays bullpen had some stellar arms and some that fans want to forget, as the front office should look to improve the relief corps this offseason.
While the rotation had its fair share of ups and downs, the bullpen started off strong but quickly faded away, with reinforcements arriving in late June/early July but unfortunately too late to turn things around.
Can we blame the front office for this? Sure, as they are the easy scapegoat, but considering most teams don’t figure out if they are buying or selling until closer to the trade deadline, something tells me that these deals were the earliest Ross Atkins and co. were able to pull off. Could you imagine what this club would have looked like without Trevor Richards and Adam Cimber to finish the season?
That being said, teams that advance far until the postseason usually have bullpen depth, with a prime example being the 2015 Kansas City Royals, a team that possessed a solid group of relievers that ended the Blue Jays season in the ALCS. The Royals rode this bullpen mixed with a solid batting order to the World Series and the rest is history.
The Jays used 38 different pitchers this year and of the 10 most used relievers in terms of appearances, six of them had an ERA over 4.00 and two of them were designated for assignment before the end of the year (Chatwood and Dolis). The Jays were also 15-15 in one-run games and there were a few different series this season where some more effective relievers could have possibly put a win in the Blue Jays record column, which could have put them into playoff contention. While not every close loss can solely be blamed on the pitching staff, as the batting order did have some games where they failed to generate support, but simply put, the bullpen for the Blue Jays wasn’t good enough this year.
So where does this leave the team heading into 2022?
There is an excellent framework to build off of in Jordan Romano, Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards, and Tim Mayza, the four best relievers from this past season. Other options in the bullpen include Tayler Saucedo, Trent Thornton, Ryan Borucki, Julian Merryweather, and Anthony Castro but all of these pitchers had less than stellar 2021 seasons for the Jays as well as injury concerns with both Borucki and Merryweather. Factor in that there are a few internal options like Kirby Snead, Bryan Baker, Hobie Harris, and Nate Pearson (will he start or be in the bullpen?) who could be wild cards this Spring and it looks like the club may still need some outside help to solidify the bullpen.
Some big names stand out this free-agent period in terms of relief pitchers such as Raisel Iglesias, Kenley Jansen, Archie Bradley, Adam Ottavino, and Kendall Graveman along with a few other free agents who may cost less than the group mentioned above but still provide more value than the bullpen arms the Blue Jays currently have. I wouldn’t even be opposed to the Jays bringing back David Phelps on a minor league type deal after how well he pitched for the club before landing on the IL for most of the season.
There are some arms the club could trade for like Craig Kimbrel but I would lean more towards signing free agents and keeping any players/prospects for larger-scale trades like Jose Ramirez. Obviously, if the right deal comes along then the front office should pull the trigger but I see them taking a route through free agency over trading.
While the front office may want to divert money elsewhere to retain players like Ray or Marcus Semien or go after big names like Kyle Seager, some funds should be saved to improve the bullpen as the likes of any impact-worthy relief arms won’t come cheaply.