The Blue Jays have some huge decisions to make around Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray, but they aren’t the only priorities this offseason.
Admittedly the Jays will likely have to focus on the rotation, especially if Ray and/or Steven Matz sign elsewhere as free agents, and they’ll need to add an infielder if Semien departs as well. It remains to be seen if they’ll be able to retain any of their star free agents, and chances are it’ll take some time before we’ll have an answer on that front.
In the meantime, I think the Blue Jays should focus on what I view as their third biggest priority for the winter, and that’s finding another elite arm to add to the back of the bullpen.
The Jays were very fortunate to see the emergence of Jordan Romano as a legitimate MLB closer this season, and the expectation is that he’ll resume that role in 2022. That said, I think it would be very wise of the Jays to give him some support for the late innings, adding some depth to what was an area of weakness this past season. The group improved in the late stages of the 2021 campaign after some trades gave them a boost, but it’s hard not to think about what could have been with a stronger bullpen earlier in the schedule.
They do have a few relievers that can fit into a late-inning role, such as the pleasant surprise that was Tim Mayza in 2021. The southpaw posted a 3.40 ERA and a 0.981 WHIP over 53.0 innings this year, and I’m sure he’ll factor into the late innings again next season. The same goes for those trade additions I mentioned like Adam Cimber and Trevord Richards, who fortunately both came with additional contract control beyond 2021. The Jays will also hope to get a healthy season from Julian Merryweather in 2022, and if that happens then he could factor into a set-up role. If he doesn’t win a rotation job next spring, it’s possible we could see Nate Pearson in the mix as well.
For as much potential as the Blue Jays will return before adding to their relief corps, 2021 proved once again that you can never have enough depth on a pitching staff. As I reflect on the season that just passed, I can’t help but wonder where the Jays would have been if Romano hadn’t performed the way he did. And when I look at other true contenders around baseball, I’m not sure there was a reliever that was more crucial to a team’s success. With the frequency of injuries in baseball these days, that feels like a recipe for disaster to me.
If I had my way, I’d like to see the Blue Jays add someone who could slot between Romano and the set-up guys like Mayza and Cimber. For the sake of visual, that could give them a look like this:
2- New addition
8- Ross Stripling
I’ve written about the bullpen in recent days as well, and I’m a big fan of moving everyone down a spot on the depth chart. That still leaves plenty of depth in the organization with youngsters like Taylor Saucedo, Anthony Castro, Trent Thornton, and more, and leaves room for new additions over the winter. Adding a piece of that quality not only gives the Jays a bit of a safety net if Romano were to miss any time, but it also safeguards the group in the event that guys like Borucki and Merryweather hit the sidelines again as well.
As the Jays do some juggling with their 40-man roster this offseason, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they tried to improve the bullpen through a trade or two. That said, if they’re shopping on the free agent market then their options could include bigger names like Kenley Jansen, Raisel Iglesias, or maybe even Craig Kimbrel if the White Sox decline his option for 2022 (rumour is, he could be traded).
In an era where the bullpen has some become increasingly important, I can’t see how the Blue Jays’ front office wouldn’t have learned from what happened in 2021. I’m sure they’ll start with a focus on retaining Ray and Semien and/or finding their replacements, but adding another elite reliever should be the next highest priority.