As the Blue Jays build their bullpen ahead of the 2022 season, they’ll have to keep the contract options situation in mind for a few of their arms.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how the Jays are starting from a much better spot when it comes to their bullpen, at least compared to a year ago. They acquired Trevor Richards and Adam Cimber last summer, and both relievers have contract control that will see them back in Toronto in 2022 and likely beyond. They signed Yimi Garcia to a two-year pact prior to the expiration of the last CBA, and they’ve also agreed to a return for David Phelps on a MiLB deal, who was excellent for the Jays last season before his year-ending arm injury.
It’s still very possible and even likely that the Jays will look to add to their bullpen once the lockout is over and the front office is allowed to speak with free agents again. My guess is the Jays will mostly look for depth for the bullpen, especially after we saw how many pitchers it took to get through the 2021 campaign. I think there’s potential for Ross Atkins and company to look for another late-inning arm as well, but that could very much depend on how the market shakes out.
If we’re looking at what the Blue Jays have right now, there are a few things that the front office will have to take into account. One of the most important variables will be the contract options that their pitchers do or don’t have, and I thought I’d go through a few cases that will likely cause some debate in the Blue Jays front office.
To start with, here’s who I see as the relievers that are all but guaranteed a spot in the bullpen, assuming they’re healthy.
1- Jordan Romano
2- Tim Mayza
3- Yimi Garcia
4- Adam Cimber
5- Trevor Richards
6- Ross Stripling
I included Stripling on this list for one reason, and that’s because he’s out of contract options. He’ll be in the mix for the fifth starter’s job in the rotation, but I think it’s possible the Blue Jays either find another arm to round out their rotation, or that Stripling could lose that job to Nate Pearson if the youngster is healthy during Spring Training. With Stripling out of minor league options, the Jays have no choice but to keep him on their big league roster, and I’m sure they’ll do just that. That’s one of the easier situations.
When it comes to the last three spots in the bullpen, I immediately see three contenders that stand out. The interesting part is that they’re all in different situations, and each could impact their ability to make the team, at least for Opening Day.
Starting with Julian Merryweather, I’m sure most Blue Jays fans would agree that he’d make the team in a perfect world. For a few games early in the 2021 campaign there was chatter about how Merryweather might be the closer the Jays had been waiting for, and that was fair after he mowed down the Yankees with electric stuff. Unfortunately the injury bug bit him again as it so often has, and he didn’t make it back until late in the year. As far as contract options go though, Merryweather could end up starting the year in Buffalo because he still has one left according to spotrac.com.
On the flip side, the Blue Jays are likely going to have to make a decision on Ryan Borucki this spring, because unfortunately the hard-throwing southpaw is out of minor league options. For those that are unfamiliar with the process, that means the Blue Jays would have to pass him through waivers in order to send him to Triple-A, and I have a hard time seeing him not being picked up. He’s struggled to stay healthy and harness his potential, but there is still plenty of upside there. Without the ability to send him to Buffalo, Borucki has a bit of a leg up on earning one of the last spots in the bullpen.
Lastly would be David Phelps, who I mentioned briefly already. Phelps is an intriguing addition, especially if he can bounce back from injury and be anything close to what he was last season. Over 11 appearances he posted a 0.87 ERA and quickly became one of the most trusted arms in Charlie Montoyo’s relief corps. If he had stayed healthy there is no way he would been signing a MiLB contract over the winter, but instead he’ll have to earn his roster spot this season. Because of that two-way status the Jays will have the option to begin his season in Triple-A, and that might be the plan for him as he continues to work back from injury anyway. Eventually though, they’re going to have to find room on both the 26-man roster, and the 40-man roster if they expect him to contribute to the big league team.
As I already mentioned, it’s entirely possible that the Blue Jays look to add some additional arms to the bullpen picture, and there are other in-house options I haven’t even mentioned like Trent Thornton, Tayler Saucedo, Anthony Kay, and even Nate Pearson if he’s not in the rotation (although he has minor league options remaining too). However it shakes out, we can likely expect that contract options will play a part in the Opening Day roster, and also in the future of a few Blue Jays in particular.