Due to the lockout this past winter over the CBA negotiations, the MLB and MLBPA decided to allow teams to carry 28 players on their roster until the end of April because of the shortened Spring Training. The Blue Jays decided to roll into Opening Day with 15 pitchers and 13 position players, a stance taken by most clubs across the league.
This move was done for player safety, as normal routines were thrown out the window and pitchers didn’t get their usual warm-up in before the start of the season, so every team took a few more bullpen arms to help carry the load. The rule itself was only supposed to last a month and then every team would have to trim back their roster to 26 players and have only a maximum of 13 pitchers.
This minimum 13 pitcher rule was going to force some tough decisions for Ross Atkins and co., mostly because the bullpen has been performing well as of late. Factor in that some players are also returning from the IL in the near future (Hyun Jin Ryu potentially today) and the roster picture gets a bit murkier.
However, it was reported by multiple media members yesterday that the MLB and the MLBPA decided to tweak the rules and will now allow teams to carry 14 pitchers for the month of May instead of the usual 13, once again due to player health and safety. The Blue Jays will still have to remove two players from the active roster but can now choose one position player and one bullpen arm rather than two pitchers.
While this may seem like a nothing rule, this change has quite a few positives for the Blue Jays when it comes to future roster decisions.
For starters, the Blue Jays bullpen has been stellar to begin the campaign, with a majority of the relief corps boasting ERA’s below the 3.00 threshold. Having to remove someone who is pitching well is always a tough choice, especially if they are contributing to the team in a positive manner like pitching in tough situations or keeping the games close when the bats aren’t helping. The Jays bullpen has been overworked to begin the season because of the close games and some of the starting pitchers struggling to go deep early in the campaign.
The MLB and MLBPA are allowing teams to carry 14 pitchers for the month of May, which helps the Blue Jays when it comes to trimming the roster down to 26.
Roster-wise, the Ryu return will most likely see Tayler Saucedo or Bowden Francis head back down to AAA and Ross Stripling head back to the bullpen. Danny Jansen and Teoscar Hernandez will return in the near future which will most likely see Tyler Heineman and Gosuke Katoh sent down respectively (depending on if it is before or after May 1st).
Bowden Francis is with the club with Cavan Biggio on the COVID-19 IL and he will most likely be the first player back down to AAA. Saucedo seems like the next pitcher in line given his MiLB options but Julian Merryweather and Trent Thornton are also potential alternatives to be sent down due to their respective options. Merryweather did have a couple of rough outings under his belt that saw his ERA jump to the +7.00 mark earlier this season while Thornton has been stellar so far at the big league level, pitching to a 1.00 ERA through 9.0 innings of work that includes some high-pressure situations and not just garbage time outings as we saw him in last season. Ryan Borucki is out of MiLB options so he would have to be designated for assignment if the Jays choose to demote him (and I don’t believe he would sneak through the waiver wire).
Overall, this rule change most likely saved Borucki’s spot on the roster moving forward, as the club is able to keep that additional pitcher and does have the option to send down/remove a position player instead to reach that 26 player threshold. The Jays currently have 16 pitchers on the active roster with Ryu slated to return soon, so at least two arms will have to go to meet that 14 pitchers threshold for the month of May.
The last player to be removed from the roster, position-wise, will also be an interesting decision. The two options that the Blue Jays front office has at their disposal are either Zack Collins or Cavan Biggio, as both players have MiLB options (assuming Heineman and Katoh are already down in AAA with the IL returns of Jansen and Hernandez).
The catcher has been swinging a hot bat as of late but having three catchers on the roster, and one that struggles behind the plate as much as Collins does, makes him more of a DH and that spot could be used for someone else who can play more of the field. For Biggio, he has just struggled mightily out of the gate and it may be time for him to go back down to AAA for a hard reset, similar to Hernandez’s demotion back in 2019.
They could also decide to DFA Bradley Zimmer or Raimel Tapia but that seems less likely given the alternatives.
This MLB rule change does give the Blue Jays some additional options and one that has some benefits for a relief corps that has started off the season on a high note. Now comes the waiting game to see how the Jays decide to structure their squad when the roster downsizing occurs this weekend, with the added wrinkle that some players returning from the IL will need a roster spot as well.