One the Blue Jays’ best relievers used to pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays, who made a rare mistake in letting the right-hander get away.
To be fair, the Rays traded Trevor Richards to the Brewers in 2021, and that was because they had a plethora of other talented arms to work with at the time and needed to make the room on the roster. However, they may have underestimated just how effective Richards can be as a big league reliever, and these days the Blue Jays are reaping the benefits.
Last year the Blue Jays were facing a somewhat similar situation with Rowdy Tellez, who had been squeezed out of regular playing time in Toronto (well, their various US homes anyway). The front office ultimately decided to trade him to the Brewers, and Richards was part of the return that came back, along with Bowden Francis. Like the Rays, I’m not sure that the Brewers saw Richards’ full potential either.
To be fair, the bullpen is the most volatile area of most big league rosters, and Richards is the type of guy who had been a fringe big leaguer to that point of his career. He debuted in 2018 with the Marlins before he had even arrived in Tampa Bay, and pitched with an ERA in the 4.50 range for his first couple of seasons.
Since arriving in Toronto, Richards has been pitching on another level. Last season he posted a 3.31 ERA and a 0.796 WHIP 32.2 innings as a Blue Jay, and he’s been even better so far in 2022. He entered last night’s game carrying a 1.35 ERA over his first seven appearances, and he made quick work of the Red Sox on Tuesday night to improve his numbers even further. He’s now sporting a 1.17 ERA and a 1.174 WHIP over his first eight appearances, covering 7.2 innings.
It’s been an impressive progression for the soon to be 29 year old reliever, and a good example of why it pays to remain patient as players develop. These days Richards has worked himself into a being a trusted reliever to help cover the mid-late innings in Charlie Montoyo’s bullpen, and his performance will only push him into higher leverage situations. So far the Blue Jays have received strong performances from their closer Jordan Romano, and also from other high-leverage relievers like Tim Mayza, Yimi Garcia (other than Tuesday night, of course), Adam Cimber, and David Phelps.
I’m not suggesting that Richards is going to challenge Romano for the ninth inning gig, but he’s clearly earned a spot with the Blue Jays for the foreseeable future. Making just one million in 2022 and still with two more years of arbitration eligibility, the Rays may get at least a few more seasons of a first-hand look at an arm they let get away.