The Blue Jays could use some reinforcements in the bullpen these days. What would an ideal scenario for the depth chart look like heading into the stretch run later this year?
As always, the bullpen is one of the most volatile areas of the roster, and lately the Blue Jays’ relief corps has been struggling. Just like the 2021 season, the Jays relied heavily on the bullpen in the early part of the season, and while they performed admirably for quite a while, things have started to come apart more recently.
Injuries have contributed as they always do, and that applies to both the bullpen and the rotation. After the Blue Jays lost Hyun Jin for the year due to an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery, Ross Stripling has moved into the rotation. He’s performed admirably in that role so far, but it also means there is one less reliever to rely on. That’s especially important when Charlie Montoyo has needed a multi-inning reliever, as they did on Friday.
The result has been a bit of a revolving door in the ‘pen over the last week or so, with a few different arms coming and going from Buffalo. As of this writing early Sunday morning, here is what the Blue Jays’ current depth chart looks like:
1- Jordan Romano
2- Tim Mayza
3- Yimi Garcia
4- Adam Cimber
5- David Phelps
6- Trent Thornton
7- Matt Gage
8- Casey Lawrence
9- Max Castillo
We learned late Saturday that Castillo is going to be joining the big league roster, but a corresponding move hasn’t been announced yet. It’s possible that Lawrence heads back to Triple-A, or perhaps the Blue Jays keep the extra arm on the roster until Monday when the rules change and they have to reduce the bullpen to a maximum of eight relievers.
A month ago I was feeling pretty good about the relief corps in Toronto, but a fair bit has changed since then. Trevor Richards has went from a very useful option in the middle innings to finding himself on the IL with a neck strain. His recent performance has been very rough, and hopefully he’s able to use this IL stint as a re-set for his mind and body. Julian Merryweather has had a similar experience and has also landed on the IL, and of course, Stripling isn’t available out of the bullpen when he’s working as a starter.
As I look at the current depth chart, I would say that the Blue Jays have at least five relievers that will be part of the core group going forward, and those last three spots could continue to be a moving target. That said, what would be an ideal situation for the Blue Jays to build a more competitive bullpen? I think it looks something like this:
2- *Trade addition*
7- Gage/Nate Pearson
Starting from the bottom and working up, being able to move Stripling back to the bullpen is a move I’d love to eventually see. He’s actually pitched quite well since being moved to the rotation, but I’d still like the Blue Jays find another starter before the trade deadline. I didn’t really feel that was necessary prior to Hyun Jin Ryu’s injury, but now that we know he’ll likely be out for all this season and the next, it wouldn’t hurt to find some back-end help. That also improves the bullpen as long as everyone else stays healthy, and I really Stripling as a long reliever.
In that seventh spot I have a bit of an unconventional answer, but stick with me for a moment. Naturally I’ve listed Nate Pearson, who continues to tantalize us with the possibility that he could improve the big league roster. He still has to stay healthy and perform up to his potential though, and I think it would be foolish for the Blue Jays to count on that happening, even if I’d love nothing more. They absolutely need to give him the opportunity when he’s ready, and hopefully this will be the time that he finally puts it all together, in whatever role that ends up being.
I’ve listed Gage here as well for two reasons. One, I like what I’ve seen from the 29 year old rookie over his first four big league games, as he’s pitched to a 1.80 ERA and a 0.60 WHIP through 5.0 innings. Secondly, the Blue Jays could really use a second lefty out of the bullpen, and Gage’s stuff looks like it’ll play against right-hander batters as well. In a perfect world the Jays might find an outside solution for the second southpaw job, but Gage might be the kind of unexpected arm that emerges and makes a big impact. There are usually one of two of those out of the bullpen each season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was on the big league roster more often than not going forward.
Lastly, I think most Blue Jays fans agree that they could use another swing and miss arm to pitch in the late innings. Romano has performed well as the closer so far this year, but we’ve already seen him go through periods where they needed him more than he should be available. And as much as I like the quartet of Mayza-Garcia-Cimber-Phelps, I’d feel better if they were all moved down one spot on the depth chart. In a perfect world, the Blue Jays find someone who is comfortable pitching in the eighth or ninth inning, which would take a lot of pressure off of Romano.
Popular candidates at this stage of the season include guys like Daniel Bard of the Rockies, or possibly David Bednar of the Pirates (although he’ll be tougher to pry away), but it’s also possible that more sellers emerge as we get closer to the trade deadline. One way or another though, the Blue Jays need too find an impact arm to improve their late-inning group, especially if they intend on trying to play deep into the postseason. A guy like Bednar has extra appeal because he has four more seasons of contract control, but that also means he won’t come cheap. That said, for a team like the Blue Jays that intends to compete for at least the next four years, it might be something worth considering.
For the time being I’m sure the Blue Jays will look for internal options, and Castillo looks to be the next fresh arm to get an opportunity. With roughly six weeks left until the trade deadline, I’m sure the search for bullpen help is already well underway.