Amid injury uncertainty, which Blue Jays reliever would be the best temporary closer to start the year?

Jordan Romano at Rogers Centre
Jordan Romano at Rogers Centre / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

With Opening Day right around the corner, the Jays have found themselves in a tough position with two key relievers not slated to be ready for the beginning of the 2024 season. Manager John Schneider says it's "reasonable to say" that both Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson will start the year on the IL. Both pitchers are currently dealing with arm injuries, and while the MRIs have shown no structural damage, the pair will miss around two weeks of the regular season.

This comes as a significant blow, as the Jays are not only without two relievers, but their two best relievers. The upside however is that the bullpen does have enough depth to endure the time that will be missed by Romano and Swanson. What gets interesting is deciding who will take the role of closer with the two clearest options not available to begin the year. Several pitchers have a good case to make for the time being, so who will be thrusted into that role come Opening Day?

Yimi García

García is likely the top option to move into the closer role. He spent time as the Miami Marlins' closer in 2021 before being traded to the Houston Astros. García had a down year in 2023 for the Jays, but after taking a look under the surface, there is plenty to be encouraged about with the 33-year-old. Garcia excelled at many aspects of pitching last year, holding just a 5.3 BB% all season while also having a of 47.3% groundball rate.

His ability to throw strikes, while keeping the ball on the ground without allowing hard contact are all great qualities for many closers, making García one of the most intriguing options at the Jays' disposal. His second half of last year was much more encouraging of the pitcher that the Jays expect to see in 2024. The Dominican Republic native could find himself taking high leverage innings to finish games at the start of the year.

Chad Green

Green has now had a full offseason to recover from his Tommy John surgery in 2022, and he's looking to bounce back in a big way. Green possesses some of the best stuff in the Jays bullpen, with his velocity going back to pre-surgery levels, and having elite swing and miss potential. He was mainly used in a setup role during his time with the Yankees, yet he could very realistically fit in as the de facto closer now that he is healthy.

The main risk that runs with Green is his proneness to allow the long ball. The 32-year-old has allowed 56 home runs in 395.2 innings pitched, which is 1.3 HR/9. Nevertheless, it's a risk that may be worth running as Green is one of the tougher pitchers to face in the Jays bullpen. Whether he's set to be the temporary closer, or back to his typical high leverage role in late innings, Green will be a crucial part of the bullpens success.

Tim Mayza

It's never a bad time to mention the Jay's best left-handed reliever, Tim Mayza. The Penn. native came off of a career year in 2023, posting a 1.52 ERA and 2.60 FIP in 53.1 innings pitched. Mayza has a terrific groundball rate of 59.%, thanks to his sinker, making it extremely difficult to barrel the ball, or hit home runs off of him. Another argument for Mayza is that now with the addition of Genesis Cabrera as another lefty reliever, Mayza could adapt to a closer role in the meantime, rather than being a specialist for left-handed batters.

On the opposite side, what makes Mayza so effective is his reliability to get lefties out, and removing him from that role may prove to be more costly than anything else. Mayza is more of a contact pitcher than anything else, which can always be a risk when pitching in some of the highest leverage in a game. Many closers are extreme strikeout artists, such as Josh Hader or Devin Williams. Mayza does not fit that specific archetype, so it's more of a long shot to make him the interim closer.

It's most likely that García will get the nod, as he has been put in the closer role in the past, while also proving himself as one of the Jays better relievers. While the team has a few interesting options to resort to, the optimal scenario is that both Romano and Swanson return from the IL quickly, bringing the bullpen to full strength.