Blue Jays will be forced to make room in the bullpen

Sep 28, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mitch White (45) throws a
Sep 28, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mitch White (45) throws a / Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the offseason has officially started and free agency has begun, the Blue Jays are one of many teams looking to improve their roster ahead of next year. A few clubs have already made significant moves in the early stages of the winter, but the Blue Jays have yet to make their first strike.

It's hard to say what the plan will be exactly for Ross Atkins and the front office, but most of us believe that the priority will likely rest with the pitching staff. They'll need to either re-sign or replace Ross Striping in the rotation, and the talk about the need for "swing and miss" relievers was never going to go away after the Blue Jays blew an 8-1 lead against the Mariners in the first round of the playoffs.

I'll admit, I've been on the "improve the bullpen" train for a while, even if I mostly like the crew that they currently have assembled. That includes the likes of Jordan Romano, Yimi Garcia, Anthony Bass, Adam Cimber, and Tim Mayza among the guaranteed returnees, and others like Zach Pop, Trevor Richards, Julian Merryweather, Nate Pearson, and more that hope to factor into the equation in 2023. I just listed nine pitchers that are still under contract for next season, and that's without mentioning several others who could compete for a bullpen job, especially depending on how things work out in the rotation.

That rotation situation could really impact the Blue Jays' ability to pursue bullpen help this offseason, at least as long as they want to control as many MLB calibre arms as they can. What I mean by that is, both Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White will need a spot in the bullpen if they're not in the rotation, unless they're traded or designated for assignment, which seems unlikely. White had a minor league option to play with in 2022, but unfortunately that won't be the case next year. As for Kikuchi, he still has two years left on his contract, and I sincerely doubt the Blue Jays will be able to find a taker on the trade market, or would be willing to just eat that money outright. At the very least, I'm sure they'll give him another look in the bullpen where he showed some late-season upside.

With that in mind, and knowing that there are only eight bullpen jobs to be had most of the time, the Blue Jays are going to have some work to do in order to manage their arms. Assuming that Romano, Garcia, Bass, Cimber, and Mayza are locks, and they have to make room for at least one of Kikuchi or White, that's six spots taken up already. That leaves just two jobs left between Pop/Richards/Merryweather/Pearson, etc, and that's before they look at bringing in anybody else. Pop and Pearson still have minor league options, but both RIchard and Merryweather would need to be on the active roster as long as they're healthy.

Add it all up and it makes sense that the Blue Jays might have interest in trading one or more of their relievers. That would especially be the case if neither White or Kikuchi can keep a rotation spot, and why the Jays would be hoping one of them can hold down the #5 gig. In a perfect world both of them would pitch out of the rotation, which would give the Jays a lot more breathing room to manage the bullpen with the 40-man roster, but counting on that scenario would be very risky for a team that hopes to pursue a World Series in 2023.

I have to think that the Jays will either retain Stripling or find a replacement for him, and I'm guessing that means Kikuchi and White will battle for the 5th role in the rotation, leaving the other in the bullpen, and also serving as rotation depth if injuries pop up. One or way another, the Blue Jays are going to be forced to make some room in their bullpen over the winter, especially if they intend to add another late-inning weapon.