The Winter Meetings have gotten underway in San Diego, and the Toronto Blue Jays are poised to be active over the next couple of days. There are evident needs with this ball club, notably a starter to fill in the backend of the rotation and an outfielder to replace the recently traded Teoscar Hernandez. These needs are appearing to overshadow the topic of the bullpen. As someone who had the profound privilege of witnessing the Game 2 bullpen collapse live, I’m aware the bullpen is a topic of increased attention for the Jays next season.
After acquiring Erik Swanson from the Seattle Mariners in the Hernandez trade, the Blue Jays have already received a much needed boost to their relief core. A glance at Swanson’s numbers will show that the North Dakota native enjoyed a fine season, with many of his stats ranking in among the league’s best. With the emphasis on acquiring “swing and miss” stuff in the pen an 11.7 K/9 poured paired with a 1.7 BB/9 certainly fits that bill. However, with this single addition, is this enough to enter the upcoming season with the bullpen as is?
MLB bullpens are shifting away from the traditional seventh, eighth, and ninth inning guys out of their bullpens. Relievers are dispatched according to matchups late in games, regardless of the actual inning. A team's best reliever, perhaps the closer, is better used against the most dangerous part of the opposing batting order, even if it isn’t the ninth inning. A hypothetical of this would be Jordan Romano coming on in the eighth inning of a two run game, with the intention of him facing the four, five, and six hitters in the opposing lineup. A lower leverage reliever, albeit still a talented one, would then come on to finish off the lower part of the order the following inning.
We saw the Blue Jays adapt a version of this approach seemingly after the transition to John Schnieder. The high leverage relievers of Bass, Garcia, Mayza, and Cimber, would be utilized according to matchups regardless of the specific inning. Romano would then be reserved for ninth inning save situations, oftentimes regardless of the matchups. The addition of Swanson lengthens this list of high leverage relievers, with him slotting into the second highest spot behind Romano.
On this list of previously mentioned high leverage relievers, Swanson’s K/9 ranks first. Amongst all Jays relievers expected to play a serious role next season, Swanson is second on the team behind only Trevor Richards. The acquisition of Swanson adds some much needed swing and miss to a bullpen that ranked 16th in the majors last year with a K/9 of 8.92.
That said, the pen still looks strong going into the 2023 season. If at least one starting pitcher is required, as expected, the bullpen could look something like this: Romano, Swanson, Bass, Garcia, Mayza, Cimber, Richards, Kikuchi/White
I believe this to be a quality bullpen. A variety of both leverage and depth options, a long reliever with starting experience, and increased swing and miss from last season, I think the Blue Jays would be comfortable with this group entering 2023. Opportunities are sure to present themselves come next season's trade deadline, but this group is skilled enough to do the job from March-June. There also exists the potential of someone like Nate Pearson impressing in Spring Training and earning a spot. As it stands, I wouldn’t bank on any major bullpen additions, and I’m excited to see what this groups of players can do.