Outside of a strong closer, the Toronto Blue Jays have a particularly weak bullpen. What exactly do they have, and how can they upgrade at this position?
The Toronto Blue Jays have done an excellent job of upgrading their roster since the last time we saw the team take the field. However, one area that has been somewhat neglected in this improvement process is their bullpen.
Toronto currently owns an unimpressive collection of relief arms, a group that features primarily journeymen and unheralded, young pitchers that lack big league experience. If the team wants to be competitive in 2020, this group is either going to need to play well above their skill level, or significant changes will need to be made.
Prior to the 2020 season, MLB has implemented a new rule that states all relief pitchers must either face three batters or finish an inning before being removed from the game. This is groundbreaking, as it prevents managers from obsessing over lefty/righty matchups like they have in the past and all but eliminates the LOOGY (left-handed one out guy) position that has been prominent in big league bullpens.
With fewer games on the 2020 schedule, having a strong bullpen will be more important than ever. The Jays can’t afford to have their bullpen blow lead after lead if they want to find themselves in the playoff picture.
For an example of just how lacking the Toronto Blue Jays’ bullpen is, look no further than within their own division. The New York Yankees’ financial muscle is on full display in its bullpen.
New York boasts the ability to throw out any combination of Adam Ottavino, Tommy Khanle, Zach Britton, Chad Green, and Aroldis Chapman at their opponents. While this level of strength at the position is certainly not attainable for Toronto in 2020, what options do they have when it comes to improving this area of their roster?
First, let’s start with what the Blue Jays have in terms of relief pitching. Perhaps the most important player in the bullpen is the closer, and fortunately this is a position that the team does not need to worry about.
Ken Giles was nothing short of excellent last season, putting up numbers that rivaled the best closers in the game. A free agent at the end of the year, he will look to continue to build his value with a strong 2020 season.
Outside of Giles, there really isn’t a whole lot worth mentioning. Rafael Dolis hasn’t pitched in North America since 2013, Anthony Bass is on his fourth team in as many years, and Wilmer Font is on his fifth team since 2017.
Shun Yamaguchi is an interesting player to watch, as he will be making his major league debut at 32 after spending the first 14 years of his career in Japan, but he likely won’t amount to anything spectacular. These are the guys being trusted right now to hold onto late leads – nothing against this group, but it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Fortunately, it shouldn’t be hard for the Jays’ front office to upgrade their bullpen should they decide to do so. Andrew Cashner is likely the best relief arm still available on the free agent market.
Cashner struggled after a midseason trade from Baltimore to Boston. However, he has a career ERA just over 4.00 and experience both as a starter and a reliever, which will be valuable if injuries strike the team’s rotation.
Sam Dyson – yes, that Sam Dyson – is still available as well. Toronto fans will remember him as the pitcher who was on the wrong end of Jose Bautista’s famous home run in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS, but many would be surprised to know he began his career as a Blue Jay.
Another player who struggled after a midseason trade in 2019, Dyson has actually been a very good reliever over the course of his career. He even has some closing experience, should Giles struggle at any point during the season.
Apart from Cashner and Dyson, there are a number of other solid veteran free agent relievers still available. Sam Tuivailala has had three strong seasons in a row.
Shawn Kelley wasn’t great last season, but put up a sub-3.00 ERA just two seasons ago. Jerry Blevins, Juan Minaya, and Arodys Vizcaino would also be upgrades on what the Blue Jays currently have.
Toronto could also make improvements via a trade. The Chicago White Sox are a team in a somewhat similar state as the Blue Jays, with a bevy of good young bats and a new-look rotation.
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If the White Sox don’t get off to a hot start, closer Alex Colome may become available. Colome is on an expiring contract and would be an excellent fit in the Jays’ bullpen.
Pittsburgh Pirates’ reliever Keone Kela is another option for Toronto to look at. He is on an expiring contract, and in a year in which they aren’t expected to compete, the Pirates may look to trade him away for future assets. Similarly, Brandon Kintzler (Miami Marlins), Jake McGee (Colorado Rockies), and Alex Wilson (Detroit Tigers) are all guys with expiring contracts who play on non-competitive teams who may be available for the Blue Jays to trade for.
Finally, another route the Jays could take to improve their bullpen is by having top prospect Nate Pearson take a prominent relief role in 2020. Pearson is destined for a place at the top of Toronto’s rotation for years to come, but it might not be a bad idea to allow him to start his career in the bullpen.
In addition, given the shortened 2020 schedule, this may be the best development path for Pearson to take. Other recent top prospects, such as Julio Urias and Tyler Glasnow, have started their careers in the bullpen before transitioning to the starting rotation.
While not great, the Toronto Blue Jays certainly have options to improve their bullpen going into 2020. It is infuriating to watch a team continually blow late inning leads, so for the sanity of fans and players alike, making these upgrades sooner rather than later may be a necessity.