I didn’t plan on making my post about starting pitchers (and not chasing free agents) a thing, but why the hell not. Here goes part two of a look at roster issues with the Blue Jays: Relievers.
Today’s post comes hot on the heels of an outstanding performance by prospect Marcus Stroman in the Arizona Fall League in which he struck out five of six batters in impressive fashion. I don’t want to gloat about what I said earlier in the week (because, I can still turn out to be very wrong), but I will just a little bit. Fate conspired against me seeing him in person in the regular season last year (I was IN New Britain on the day he was going to start but the game was called because of a big storm) but everything I’ve seen on TV and heard from scouts is impressive.
Anyways, he’s somewhat tangentially related to the topic of this post: relievers. Why? Because, originally, most scouts were saying that Stroman’s best role in the majors is as a closer. The fact that the Blue Jays have stretched him out to start and the fact that many people are coming around to seeing him as a legitimate MLB starter are two of the biggest reasons that I have left Stroman off my depth chart for the bullpen. The other reason is the fact that the Jays’ bullpen is already super crowded for next year. That doesn’t mean that the Stro Show* won’t appear in the Toronto bullpen in 2014.
On to the bullpen. Yikes! It’s crowded out there. These guys are going to have to take shallow breaths or else the oxygen is going to run out. Here’s my projected bullpen depth chart (if no moves are made):
The bold indicates pitchers who could also be starters and, rumours be true (thanks to Jeff Passan from Yahoo Sports), the Blue Jays are thinking about having Jeremy Jeffress start, probably just for Spring Training.
There are two big issues with the Blue Jays’ relievers. One is the fact that they have a ton of hard-throwing guys who have shown that they can cut it at the major league level. The other is the fact that so many of them are out of options, meaning that they can’t be stashed in the minor leagues without clearing waivers.
Out of options pitchers (thanks to Gregor Chisholm who answered this question for a reader at BlueJays.com): Brett Cecil, Luis Perez, Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers, Sergio Santos, Jeremy Jeffress, Brad Lincoln and Dustin McGowan.
Obviously, that’s a big chunk of your pitching staff right there that can’t be sent down without the risk of losing them for nothing. Consider that R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Casey Janssen are veterans who can refuse a minor league assignment (I’m pretty sure it works that way) and the Blue Jays have 11 pitchers who can’t be sent to the minors without at least exposing them to waivers. This complicates things because, even with eight relievers, there is the possibility that you’re going to have to demote (a.k.a. put on waivers and possibly lose) two or three of these pitchers.
Let’s look at things a bit more closely starting at the back end of the bullpen. Assuming Casey Janssen isn’t traded, he’s going to be the closer. ‘Nuff said. He’s done it extremely well for two years despite not being the prototypical artillery-armed stopper. He throws strikes, works quickly and hits his spots with outstanding precision.
If Janssen is traded, I see the closer being Sergio Santos. Hopefully all of his injury issues are behind him and we can see the unbelievable pitcher that we got a glimpse of in September. He showed more control (with just four walks in 25 2/3 innings) and struck out 28 with possibly one of the best sliders in baseball. With a 7:1 K/BB ratio, Santos easily led the club. While he’s out of options, he’s on the team no matter what.
Behind Santos is Steve Delabar who had an awesome first half of the season but tired a little bit down the stretch (possibly due to overuse early on). Still, Delabar is a hard thrower who misses bats. A lot of bats. He struck out 82 batters in just 58 2/3 innings.
On the sure thing side, we have two lefties. The first, Brett Cecil had a huge coming out party with an All-Star berth and an excellent season in the bullpen. Cecil struck out 70 batters in 60 2/3 innings and posted a 2.82 ERA with a 1.104 WHIP. I’ll gloat a little bit again here by saying that I thought that he looked outstanding all the way back in Spring Training and (while I thought he’d be traded) his success did not surprise me. The other lefty who isn’t losing his roster spot is Aaron Loup. Loup still has options left but posted another strong year with a 2.47 ERA and 1.139 WHIP, proving to be a workhorse over 69 1/3 innings. Loup doesn’t have the nasty stuff that the other guys do but posts a high ground ball percentage (almost 60% last year), doesn’t walk a lot of batters and doesn’t give up many home runs. His low K% (18.8%) is balanced by a very low walk percentage (4.9%). Both pitchers are much better against lefties but can hold their own against right-handed hitters too.
With these five players pretty much locked in to bullpen spots, we come to the nitty gritty. Who takes the last three? Esmil Rogers will relieve if he doesn’t start. Dustin McGowan (see the post on starters) is in the same boat but his long history of injuries complicates matters a little more. Since we’ve already mentioned Jeremy Jeffress, I’ll talk a bit more about him here. He had an excellent September, throwing 10 1/3 innings, giving up just one run on a solo home run and striking out 12. His biggest issue is control which is why I don’t think he’ll pan out as a starter. Jeffress walked five in those 10 1/3 innings and actually posted a slightly higher walk rate in Buffalo (11.9%) than he did in Toronto. I think that, much like the Brad Lincoln starting experiment last year, Jeffress will end up in the bullpen.
Which brings us to Brad Lincoln. Lincoln wasn’t bad in Toronto last year, with a 3.98 ERA in 31 2/3 innings but his issues are control and a lack of strikeouts. With other pitchers with better stuff, Lincoln is going to find himself further down the depth chart than he likes. Unfortunately, being out of options means that Lincoln will probably be put on waivers to start the season.
Lefty Luis Perez is also out of options and saw five innings of action in the majors last year in September. Recovered from his Tommy John surgery, Perez can certainly have a place in a bullpen that saw as many as four lefties last year. However, the crowded nature of the bullpen might make that difficult.
So that’s the guys who are out of options. There are still other talented arms in the system for the Blue Jays to call on. Lefty Juan Perez was signed to a minor league contract and was fantastic in 2013 before he got injured. There could be some Perez on Perez action competing for a bullpen spot between Juan and Luis. An outright assignment to Triple-A is probably more likely since Juan is on a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training and is no longer on the 40-man roster.
Righty Chad Jenkins also still has options and can be a swing-man if Rogers is in the rotation full time. Jenkins still has options and while he really lacks the “swing and miss” stuff (striking out only 15 in 33 1/3 innings), he really seems to be able to get guys out, posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.110 WHIP in a season that included three starts.
Righty Neil Wagner is a real flamethrower who also has minor league options. Wagner did struggle a bit in the majors and has the tendency to give up home runs. He’s a guy that I think could be a seventh or eighth guy in the bullpen but I’m not so sure if he has a place in the bullpen of a team looking for a playoff spot or a team with as much depth as the Blue Jays have.
Finally, in Triple-A, you have John Stilson and probably Deck McGuire (he’s likely to move up to Buffalo next year) who might be very effective out of the bullpen. I really like what I saw from Joel Carreno but he has become a minor league free agent and I don’t know if he’s going to back in the Blue Jays organization. Another team might be willing step up and offer him a major league deal for 2014, especially considering the outstanding year he had. Mickey Storey is another really interesting guy who isn’t overpowering but can strike batters out. Storey still has an option (I assume, since he wasn’t included in Chisholm’s article) and, again, could find a spot in a major league bullpen that isn’t as deep as the Blue Jays’.
Which brings me to the ultimate question: Who stays and who goes? Obviously, the return on relievers isn’t huge and you’ll get more for offering the better and more proven guys. For me, only Sergio Santos is off limits. I think Dustin McGowan’s $1.5 million contract is extremely attractive and if I could trade him on the hope that he could start, that would vastly increase his value. Esmil Rogers’ solid starting stats last year could also help pump up his value.
Looking at the bullpen arms in isolation and without considering what I could get back for them (I’m not going to try to make trades here, just say who I would trade), I would give up Janssen, Delabar, Cecil and Rogers. I would also offer Joel Carreno a major league contract.
This would leave me with a bullpen that looks like this (and I’ll leave it as an eight-man bullpen to be consistent with what the Blue Jays have been doing):
Closer: Sergio Santos
Lefties: Loup/L. Perez
Buffalo: Stilson/Storey/J. Perez
UPDATE: Hours after I wrote this article, MLB Trade Rumors reported that Joel Carreno has signed a minor league deal with the Mets and will be given an invite to Spring Training (citing a Mets Twitter announcement). That being the case, I would probably end up keeping Steve Delabar and the new bullpen would look like this:
Closer: Sergio Santos
Lefties: Loup/L. Perez
Buffalo: Stilson/Storey/J. Perez
What do you think the 2014 bullpen should look like? Who should the Blue Jays look to trade?
* I’m copyrighting that sucker.