TORONTO — Despite a rotating cast of characters this season, the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen somehow managed to post a reasonable 4.35 ERA, good for eighth in the American League.
Fine in a rebuilding year, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Tampa Bay Rays (3.71), Houston Astros (3.75), Cleveland Indians (3.76), Oakland Athletics (3.89), New York Yankees (4.08) and Minnesota Twins (4.17) were one through six, respectively, in bullpen ERA this season.
All six of those clubs won at least 93 games.
“We’re going to need to add there,” general manager Ross Atkins said. “What we do feel good about is the depth of our 40-man roster, the number of guys that could potentially help our major-league team that will potentially be in Triple-A. We feel like we have a number of guys that will stabilize our bullpen a bit, but we’ll be looking to increase that level of execution with higher-leverage arms that have experience doing that. The starting pitching acquisitions that we, hopefully, make will have some impact on that at the same time.”
There also could be a need for a left-hander, but the new three-batter rule for 2020 as well as Atkins’ own philosophy have minimized that role.
“We haven’t been big on situational left-handed relievers,” Atkins said. “We like guys that can get multiple outs and we’ve, for the most part, deployed even our left-handed relievers that way. I think the industry, really, is using the situational reliever less and less.”
CURRENT 2020 OUTLOOK
Closer—RHP Ken Giles, age-29
Setup—RHP Anthony Bass, age-32
Setup—RHP Wilmer Font, age-30
Middle relief—RHP Sam Gaviglio, age-30
Middle relief—RHP A.J. Cole, age-28 (minor-league deal)
Middle relief—RHP Jordan Romano, age-27
Bulk guy—LHP Thomas Pannone, age-26
Bulk guy—RHP Jacob Waguespack, age-26
On the 40-man
All currently projected as potential starters
RHP Justin Miller, age-33
RHP Phillippe Aumont, age-31
The bullpen you see above will look completely different by opening day.
Or it should, at least.
Giles, Bass, who was plucked off waivers from the Seattle Mariners in November and has already avoided arbitration with a one-year, $1.5-million deal, Font and Gaviglio should all have jobs waiting for them.
After those four, it’s murky.
With the Jays expected to add multiple rotation arms in free agency and a number of prospects in line for Triple-A time, someone will have to end up in the bullpen, and starters like Waguespack could fill bulk or long-man roles.
It’s pretty clear: This area of the roster needs more impact arms as well as depth.
MOST PRESSING NEED
Dominant setup man, closer-in-waiting
Closer Ken Giles may not be around much longer, so finding another dominant option at the back end of Charlie Montoyo’s bullpen would be ideal.
Even if Giles is around, more capable bullpens arms are needed as the ’pen’s current setup leaves them perilously thin.
The quirky 29-year-old fireman has expressed interest in a contract extension, and while Atkins hasn’t publicly ruled that out, it makes more sense to trade Giles either this winter or at the trade deadline next summer.
With the Jays not expected to contend in 2020, Atkins will continue to mine the fringes of free agency for most of his bullpen arms and that’s mostly fine because this year’s bullpen crop isn’t good, especially after Will Smith and Drew Pomeranz signed in November.
But there are a couple of reclamation projects who might come at a fairly reasonable price …
1—RHP Dellin Betances
He missed almost all of the season with a shoulder injury and then hurt his Achilles in his first game back, but, when healthy, Betances is a lights-out option at the back end of a bullpen.
He’ll likely want a one-year deal in order to rebuild his value and hit free agency again next year and that would make for another good trade chip in July.
2—RHP Blake Treinen
Treinen went from being the best closer in baseball one year ago to being tossed out onto the street as a non-tender. He’s the only example you need for the volatility of bullpens.
Treinen’s ERA ballooning from 0.78 in 2018 to 4.91 this season was aided by a back injury, but contenders already seem to be lining up for the 31-year-old’s services. Trading Giles and offering up the closer role to Betances or Treinen might be a wise strategy.
3—RHP Collin McHugh
You can file this one into the category of reclamation project and the health of his elbow will tell the story of whether or not that works out. If the 32-year-old righty can stay healthy, he’s a versatile arm who has thrown 200 innings in a season as a starter (2015), and also served as a dominant reliever with a 1.99 ERA (2018) during his time with the Houston Astros.
Consider this: His career ERA as a starter is 4.14 and his career ERA out of the bullpen is 2.76.
PROSPECT TO WATCH
LHP Kirby Snead, 2016 10th-round pick (312th overall)
With Tim Mayza now gone, the only left-hander on the Jays’ 40-man roster with bullpen potential is Thomas Pannone.
Even though the game has changed and Atkins has noted they don’t care to carry a traditional lefty specialist, having a good southpaw — one that can get both lefties and righties out — is still ideal.
Snead registered a 3.98 ERA in 52 innings at Triple-A in 2019, getting a ton of ground balls in the process. He could win a job next spring.
Also keep an eye on the bevy of the arms currently trying to make it as starters — Sean Reid-Foley, Hector Perez, Yennsy Diaz and Patrick Murphy come to mind — as a few of them will eventually be squeezed out and end up in bullpen roles over the next couple of years.
RHP Curtis Taylor, acquired in trade with Tampa Bay for Eric Sogard
Nabbed as one of two players to be named from the Rays last August, Taylor was already shut down for the year after suffering a sprained UCL, the latest elbow issue for the 24-year-old Port Coquitlam, B.C., native.
The injury was treated with a PRP injection and the Jays are hoping the 6-foot-6 right-hander can arrive at spring training ready to go.
If he’s healthy, Taylor could surprise.