Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays got off to a quick off-season this winter, with many voids to fill. They were in need of a left fielder, (with Melky Cabrera set to become a free agent) a center fielder, a second basemen, a designated hitter and filling holes in the bullpen. A majority of the needs were filled early on, but the bullpen still has more questions than answers.
Early in the winter, Anthopoulos signed free agent catcher Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract, the biggest contract the Blue Jays General Manager has handed out in his tenure. He followed that by shockingly trading third baseman Brett Lawrie to Oakland for all-star third baseman Josh Donaldson. Michael Saunders has been brought in from Seattle to for left field, replacing Cabrera.
The Blue Jays were unsuccessful in finding long-term solutions at second or center field, and they will certainly have competition. Maicer Izturis, Ryan Goins and Devon Travis, coming from Detroit for Anthony Gose, will battle for second baseman. With Gose being traded, Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar will either fight for starting center field or split the duties. The designated hitter will be split between Edwin Encarnacion, Dioner Navarro, Justin Smoak and Danny Valencia.
The bullpen has internal options, but who the closer will be is up in the air, with only a few weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Some options for the bullpen include Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar, Kyle Drabek, Marco Estrada, Liam Hendriks, Chad Jenkins, Aaron Loup, Rob Rasmussen, Todd Redmond and Aaron Sanchez. It’s a shorter list than usual and many of the options have been inconsistent relievers at the big league level.
Cecil, Estrada, Loup and Sanchez have all been pinpointed as possible options to close for the team. Casey Janssen, currently a free agent, has been the team’s closer for the past three seasons. Some believe Janssen still has a realistic chance to return as the team’s closer, and those chances will only increase as days go by.
When it comes to the Blue Jays, there’s never a short-list of rumours surrounding them. Recently, they were linked to free agent pitcher James Shields, who’s one of the most highly-touted starting pitchers left on the market. They have been linked to Bullpen options John Axford, Burke Badenhop, Jose Veras, Francisco Rodriguez, Jesse Crain and free agent Dustin McGowan.
The trade market has been quiet for relief help as many teams value their bullpens. Blue Jays spent some of the winter talking to the Kansas City Royals regarding their late inning pitchers Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, but the asking price was too high.
Pitchers such as Axford, Veras and Rodriguez have all been closer at the big-league level before. However, all three have either dealt with injuries or have declined with age. Canadian-born Axford, believes he still has what it takes to close. The Simcoe, Ontario native saved 46 games in 2011 for Milwaukee and has 116 saves over his six year career. The 34-year-old Veras has only 27 saves over his nine seasons. Rodriguez was one of the best closers during the 2005-2009 seasons before he began to decline. He saved 62 games in 2008.
The latest rumour has been Badenhop for the Blue Jays. However, the right-handed Badenhop has struggled against left-handed hitting.
Before Janssen’s emergence as closer for the last couple of seasons, the Blue Jays have struggled to find a true long-term solution. Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch shared the duties in 2011. Before that, Kevin Gregg was in Toronto from 2006-2009, but he was only healthy for half those years. The early 2000s saw a new closer almost every season.
It looks more and more like Anthopoulos might just stick with what he has, or maybe add some minor names to add competition in spring training. For now, there has only been dialogue on the bullpen front for the Blue Jays. Anthopoulos usually doesn’t make many moves without doing extensive research on an individual player, so before players such as Axford, Veras, Rodriguez and even Badenhop get considered, the Blue Jays will do some digging. At this point, we should just believe that the Blue Jays will either stick with what they have or bring Janssen back.