By: Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
The Toronto Blue Jays addressed a critical area of need by reportedly inking left-handed reliever J.P. Howell to a one-year, $3 million contract on Tuesday.
Howell, 33, is a veteran of 531 career games at the major league level and has pitched to a cumulative ERA of 3.77 with a WHIP of 1.332 complimented by a K/9 of 8.3 across 608 and two-thirds innings of work dating back to his rookie campaign with the Kansas City Royals in 2005.
After finding limited success as a starter over his first three years in the Show, the 6'0" product of Modesto, CA was relegated to a relief role in 2008 and responded by posting a breakout season while under the tutelage of pitching guru Jim Hickey with the arm-heavy Tampa Bay Rays.
Since that point, the former first rounder has appeared as a full-time reliever and contributed heavily to five playoff teams, the most recent coming in 2015 after establishing a career-best ERA of 1.43 over 44 frames on the year as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Inked to a major league deal, Howell now joins Aaron Loup as the teams two lefties out of the bullpen. Although Loup earned a raise in arbitration earlier this offseason, he's no longer a lock to make Toronto's 25-man roster out of spring training as the addition of Howell, a recent string of inconsistencies and the emergence of fellow left-handed relievers Matt Dermody and Tim Mayza in the minor leagues last season has left his once-guaranteed spot on the big league club in jeopardy.
After having his $6.25 million club option picked up by LA in 2016, the soft-tossing Howell scuffled out of the gate and ended up allowing an opponents batting average of .281 for the season, his highest figure since switching to full-time relief.
Still, despite a marginal drop in velocity, the Blue Jays brass saw enough in his performance to justify issuing him a one-year deal for 2017. After all, he is left-handed and, following the Brett Cecil deal in November, it almost feels as if southpaw relievers are the only ones making money this winter.
Had Howell recorded numbers similar to the ones posted between '08 and '15 in his last season out west, Toronto would have been forced to shell out a lot more in order to acquire his services.
Considering the inflated market, this deal could turn into an absolute steal when all is said and done.
In addition to finding their southpaw, Toronto also added a versatile depth piece by signing veteran infielder Jonathan Diaz to a MiLB pact.
Diaz, 31, is a former 12th round selection of the Blue Jays and has played in a total of 929 minor-league games since making his professional debut with the Auburn Doubledays in 2006, 748 of which have come as a member of Toronto’s system.
For his career, the product of Miami Beach, FL has slashed .226/.352/.291 with 181 extra-base hits in 3694 plate appearances. That line includes a pair of stints with the World Series-bound Boston Red Sox in 2013 and the Blue Jays in 2015.
The defensive specialist spent all of last season with the International League Champion Scranton Rail Riders (NYY), taking the field 101 times and making only 10 errors in 427 total chances.
Having appeared primarily at second base over the course of his ten-year professional career, the 5'9" utility man known for his “plus-plus” glovework is also capable of playing short, third and all three outfield spots in a pinch.
With both Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney currently listed on the Blue Jays 25-man roster, in addition to the recent MiLB signing of Gregorio Petit, Diaz projects to start the season with triple-A Buffalo where he’s played a total of 210 games since first appearing with the Bisons in 2014
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