Possible relief pitching options for the Blue Jays
By Cole Shelton
Canadian Baseball Network
The Toronto Blue Jays entered the off-season with an exact set of needs, those being infield depth, two outfielders, depth for the starting rotation, a backup catcher and bullpen help.
So far, in a quiet off-season, the Blue Jays have checked the box of infield depth with the acquisitions of Gift Ngoupe, Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte. They have also added two outfielders in Randal Grichuk and Curtis Granderson, however, they have yet to address the catcher and bullpen needs.
The Blue Jays bullpen has arguably four spots locked down to start the season in, Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup and Danny Barnes, with a possible fifth name in Joe Biagini if he isn’t a starter. With four spots locked down, Toronto is looking to add at least two more players to compete with the likes of Carlos Ramirez, Tim Mayza and Matt Dermody to fight for those two, possibly three spots in the bullpen. The Blue Jays already added Al Albuquerque on a minor-league deal who may figure into the fight for a spot in the bullpen, but just that signing isn’t enough.
Here are some possible names the Blue Jays may look to add to their bullpen depth.
Ian Krol, 26, LHP
The Blue Jays may be looking for players who are willing to accept minor-league deals, and possibly spend time in triple-A Buffalo as insurance, and Ian Krol fits that bill. Krol had a very good 2016 season in Atlanta in which he tossed 51 innings in 63 appearances and posted a 3.18 ERA. However, after that solid 2016 season, Krol was supposed to be a big part of the Braves' bullpen in 2017, but struggled to a 5.33 ERA in 49 innings. For Krol, he is definitely hoping for a bounce back season, and taking a minor-league contract or perhaps a one-year deal worth around $2 million may be smart for Toronto as a low-risk move.
Joe Blanton, 37, RHP
The veteran Joe Blanton could play into a Jason Grilli role for Toronto’s bullpen. Blanton could serve as a mentor to Tepera and Osuna among others. Blanton can still pitch effectively as evident in his 2015 and 2016 seasons as both years he had a sub 3.00 ERA. Blanton, however, signed with Washington last season and struggled, registering a 5.68 ERA in 44 1/3 innings (down from 80 the year prior) and was not used a lot down the stretch. If Blanton decides he still wants to pitch, a low-risk move for the Blue Jays would be to sign him to a minor-league contract or a one-year deal worth $2 to $3 million, in hopes he regains his 2015 and 2016 form.
David Hernandez, 32, RHP
David Hernandez may be the most reliable of the names on this list. Hernandez is a known commodity and will give his team around 40-50 innings with a 4.00 ERA, similar to what Baseball-Reference sees in store for Hernandez in 2018. They are projecting Hernandez to finish with 60 innings pitched, with a 3.90 ERA, which would be a good season for the right-hander. If Toronto can get Hernandez to agree to a deal worth $2 to $4 million it will strengthen their bullpen and give manager John Gibbons another late-inning reliever to work with.
Carlos Torres, 35, RHP
Carlos Torres has spent the last six years in the National League and has pitched relatively well out of the bullpen. Torres is projected by Baseball-Reference to pitch 69 innings with a 4.17 ERA in 2018. Similar to Blanton, Torres has been better than he was last season and may look to rebound with a minor-league contract. If Torres signs with Toronto, he can give the Blue Jays a relief option for the fifth and sixth innings if a starter only goes four of five innings.
Shae Simmons, 26, RHP
Shae Simmons is more likely to take a minor-league contract and pitch at triple-A if he fails to make the big league roster. Simmons can provide depth for Toronto in Buffalo, which they will need given how many relievers teams go through throughout the year. At just 26, Simmons is still young and has spent parts of three seasons in the majors. For his big league career, Simmons has recorded a 3.50 ERA in 36 innings and Baseball-Reference projects him to pitch 29 innings and post a 4.66 ERA in 2018.
The Blue Jays have other options as well through the trade route which seems plausible, but if they are only looking through the free agent market these five names make sense. They are all low-risk options and have had proven success in the majors, but struggled in 2017. Toronto should only be looking to sign relievers to one-year deals. That way they can flip them if they are out of contention at the trade deadline for an asset similar to the Joe Smith trade last season. The Blue Jays still have time to add depth to their bullpen but they should start working on it, before another team signs the player they are targeting.