So, while I await whether or not there's any fire to the smoke leaking out regarding the Blue Jays and SS(potential 2B) Takashi Toritani it seems the subject on everyone's lips and keyboards is the bullpen. So let me see if I can reel off one of my old school omnibus posts looking over the possibilities.
Lately there's a sudden wave of chatter that the Blue Jays don't have nearly as much to spend as previously estimated. My take on that is (obviously) ill-informed since I'm not privy to how much they react to exchange rates and such, but the whole conversation strikes me as a bit of an over-correction. I don't think that the very-recent trend towards not acting is as much a function of money as it is a wise estimation of the level to which signees are being overvalued, either in AAV or number of years.
This is a team, remember, that declined to bring back Janssen and McGowan for around the same cost next year as Andrew Miller got (and Janssen's track record over the last 4-5 years completely annihilates Miller's - the last half season notwithstanding). There's more in play here than a payroll ceiling. That said, they are sitting a tic over $124mm by my estimation, and it's pretty clear Navarro and his $5mm are going somewhere - more on that later. It's true, as Stoten and others have mentioned, that there are $5mm in pending buyouts at the end of the year, but there's only 1 or 2 mil tat even remotely likely to be paid out. I'm still sticking with ~$20mm to go (assuming Navarro), at least, which would be a paltry 3.6% raise over 2014.
So, taking a long look at the situation, what do we find? First, let's note well: If they wanted Janssen on the team as a person or a ballplayer, they should have picked him up. The cost compared to his track record was good value. Either they saw troubling issues with his abilities, or there was some clubhouse red flag we don't know about. Laying those aside, there are still FAR worse plays than bringing him and McGowan back, although that will cost more now than it would have to have picked up the options. (As an aside, wouldn't it have made sense to pick up Janssens and traded him like they did Lind if they didn't want him? Seems ike an opportunity lost...)
Second, the internal options are not as depleted as has been portrayed. There IS a distinct hole at closer (albeit not without untested internal options) and one would like an import there and perhaps a more high-powered RH for the 8th, but it's worth a closer look at what's here.
1. Brett Cecil - damn skippy set-up man (and not just against lefties) and the leading (depending on how you use Sanchez) internal candidate to close. He'd be a pretty good option at the latter but would leave a significant hole at the former.
2. Aaron Sanchez - few doubt he could be a star as a closer assuming he could muster the "closer mentality". As things stand, he is (rightly) penciled in as the 5th starter but if the ays hit march without a closer option, and with a reasonable alternative (Norris, Estrada, someone else?) for that spot, they may decide to go a year with Sanchez and re-evaluate next winter.
3. Aaron Loup - Anyone remember that Loup wasn't high on anyone's top prospect lists in 2012? Or before? Coming into 2012 he'd been mentioned just a little as a guy with good upside who was probably a couple of years away. By mid-season he'd been promoted from AA and would never see the minors again. Just goes to show that good bullpens are not just made up of big money free agents or costly trades. Like Cecil, he's a home-grown mainstay.
4. Todd Redmond - very under-appreciated by the fans after last year's fine job. A waiver claim from the Orioles in March of 2013, Redmond demonstrates another road to quality bullpen acquisitions. Redmond played a crucial role in '14 as a middle/long reliever and sported a 1.98 ERA on August 14 before his worst outing of the year. He gave up runs in 7 of his last 9 outings and either he was running
out of gas or maybe hiding some mild injury. In any case, he's a key part of the '15 bullpen.
5. Marco Estrada - Above average Starter in '12-'13, and quality reliever in the second half of '14. Much has been said about the 29 homers he allowed last season - but he only allowed TWO of those after the break. The first half seems to be a rather obvious outlier.
Laying aside the possibility Daniel Norris can't be denied, either Estrada or Sanchez will be in the rotation and the other in the 'pen - so other than the occurance of injury, you have 4 spots filled. You need three more in the majors, lus depth.
6. Steve Delebar - the Jays got him at the 2012 trade deadline for a guy they were done with (full disclosure, I really thought Eric Thames was better than that) and who hasn't played in the majors for two years. He was consistently good until May 23 of last season. Then his control went sideways and he found himself back in AAA 4 weeks later. There he did excellent work in all respects except that the walk rate was still too high. There is every possibility he becomes the RH set-up man we need. We just can't afford to presume he will.
7. Chad Jenkins - another Rodney Dangerfield, cursed with too many options (he still has one remaining). Demonstrating the third alternate method to filling a 'pen - the minor league starter who's not good enough to start in the majors. Not possessed of great strikeout ability, all he does is get outs. If not for the option he'd be a lock to break camp in the Jays bullpen.
8. Kyle Drabek - out of options, this is his make or break spring. Take out one bad outing (the next-last of the season) and he posted a 2.45 ERA over the last two months pitching in relief. He recorded 4 walks and 14 K in 18.1 IP. Despite the fact that the Jays inexplicably left him off the September roster, this might be your best dark horse candidate to play a key role.
For all the hand-wringing about the '14 'pen, that's a solid group. It's true the bullpen collectively ranked poorly in the last season, BUT that figure include the Santos implosion (take him out alone and the bullpen ERA drops from 4.09 to 3.88) and several others no longer in the picture. The collective ERA of the players still in the Jays' possession (along with Estrada's relief work and minus Stroman's) is 2.73!
But depth, you say? Much more untested. But here we go:
1. Rob Rasmussen - Lefty looked good in tiny major league sample. Quite good in AAA, solid minor league history. Legitimately goodd enough to fill in in the majors at least.
2. Liam Hendricks - dominant at AAA, still only 25. There ought to be a way to translate that to at lest a replacement level reliever.
3. Ryan Tepera - did good work after being shifted from starting to the bullpen for 2014.
4. Cory Burns - got hittable when he hit the PCL (for the Rangers) but his track record in previous organizations looks excellent. A serious dark horse candidate.
5/6. Bo Schultz/Colt Hymes - I dunno. The Jays thought enough of them to carry them on the 40 so they will be in the major league camp at ST. Can't see the attraction myself.
7. Blake McFarland - no pedigree (a lot of good major league relievers don't bring one with them) but he dominated in the AFL after a fine season split between Dunedin and New Hampshire. He's put himself on the radar.
8. Tyler Ybarra - pegged by some observers as a breakout candidate, the LH pitcher dominated Hi-A ball in 2013 and took a step back in '14 at AA. Said to be the sort that could put it together at any time.
9. Ricky Romero - yeah I know, but he did finally get the knee fixed and it would be a helluva story wouldn't it?
10. John Stilson - recovering from shoulder surgery, probably a lost season ahead but his name ought to appear here somewhere.
Potential second half stories?
Alex has mentioned Miguel Castro more than once. Like most young hard-throwers, his control needs continued refinement, but he will start the season in A Ball and if the Jays think he can help the bullpen this year - as Alex seems to - then they may fast-track him ala Norris/Graveman so long as he isn't overwhelmed. Others who might come fast include Roberto Osuna, who will be far enough removed from his TJ to be back to his old self. He may begin the year in the warmth of Florida but should arrive in AA in early-to-mid may at the latest. Speaking of Graveman, Matt Boyd and Taylor Cole are both lower profile prospects who dominated at Dunedin a stumbled in brief tries at AA. They should open in NH this time and fit the profile of starters who might better serve the team in relief (particularly in that there are so many very good young starters higher on the list than they. For a much longer shot, lefty Jario Labourt might be your sleeper.
In a few days I'll take a look outside the organization to see what, in my estimation, makes sense. But don't despair too much. There's a solid core here.