Since many of you will spend the next day or two in a turkey-and-egg-nog- (or some other culinary permutation) induced coma, I figured it’d be a good idea to provide you with some food for thought while you walk around in your holiday haze.
I thought about writing a whole big examination of WAR, since it has become a catch-all, everything-in-one grand truth for some — much overused as the never-to-be-argued gospel. But to paraphrase the great Hammy Hamster, that’s a story for another day.
Instead, we examine what’s left for the Toronto Blue Jays to do this winter following a sensational six weeks in which they’ve added three starting pitchers (two legitimate aces and a four-time all-star), the last two National League batting champions, a solid middle infielder, a super-utility man who stole 30 bases in 33 tries in less than half a season, an intriguing bullpen arm and a potential under-the-radar lefty-killing platoon DH at a cost — to the major-league roster — of Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar and switching back-up catchers from Jeff Mathis to Josh Thole.
Many Blue Jays fans are concerned about Colby Rasmus’ ability to be an impact bat, but the potential that he doesn’t improve upon what was an abysmal 2012 save for about six weeks before the all-star break is mitigated by the presence of two possible replacements — Emilio Bonifacio on the big club and Anthony Gose in triple-A Buffalo.
Sure, the Blue Jays could improve upon Adam Lind in the fifth spot in the lineup, primarily handling the DH duties and “protecting” Edwin Encarnacion in the batting order (as though such a thing exists), but if Lind is used properly, he could well surprise a lot of his detractors even though the likelihood of a repeat of his 2009 Silver Slugger season seems to be diminishing more and more as each year passes.
The part of the team that’s likeliest to be addressed by Alex Anthopoulos and his crew over the next seven weeks is the bullpen, which as it stands right now could either be an enormous strength for the Blue Jays or could blow up real good.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing the Jays can do as far as Darren Oliver is concerned except sit back and wait to see what he decides to do. The lefty was one of the brightest lights on the entire team during their dismal 2012, but at the age of 42 has yet to announce whether he wants to play one more year or hang up the cleats and spend time being a father and husband. All indications are that Oliver will select the easy chair over the bullpen scaffolding, and his decision is coming in the new year.
If Oliver does choose to retire, the meat of the Blue Jays’ bullpen will consist of pitchers who are either untested or coming off shoulder surgery. Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos comprise the latter category, Steve Delabar, Brad Lincoln and Esmil Rogers the former. The ‘pen is likely to be filled out by J.A. Happ and the out-of-options Brett Cecil, but also under consideration would be Aaron Loup, Jeremy Jeffress, Mickey Storey, Rich Thompson and Evan Crawford, among others.
Janssen, who was brilliant this past year and has been great out of the bullpen in every big-league season in which he’s been healthy, has 277 1/3 major-league relief innings under his belt. Combined, Delabar, Lincoln, Rogers and Santos have barely 100 more than Janssen alone.
Janssen’s shoulder surgery was nothing major — just a clean-up — so one would think he’d be able to be counted on for another strong season in 2013, but he’s still coming off surgery, as is Santos, who managed to pitch all of five innings for the 2012 Blue Jays before shutting it down for the year. Like Janssen, Santos is expected to be ready to go when spring training begins in mid-February.
Delabar, Lincoln and Rogers are the wild cards. Each of them had a breakthrough season in 2012, though Lincoln didn’t carry his success in Pittsburgh north with him after being dealt for Travis Snider at the deadline.
Lincoln opened eyes when the Pirates moved him to the bullpen and he posted a 0.50 ERA with a 0.841 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 35 2/3 relief innings before being traded to the Blue Jays. Eye-popping numbers, those, but as an American Leaguer, the ERA rose more than five runs and the WHIP went up to 1.360, though the impressive strikeout rate stayed at about one per inning. His Blue Jays numbers are badly skewed by a single outing in T-Bay in which he gave up six runs and only managed to record two outs, but overall Lincoln had five appearances as a Blue Jay in which he gave up multiple runs.
Still, he throws hard, throws strikes and has a curveball that can be unhittable.
Unlike Lincoln, who began his Blue Jays career with four straight scoreless outings, Delabar didn’t make a great first impression on the Jays’ faithful, giving up a home run to the first batter he ever faced as a Jay, Mark Teixeira. From there, though, the tall, hard-throwing righty took Toronto by storm, with 46 strikeouts in just 29 2/3 innings of work (including a club-record four in a single inning) — a strikeout rate of 14.1 per nine innings that blew away anything that Duane Ward or Tom Henke ever did.
As for Rogers, Blue Jays fans have yet to meet him outside a mop-up stint at Rogers Centre in July in which he threw two shutout innings in an 11-9 Blue Jays win. Rogers came to the Indians after washing out as a starter in Colorado. Something clicked for him in Cleveland, and he posted a 1.113 WHIP and a 3.06 ERA out of the Tribe’s bullpen, with 54 strikeouts against just 12 walks in 53 innings.
Generally, when a reliever has a breakthrough season, the odds of him repeating his success are probably lower than 50-50. The performance of relief pitchers is the one thing that seems to vary more wildly than the performance of any other group of players in the game. Depending on three such players to repeat their success after breaking through seems to be to invite disaster.
The Blue Jays do have several things going for them, though, not the least of which is their starting rotation of five aces that should be able to get into the seventh inning every night, if not deeper. That should keep the relievers well rested and ready to go.
Another positive is that neither Lincoln nor Rogers have the control issues that many of those volatile hard-throwing relievers do. Lincoln’s career walk rate of 2.6 per nine innings is very good, and Rogers walked only two batters per nine once he was freed from the Rockie ravages of pitching at Coors Field. Delabar walked 15 in 29 1/3 innings as a Blue Jay, which isn’t good, but if you can strike out more than 14 batters per nine, which he did, you can live with a slightly higher walk rate.
Still, an established, experienced, productive arm in the bullpen would seem to be the addition the Blue Jays could use most (note the “productive” part — it’s not as though veteran presence enough will get the job done) should OIiver be done with pitching, and that’s the move I believe they’re most likely to make.
They tried to get Jason Grilli in free agency, but weren’t willing to give him a third guaranteed year. Where else could they fix their gaze out on the open market? Rafael Soriano would be very nice indeed, but in addition to the fact that he would cost a second-round draft pick and the Blue Jays have just traded four of their top five prospects, he would also require a boatload of cash. Remember, he’s a free agent because he turned down the Yankees’ offer of just over $13 million for one year. As much as the Blue Jays have raised their payroll, there’s not an endless supply of dough. They wouldn’t have been able to take on R.A. Dickey’s $5-million ticket if they hadn’t been able to rid themselves of John Buck’s $6-million contract in that same trade. The money doesn’t appear to be there for Soriano.
So who then? The next name that springs to mind is Brandon Lyon. The 33-year-old was a rock in the Blue Jays’ bullpen after being acquired from the Astros in July, posting a 1.120 WHIP, a 2.88 ERA and a strikeout rate of 10.1 per nine innings. He’s still productive, and has closing experience with the Red Sox, Diamondbacks and Astros.
There’s also Guillermo Mota, Francisco Rodriguez and Juan Carlos Oviedo, who used to be Leo Nunez, and wouldn’t it be nice to have Jason Frasor come back and be a part of this Blue Jays squad after having spent so many years wandering in the wilderness with the club?
Of course, there’s always the option of going with a left-hander, though the pickings are much slimmer. J.P. Howell would be at the top of that list, followed by Mike Gonzalez and a big bag of not-all-that-good.
It’s certainly a great time to be a Blue Jays fan — it’s been a long time since a Christmastime analysis of the ballclub has shown that the biggest thing they need to do is probably add one more arm to the bullpen.
To those of you who are celebrating, I wish you a very merry Christmas. Happiness, peace and joy to you and yours. Enjoy yourself, whether you celebrate with family, friends, acquaintances or just an aluminum pole in your living room. Be safe!