The Toronto Blue Jays made headlines in November by acquiring shortstop Jose Reyes along with starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the Miami Marlins. But they were not done, as they added 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey in a trade with the New York Mets in mid-December. Winning the offseason on paper clearly does not guarantee anything in the standings, but suddenly the Blue Jays are chalked full of good options for fantasy baseball owners beyond outfielder Jose Bautista.
But recent news suggests a potential position battle may be the biggest thing fantasy owners need to pay attention to when spring training starts for Toronto. Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star has reported that Sergio Santos is healthy and ready for spring training and may get a chance to reclaim the closer role for the Blue Jays. He missed a large chunk of his first season in Toronto due to a shoulder issue that later required surgery after being acquired from the Chicago White Sox in December of 2011, pitching in just six games while posting a 9.00 ERA and going 2-for-4 in save opportunities. Santos does have more extensive prior experience as a closer, as he had 30 saves (in 36 opportunities) for the White Sox in 2011 along with a 3.55 ERA over 63 appearances (63.1 innings).
Casey Janssen took over as the Blue Jays’ closer when Santos was sidelined last season, and had 22 saves in 25 opportunities along with a 2.54 ERA in 62 appearances (63.2 innings). He was particularly impressive for a stretch from May 9 through August 12, going 15-for-15 in save chances along with a 1.31 ERA and a 35:6 K/BB ratio over 33 appearances (34.1 innings). Janssen underwent shoulder surgery of his own in November, but he is expected to be ready to go when spring training comes.
A look at peripheral numbers shows Santos may be a more traditional “shutdown” closer, as he has a career K/9 rate of 11.4 highlighted by a super-elite level 13.1 K/9 in 2011. Janssen on the other hand has a career K/9 rate of just 6.6, but he did strikeout more than a batter per inning in 2012 (9.5 K/9) and has posted a K/9 rate of at least 8.3 in each of the last three seasons. Janssen’s excellent control is also noteworthy, as he walked just 11 batters last season, while Santos walks a few more batters than is considered ideal (4.4 career BB/9 rate).
As long as both Janssen and Santos are healthy coming off shoulder surgery, this is sure to be a closely contested battle for who will be Toronto’s primary closer. With the team looking likely to improve, if one guy is able to win the job and stay healthy there stands to be plenty of save opportunities available. Janssen may have a slight edge right now based on his performance last season, but Santos could easily win the job and has slightly more overall upside for fantasy owners.
Owners in leagues that draft close to the start of the season should have a clear picture of this situation when draft day comes, but I feel like both Santos and Janssen are draftable in AL-only leagues and could be usable in that format no matter who gets the majority of the save chances. Those in mixed leagues need to have a keen eye on how this situation is taking shape during spring training, since whoever emerges, assuming someone clearly does, could wind up being a relative value in drafts and auctions.