The Toronto Blue Jays have taken an emphasis on the bullpen to the extreme this year.
The bullpen has been an area of weakness for the Blue Jays in recent seasons. The Jays have finished in the bottom third of the league in bullpen ERA for each of the last three seasons with few consistent pieces. There has been substantial turnover in the bullpen, and GM Alex Anthopoulos has worked this year to end the Toronto bullpen turnstile.
In his attempt to turn around the fortunes of the Jays’ bullpen, Anthopoulos traded once-top-prospect Travis Snider for right-handed reliever Brad Lincoln. He traded outfielder Eric Thames for the hard-throwing Steve Delabar. In addition, he traded some inconsequential minor leaguers in the J.A. Happ deal, which also included relievers Brandon Lyon and David Carpenter. During the offseason, Anthopoulos dealt prospect Nestor Molina for the injured Sergio Santos, signed Darren Oliver to a deal with a club option for next season, and traded for Jason Frasor.
That, of course, is a lot of relievers. Those moves alone could construct a full 7-man bullpen. Of course, Frasor and Lyon are both free agents after the season, and there looms the possibility that Oliver chooses to retire, but with Aaron Loup, Carlos Villanueva, Casey Janssen, and Chad Jenkins all in the mix, the trading for so many relievers is questionable at best.
In particular, I am referring to the Snider-for-Lincoln deal. The Thames deal is justifiable, as Thames is a fourth outfielder at best. The Happ deal is also fine, as Carpenter is a high-upside arm that could just as easily wind up a career minor leaguer and Lyon is a free agent at the end of the season. However, the Blue Jays also have a couple of young power arms on their way up who could make the deal for Lincoln even more difficult to stomach.
Marcus Stroman has begun his Blue Jays career as a relief pitcher, and since he is near major league-ready, Stroman offers yet another high quality bullpen arm to pencil in for next season at the latest.
In addition, John Stilson returned from the disabled list tonight (phew, another shoulder injury would have been a huge hit). However, he returned in a bullpen role, adding even more complexity to the Jays’ bullpen situation. It was widely expected that Stilson would eventually end up in the bullpen, but since the Blue Jays went out and acquired some more power arms, and since Stilson had been starting all season, it was thought that such a decision would be postponed for another season.
Not so. Unless this move was just to get Stilson back into the swing of things – unlikely since he came in as the second reliever in the 6th inning – it means that the Blue Jays have yet another young power arm to fit into their bullpen. Stilson is near major league-ready, and could figure into the Blue Jays‘ plans as early as next season.
Stroman and Stilson are not the only pitchers the Blue Jays have recently converted to relievers. Joel Carreno has also come out of the bullpen for his last four appearances. Carreno’s fastball/slider combination makes him an ideal candidate for the bullpen, and it has long been thought that he would eventually make the full-time transition, but this certainly seems an odd time to make the decision.
If the Blue Jays are preparing for a trade, they are not doing a very good job of it. Pitchers have more value as starters, and they would be better off leaving the decision to move a pitcher to a relief role to the team acquiring the pitcher in question.
If the Blue Jays are trying to build a strong bullpen for next season, they’ve certainly done a good job of that, but at the expense of a high upside prospect in Travis Snider.
Of course, there is always the possibility that Stilson is on a rehabilitation program, or nearing his innings limit, and that Stroman will be moved to the rotation next season. If that’s the case, well, I just wasted 20 minutes writing this article. If not, well, cue the 10-man bullpen!
Charles Davis is a baseball writer for RantSports.com with a specific focus on the Toronto Blue Jays, their farm system, and prospects league-wide. Read his articles here and follow him on Twitter @CPDavis90.