We kicked off our week-long look at the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays on Monday with a breakdown of the proposed starting rotation – those five arms that are crucial to the success of the club early in games and all season long.
Today, we stay on the bump, but shift to the bullpen, which you could argue is more important. After all, getting into the sixth or seventh inning with a lead is one thing, but those final few innings ultimately decide the outcome and if the collection of arms hanging out beyond the wall at the Rogers Centre can’t seal the deal, this team is in trouble.
Here’s a look at the key names expected to contribute from the ‘pen this season. They are:
Brett Cecil (L)
Aaron Loup (L)
Rob Rasmussen (L)
Colt Hynes (L)
Casey Janssen wasn’t re-signed in the offseason and headed to Washington, leaving the closer role open heading into the season and Cecil is the best bet to inherit the position. After struggle through parts of four seasons as a starter with mixed results, the bespectacled lefty has found a comfort zone in the bullpen the past two season, making 60+ appearances with an ERA under 3.00 both years.
His strikeout totals have improved since moving from the rotation (76 Ks in 53.1 IP last season) and he has the bullish demeanour to potentially thrive in the role, but not a lot of teams employ a lefty closer and his power arm could be better suited to a situational or setup role in the seventh and eighth than wrapping things up in the ninth.
If the Jays want to go with a traditional right-handed power arm at the end of games, Sanchez will get the call. The 22-year-old was called up in July and was lights out from the get-go, finishing the year at 2-2 with a 1.09 ERA, 3 saves (in three opportunities), 27 strikeouts in 33 innings and a 0.70 WHIP (Walks+Hits/Innings Pitched).
Sanchez held opponents to a .128 batting average and only walked nine while giving up just 14 hits in 24 appearances. Those are stellar numbers and the kind of stuff you’d like to see from your closer, but two things to keep in mind are (1) this is a really small sample size and (2) there is the possibility that the Jays move Sanchez into the rotation at some point, as they have done with Marcus Stroman. Keep an eye on things during Spring Training.
Loup has been a very good find for Toronto over the last few years, coming out of nowhere to make 33 appearances in 2012 before getting into 64 and 71 games over the last two seasons, respectively. The Raceland, Louisiana southpaw saw his ERA and walk totals climb last year and he struggled down the stretch, all of which seemed to be a result of being over-used.
That’s one of the reasons having Cecil as a late-game lefty option would be beneficial – manager John Gibbons could use Loup a little more sporadically and situationally. He’s more of a “come in and get a guy or two” type than a “face four or five batters” guy, and if Gibby can keep his appearances in check, he should get back to being one of the most consistent lefties in the American League.
Those first three arms are pretty reliable, but things get a little dicey from here on out.
Delabar was a revelation when he arrived in Toronto in 2013. Through the first three months of the season, he was 5-1 with an ERA under 2.00 and 54 strikeouts in less than 40 innings pitched. He was voted into the All-Star Game and struck out Buster Posey on five pitches. It has been rocky ever since.
Redmond blew up in August and September last year, giving up 13 earned runs in 16 innings and generally getting batted around the yard, and Drabek is a big old question mark after throwing 5.1 innings in The Bigs over the last two seasons following a second Tommy John surgery.
These three righties need to be on-point in the middle innings if Toronto wants to have real success in 2015 and it all starts with throwing strikes. Yes, that sounds basic, but it’s easier said than done. If they can’t be counted on to keep things close when the starters struggle (or make a decent spot start from time-to-time in the case of Redmond and Drabek), it’s going to be a long season, regardless of how well Cecil, Sanchez and Loup are throwing.
Beyond this six are a bunch of question marks.
Chad Jenkins has looked good in small doses over the last two seasons and Rob Rasmussen could be a lefty strikeout guy, but the former is a finesse guy and the latter walks too many batters right now to be reliable. The remaining four players listed above are all journeyman that have never caught on or sniffed a big league roster and there’s a reason for that.
There are a couple veteran names still kicking around free agency that might be worth a look at the right price – Carlos Villanueva, Burke Badenhop – but mostly, Toronto is going to have to rely on the group they’ve got.
That means stellar work from start to finish for Cecil, Sanchez and Loup and strong returns from Delabar, Redmond and Drabek. From there, you hope you stumble upon one or two guys and patch things together as needed.
A strong season from the starters will make this shaky situation easier to handle, but Toronto fans could be in for some tense moments when the ball is turned over the bullpen this season.