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Off-Day Update: The Competition For Bullpen Spots

The Blue Jays aren’t playing a game today, so let’s take the off-day to talk about the race for bullpen spots.

I think we can start off with some of the locks, barring injury, for the ‘pen. We all know Roberto Osuna is going to be the team’s closer. After that, while there aren’t any other locks per se, we can confidently say that Seung-hwan Oh, the recently-signed righty, will earn one of the remaining spots along with Danny Barnes and Ryan Tepera, who played key roles in last year’s bullpen.

Who fills up the other spots?

  • Aaron Loup has tossed three innings without allowing a run so far in spring. He’s surrendered four hits, hasn’t walked anybody, and has four strikeouts. He doesn’t have options and seems to be the leading candidate for a lefty role.
  • Craig Breslow is the veteran lefty the Jays brought in on a minor-league deal to compete for a spot. Through two-and-two-thirds innings, Breslow has been tagged for three earned runs on six hits and a walk. Not a great start for the veteran. He isn’t on the 40-man roster and doesn’t have options.
  • Tim Mayza is one of a few young lefty arms competing for a role in the ‘pen. He’s thrown well this spring, limiting opponents to just two hits over three innings of work. He does have options, though.
  • Matt Dermody is the other young lefty in the hunt. He was up on the team last season, and if you take away an outing in which he got shelled for five runs while collecting just one out, he had a 2.45 ERA in 22 innings. So far in spring, Dermody has had a rough time, allowing five runs over three innings. He also has options.
  • Carlos Ramirez had a ridiculous season in Double- and Triple-A last year. He tossed 37 2/3 innings between the levels and didn’t allow a run. He came up and pitched 16 2/3 innings with the Jays and was largely excellent. He’s had a bit of a rough time in spring, allowing three runs over two innings, and has been backed off due to some arm soreness. He can be optioned.
  • Taylor Guerreri was claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay earlier in the off-season. A former high draft choice, Guerreri never reached the big leagues with Tampa and has a wealth of injury history. The Jays have been using him as a reliever in spring and he’s surrendered just one hit over two-and-two-thirds innings. He can be optioned.
  • Deck McGuire is the former Blue Jays first round pick, infamously selected ahead of Chris Sale, who figured it out last year in Cincinnati’s system and finally made his big league debut. He doesn’t have much history as a reliever, but was effective in four relief appearances with the Reds last year. So far in spring, he’s tossed four clean innings while surrendering just one hit. It’s hard to say if he profiles better as a depth starter or a long reliever at this point. He can be optioned. He also isn’t on the 40-man roster.
  • John Axford was a minor-league veteran signing this off-season. He used to be really good, but has been a depth arm in recent seasons. His last gig as a closer came with the Rockies in 2015, and he’s spent the past two seasons with Oakland producing a 4.57 ERA over 86 2/3 innings. Over spring, he’s tossed two clean innings.He isn’t on the 40-man roster and doesn’t have options.
  • Al Albuquerque was a minor-league veteran signing this off-season. He’s tossed 245 MLB innings, but has only pitched 20 innings in the big leagues the past two years. He hasn’t allowed a run through two-and-two-thirds innings thus far in spring.He isn’t on the 40-man roster and doesn’t have options.
  • Joe Biagini could either be a starter or a reliever. It’s difficult to say what the Jays are going to do with him at this point. I’m a fan of him as a multi-inning guy in the ‘pen but there’s also logic behind him being the team’s No. 6 starter in Triple-A Buffalo. Because if he isn’t, the next options would be Chris Rowley, Thomas Pannone, and Ryan Borucki. Biagini has thrown very well thus far in spring, as he’s allowed just one run over five innings and has struck out five. He can be optioned.
  • Chris Rowley made some starts and relief appearances when all went to hell last season for the Jays. He’s struggled in spring, allowing four runs over two-and-one-third innings. He can be optioned and isn’t on the 40-man roster.

I think this is pretty much the list of guys being considered for the bullpen roles.

Like I said, it looks like Roberto Osuna is the closer, Seung-hwan Oh, Danny Barnes, and Ryan Tepera are the guys who are going to get you to the ninth inning, and Aaron Loup looks to have the inside track as the team’s lefty option.

Having options obviously makes life more difficult for somebody in the bullpen. As we’ve seen in past years, guys like Ryan Tepera and Dominic Leone had to take the bus back and forth between Toronto a Buffalo every week because they were the guy who could be optioned.

But on the flip side, the difficult thing with guys on minor-league deals like Axford, Breslow, and McGuire is that the team would have to remove somebody from the 40-man roster in order to fit them in. As we saw recently, the Jays had to cut Zeke Carrera to make room for Oh. Who would go next for one of those aforementioned veterans to be added to the 40-man?

Am I missing anyone? Who should round out the rest of the ‘pen?

Options data can be found at Roster Resource. 

Another note: Players with six years of major-league service time that sign minor-league deals now have what is called Article XX-B protection. Teams either have to put these players on the major-league roster or release them five days prior to the start of the MLB season. If they do neither, they must pay that player a $100,000 retention bonus.

  • Knuckleballs

    Some of the choices are easy, the guys with options struggling get optioned, but the guys not on the 40 man on minor league deals they go to buffalo unless they force the Jays Hands like Axford and McGuire are doing. Breslow has an opt out if he looks like he is not going to make (end of March I believe). Right now I see Axford and maybe another lefty (Tim M) unless the Jays want to go with one lefty in the pen which seems unlikely.

  • Dexxter

    I’d add Deck McGuire to the 40 man and DFA Maile. Reese McGuire can backup Martin for the year without losing much. Jansen starts in AAA and sign a veteran to back him up.

    If Deck has really figured it out there’s likely some cheap control left there. And if he hasn’t… well your only losing a backup catcher.

    • Terry Mesmer

      Unless McGuire negotiated an opt-out, there’s no need to put him on the 40-man, or DFA anyone to clear a spot. He has an MiLB contract. As Cam noted, the Jays just give him a retention bonus, and he goes to Buffalo.

      • Dexxter

        Didn’t realize this. In that case send him to AAA for a while and keep your catching depth.

        Even if it’s a small sample this year and last i’d still make sure he stays in the organization. He was a 1st round pick for a reason and young enough to hold long term value if he has actually figured it out.

        Big if though.

    • Terry Mesmer

      Breslow has an MiLB contract and is not on the 40-man, so no waiver needed to send him to AAA. But Breslow negotiated an opt out if he doesn’t make the team. He would have to agree to go to Buffalo.

    • El Cabeza

      Relievers are so unpredictable, they’ll have to – every capable arm with no options starts in the bigs. When they start shitting the bed they get replaced by the best performing Bison at the time.