An early look at the Blue Jays’ bullpen options for the 2024 season
Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
The Toronto Blue Jays relief corps finished with an eighth-best 3.68 ERA last season, a .09 increase compared to the 2022 bullpen, although both suffered a similar fate in the postseason — eliminated in the Wild Card.
This year was different, however, as the Jays bullpen regular relief corps didn’t allow a registered earned run, as all four earned runs against the Minnesota Twins were because of starters (although Kikuchi did come out of the bullpen in game #2, so feel free to debate it as you wish). This pales in comparison to last postseason, where the bullpen was solid in game #1 against the Seattle Mariners but struggled in game #2, helping contribute to blowing an 8-1 lead that saw the Jays go home early.
This past year, Ross Atkins and co. made some changes, acquiring Erik Swanson from the Mariners during the offseason and then shored up the staff at the trade deadline by adding Genesis Cabrera and Jordan Hicks, adding some lefty flair and one of the hardest throwers in the game to help in the back end.
Looking at the 2024 bullpen for the Blue Jays
Free agent-wise, only Jordan Hicks is heading to the open market and while it would be great to have him back with the Blue Jays, he is likely due for a large raise and could be headed elsewhere. Through 25 appearances, he earned a 2.63 ERA and racked up four saves in four opportunities, doing his job at the back end of the bullpen. Jay Jackson is also heading to free agency and could be in the mix to return, although he could pursue a guaranteed big-league opportunity elsewhere, which makes sense after his strong season.
Chad Green is also potentially heading to free agency but this would only be due to his multi-level option tree finding its way to the open market, which seems less than likely considering there is a Jays team option (three years at $27 million), which if declined, then gives Green the option to accept or decline a one-year $6.25 million option. If that gets declined, there is another Blue Jays team option for two years at $21 million. If that gets declined, Green heads to free agency. One would think one of these options gets exercised given his veteran ability but there is a chance he too could become a free agent this offseason as well.
Regarding arbitration, Swanson, Cabrera, Tim Mayza, Trevor Richards, Adam Cimber, Jordan Romano, and Nate Pearson are eligible this winter. Mayza, Swanson and Romano are likely locked in for contracts while I can’t see the Jays turning down Pearson’s contract, considering he’s projected at $800K and has another MiLB option at his disposal (as well as three more years of control). Cabrera could be non-tendered but after a strong finish to the year (2.66 ERA through 29 outings) and with two more years of team control, I don’t see that happening either.
The question marks are more geared towards Richards and Cimber, as both are entering their last year of arbitration in 2024 and both pitchers had highs and lows in 2023. Richards was on the roster all season long and while his 13.0 K/9 led the Jays staff, he struggled mightily at the end of the year, posting a 12.41 ERA in the month of September. Cimber could be a non-tender candidate because of how he struggled (7.40 ERA and 7.47 FIP through 20 2/3 innings) while spending a good chunk of the campaign on the IL. I think one of these pitchers will not be tendered a contract this offseason.
Internal options looking for playing time
Assuming one of Richards or Cimber returns next year, the Jays likely have only a handful of spots remaining after:
- Yimi García
- Open Spot**
With this configuration of eight relievers and five starters (13 total with 13 position players), that potentially leaves one open spot heading into the 2024 season (again, assuming one of Richards/Cimber makes the team and Green returns).
Pearson will likely be looking for that spot considering his days as a starter may be limited moving forward but he will see some stiff competition from other internal options such as Bowden Francis, Mitch White, and Zach Pop, with all three players having MLB experience. The club could choose to stretch out Francis or White for additional starting depth but a strong argument could be made for either pitcher to become a long man in the relief corps.
If they were to have a strong spring, other internal options for bullpen spots are led by Yosver Zulueta and Hayden Juenger, both of whom are slated to begin the year in Triple-A Buffalo. Lots of dominos would have to fall into place for either to crack the Opening Day roster but there is a strong chance both will see some time in the big leagues at some point next year.
Free agency options for the bullpen
It will be interesting to see the Blue Jays’ game plan heading into the offseason, with some key players heading to free agency while some significant contracts are coming off the books in Matt Chapman, Hyun Jin Ryu, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brandon Belt. There is always a chance that one or more of these players return to the club next year but Mark Shapiro did not believe ownership would limit the front office this winter in signing or trading for players from a financial standpoint, similar to how this past offseason unravelled with the club exceeding the CBT for the first time in franchise history.
Bringing back Jackson or Hicks wouldn’t be a bad option considering how well both pitchers did this season but other notable names available this winter include Josh Hader, Will Smith, Craig Kimbrel, David Robertson, and Matt Moore (amongst other middle relief pitcher types). A few relievers have either player or club options in Matt Barnes, Nick Martinez, and Daniel Hudson that could add to the mix but nobody that would really shift the market too much compared to the likes of Hader and Kimbrel. Some non-tendered players could add some firepower to the group as well but that won’t be known for a few weeks time.
With an established group already coming back, the front office may choose to stand pat in the bullpen area and could try to utilize internal options such as Francis, Zulueta, or Juenger but adding another veteran arm like Robertson or Michael Fulmer could provide some additional depth that would bode well for the 2024 season. Wait and see.
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