Heading into the 2023 season, the Blue Jays bullpen is not only a top 10 bullpen in the league but also has plenty of depth in the minors.
However, it wasn’t always this way. In this article, we’re blasting to the past looking at the 2021 opening day relievers, just to see how quickly the bullpen has improved.
So, how bad were the relievers on opening day in 2021:
From MLB.com, here is the reliever core from opening day in 2021: Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis, Ryan Borucki, Tyler Chatwood, David Phelps, Julian Merryweather, Tim Mayza, Trent Thornton, Joel Payamps. The Jays also had Tommy Milone, A.J. Cole and Travis Bergen on the taxi squad.
To put it frankly, the core was absolutely awful. Let’s look at the good first.
The only real standout of the bullpen that season was Romano, who emerged as their closer and had a great season with a 2.14 ERA and 3.15 FIP in 63 innings pitched. Mayza had a solid season in setup, posting a 3.40 ERA and 3.09 FIP in 53 innings. Phelps was great in a short sample size, as he had a 0.87 ERA and a 1.72 FIP in 10.1 before a season-ending injury
The “there’s still hope for these guys”:
Merryweather and Thornton are still on the 40-man roster, and they had interesting 2021 seasons. Merryweather literally got the save on opening day, and looked dominant in 4.1 innings. Upon returning, he struggled and ended up posting a 4.85 ERA and 6.48 FIP in 13 innings. Thornton is Thronton, he’ll eat innings, and post an ERA and a FIP under 5, but he always leaves you wanting more because the stuff is there.
We’ll revisit these two later in the article.
Joel Payamps is also included here, as he posted a 2.70 ERA and a 4.20 FIP in 30 innings pitched with the Jays, before being traded to the Royals for cash. In 2022, he had a 3.23 ERA and 4.24 FIP in 55.2 innings with the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics. Solid inning eater that probably shouldn’t pitch in high leverage.
Back when Borucki debuted in 2018, I thought the Jays had a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. Injuries moved him back to the bullpen, where had a good 2020. Sadly, he struggled in 2021 posting a 4.94 ERA and a 4.54 FIP in 23.2 innings pitched. His struggles continued into 2022, when he was designated for assignment and traded to the Seattle Marines. He’s a free agent, and the Jays should sign him to a minor-league deal.
Editors note: A day after this article was released, Borucki signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs.
Rafael Dolis, oh man. He posted solid numbers in the plague year, as he had a 1.50 ERA and a 3.02 FIP in 24 innings pitched, which included a 31 K% and an incredibly high 14%. The next season, he didn’t have the same success, as he had a 5.63 ERA and 4.36 FIP in 32 innings. The defence had let him down at some points, but he was eventually DFA’ed.
Tyler Chatwood started the season off well but ended up with a 5.46 ERA and 3.81 FIP (with a 16 BB%) before being designated for assignment. He didn’t pitch in the majors in 2022.
There was a lot of turnover in the Blue Jays bullpen in 2021. A lot of pitchers that pitched in way too many innings for a team that was destined for the playoffs. In fact, the struggles between May and June is what really ruined their chances of making it. Below is every pitcher that pitched for the Jays in 2021.
You may notice some names, such as Ty Tice, Kirby Snead, Carl Edwards Jr., Connor Overton, Tommy Milone, and Jacob Barnes. While quite a few of them are inning eaters, the depth just wasn’t there to replace relievers when need be, such as Phelps’ season-ending injury.
Let’s compare all this to 2023.
The bullpen heading into 2023:
Let’s look at the relievers on the 40-man roster who have MLB experience first. It’s gotten to the point where the Jays almost have too much depth. Jordan Romano, Anthony Bass, Adam Cimber, Yimi Garcia, Tim Mayza, and Erik Swanson are all locks unless a trade occurs.
It’s also possible that one of Mitch White and Yusei Kikuchi take the long man role in the bullpen. That leaves one spot for a whole lot of pitchers that are good enough to fill some role in an MLB bullpen. Here they are listed, with an asterisk (*) denoting if they have options.
Pearson, Merryweather, and Pop all sit in the high 90s, while Gage had great results in the majors, and Richards had the highest K% in the bullpen (and was much better after the “injury”. As years go on, Hatch and Thornton may not reach their potential, but they’re still inning munchers and could be solid low-leverage bulk relievers with a few tweaks.
This doesn’t even mention prospects that could potentially impact the team next season. Hagen Danner and Yosver Zulueta (both sit in the high-90s) are on the 40-man. The Jays also just signed hard-throwing righty Julian Fernández to a minor league deal, as well as 2022 Buffalo Bisons ace Casey Lawrence.
What’s more, is that Bowden Francis, Adrián Hernández, Brandon Eisert, Hayden Juenger, and quite a few others could be MLB-ready as soon as the 2023 season. Even in the lower minors, they have hard-throwing pitchers such as T.J. Brock and Troy Watson who could see a rapid ascent up the minor leagues in the upcoming year. I go more in-depth with relief prospects in this article here.
So on top of the Blue Jays main roster bullpen improving significantly from two years ago, the depth is also looking fantastic, with potentially more signings to come!
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