During the mess that was the Toronto Blue Jays 2017 season one of the few bright spots was the bullpen.
Roberto Osuna struggled at times, but overall he arguably pitched better than ever and the club saw guys like Dominic Leone, Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes step into big roles and succeed. If you add in some interesting arms that showed up later in the year like Carlos Ramiez, Tim Mayza, and Luis Santos, you’ve got the making of an effective and affordable unit.
That said, the Blue Jays could still use a proven arm or two to help pave the way for Osuna and free agency has those in spades. Here are a few guys they could look at:
The Biggest Fish: Wade Davis
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Curveball, Cutter
Fastball Velocity: 94.3 mph
2017 stats: 12.12 K/9, 4.30 BB/9, 0.92 HR/9, 2.30 ERA and 3.38 FIP in 58.2 IP
How it works: Davis won’t be cheap, and he arguably isn’t the pitcher he used to be. The pitcher he used to be was utterly unhittable, though. Even a slightly diminished version is an intimidating bullpen presence worthy of a healthy payday.
The veteran right-hander is coming off a strong season as the Chicago Cubs closer and he’s about as proven as they come. Generally speaking, the volatility of relievers means the team that makes the biggest splash in this market often comes up empty. That said, Davis has been durable and dominant since his full-time conversion to the bullpen in 2014.
At the conclusion of the season, general manager Ross Atkins told reporters – including Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith – that he was looking for an impact bat and an impact arm this winter. Davis could be that arm.
The Power Lefty: Jake McGee
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Curveball, Slider
Fastball Velocity: 94.9 mph
2017 stats: 9.10 K/9, 2.51 BB/9, 0.63 HR/9, 3.61 ERA and 2.93 FIP in 57.1 IP
How it works: When McGee headed to Colorado in 2016 he was supposed to be the guy to solve Coors Field with his all-fastball approach. That’s not exactly what happened as he sputtered and the Rockies looked foolish for acquiring him at the wrong part of their competitive cycle.
Fast forward a year and McGee got some of his velocity back and was one of the crucial cogs in a bullpen that helped drive a surprising Rockies squad to the playoffs. The Blue Jays are low on southpaw relievers they can trust in big spots and McGee certainly fits the bill. Even though he doesn’t throw the same kind of heat he did with the Tampa Bay Rays, he’s still got plenty of arm and the ability to be a primary setup man to Osuna and/or a high-leverage matchup lefty.
Good fastballs never go out of style and McGee throws those 93.5 percent of the time. Hard to go wrong with that.
The Machine: Tony Watson
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Two-seam Fastball, Changeup, Slider
Fastball Velocity: 93.6 mph
2017 stats: 7.16 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 1.22 HR/9, 3.38 ERA and 4.45 FIP in 66.2 IP
How it works: You know what you’re going to get with Watson. In each of the last five seasons he’s pitched at least 65 innings, and last year’s 3.38 ERA is the highest mark he’s produced. In recent years his peripherals have lagged slightly, but he’s always outproduced them over the course of his career anyway.
Watson can be used in virtually any situation and is worthy of a spot in any bullpen in baseball. He’s not blowing people away or filling the role of closer from the beginning of the year to the end, but there’s no role you can put him in where he’s likely to implode. The southpaw hasn’t generally been a one-out guy, but he can do that if need be. If you need six outs he can do that too.
The combination of versatility and reliability Watson brings will get him a tidy payday, but he’s an incredibly safe option likely to be worth the loot.
The Old Friend: Brandon Morrow
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Cutter, Slider
Fastball Velocity: 97.7 mph
2017 stats: 10.31 K/9, 1.85 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9, 3.38 ERA and 4.45 FIP in 43.2 IP
How it works: It didn’t take a baseball visionary to imagine Morrow as an elite reliever, but because of his potential as a starter that idea was tabled for most of his career. In 2017 he finally got a lengthy run in the bullpen and proved to be an absolute weapon.
Morrow pumped high-90s gas and mixed in a lethal combination of cutters and sliders on the way to a stellar season. The stuff was clearly there, but then again the stuff has never been the problem. If healthy, it’s now clear that Morrow can be a great late-inning arm, but good luck counting on the former.
At this point he’s a lottery ticket, but he’s an appealing one who’s unlikely to command top dollar due to the risk attached to him. If the Blue Jays want to be the team to roll the dice, the potential for a huge payout is certainly there.
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