John Axford headlines rogue's gallery of Jays bullpen candidates

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John Axford could be nifty add for the Blue Jays. (Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)
John Axford could be nifty add for the Blue Jays. (Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)

When the Toronto Blue Jays traded for Randal Grichuk they left their bullpen in an unenviable position.

Rather quietly, Dominic Leone was a crucial cog for the team last year and sending him to the St. Louis Cardinals leaves the relief corps noticeably light. It was still a trade worth making, as Grichuk will be an upgrade offensively and defensively in right field, but it opened one hole to plug another.

As it stands you can pencil Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, and Aaron Loup into the Blue Jays bullpen, but that’s about it. After that it’s complete chaos.

Recently, the club has made a couple of moves that could potentially help address that issue by signing Jake Petricka Thursday and adding Canadian right-hander John Axford Friday- both on minor-league deals.

By all accounts the Blue Jays still have somewhere between $10-15 million left in their war chest, but they seem positioned to spend that on a fifth starter. In all likelihood there will be a reliever or two to be added, but not a legion of arms on the way. With that in mind, here’s a look at the rogue’s gallery currently vying for as many as three bullpen roles in Toronto:

Minor-League Signings

John Axford

Age: 34

Throws: Right

2017 Stats: 9.00 K/9, 7.29 BB/9, 1.29 HR/9, 6.43 ERA and 5.73 FIP in 21 IP

Why he’s interesting: Axford still wields a 95 mph fastball with two breaking pitches he can miss bats with. His fastball-slider-curveball pitch mix is unusual for a reliever and with his plus velocity he’s not short on stuff. While he’s not the guy who shut games down for the Milwaukee Brewers, Axford has been very consistent prior to last year, throwing 54.2 or more innings with an ERA between 3.95 and 4.20 in four consecutive seasons.

Why he’s available on a minor-league deal: Last year he was extraordinarily ineffective when healthy, and missed the first month and a half of the season due to a shoulder injury. That’s not a great combination. Axford’s control has always been wobbly, which limits his upside significantly.

Jake Petricka

Jake Petricka has been very effective in the past, but that was a few injuries ago. (Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Jake Petricka has been very effective in the past, but that was a few injuries ago. (Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Age: 29

Throws: Right

2017 Stats: 9.12 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, 2.10 HR/9, 7.01 ERA and 4.99 FIP in 25.2 IP

Why he’s interesting: As recently as 2015, he was an one of the best sinkerball relievers in the game consistently running a groundball rate in the 60’s. He averages a sturdy 94 mph and hasn’t lost a tick in recent years. His trademark is keeping the ball in the park in an age where that ability is increasing rare.

Why he’s available on a minor-league deal: Over the last two seasons he’s had every injury under the sun from hip tears to elbow and lat issues. If you put “Jake Petricka” into Google, literally the first thing that comes up is “Jake Petricka injury.” So to say he’s a health risk is putting it lightly. It also doesn’t help that he got lit up when he was able to pitch.

Al Alburquerque

Al Alburquerque has a devastating slider when he’s on. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Al Alburquerque has a devastating slider when he’s on. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Age: 31

Throws: Right

2017 Stats: 7.00 K/9, 4.00 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9, 2.50 ERA and 2.94 FIP in 18 IP

Why he’s interesting: His slider can be absolutely ridiculous to the point where right-handers just can’t hit him. His velocity bounced back to 93.5 mph after cratering to 91.3 in 2016. His career ERA and FIP and 3.16 and 3.37 respectively.

Why he’s available on a minor-league deal: Over the last two years he’s been with four organizations – none of them contenders – and they’ve all given him more time in Triple-A than the majors. All of his MLB success last year can be attributed to the fact he didn’t allow a home run. He’s often unable to find the strike zone with a GPS.

Rhiner Cruz

Rhiner Cruz could wind up being a sneaky good pickup for the Blue Jays. (Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
Rhiner Cruz could wind up being a sneaky good pickup for the Blue Jays. (Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

Age: 31

Throws: Right

2017 Stats: 11.19 K/9, 4.26 BB/9, 0.53 HR/9, 2.84 ERA and 3.22 FIP in 50.2 IP (Triple-A)

Why he’s interesting: He throws hard (between 95-96 mph in his big league stints) and has a changeup to help mitigate platoon splits. Cruz seems to have found himself with a strong Triple-A showing in 2017 after a few years in the baseball wilderness that included stints in Mexico and Japan.

Why he’s available on a minor-league deal: He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2013 which makes him the darkest of dark horses. Even at the best of times his control has been an issue. There’s upside, but the smart money says we aren’t talking about Cruz much at this time next year.

The internal options

Carlos Ramirez

Carlos Ramirez is new to pitching, but he’s an intriguing talent (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Carlos Ramirez is new to pitching, but he’s an intriguing talent (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Age: 26

Throws: Right

2017 Stats: 7.56 K/9, 1.62 BB/9, 1.62 HR/9, 2.70 ERA and 4.54 FIP in 16.2

Why he’s interesting: Ramirez is a converted position player, but he doesn’t profile like one. Instead of being a raw fireballer, he’s a guy with a nasty slider and strong control. Last year he posted 37.2 scoreless innings in the minor leagues and didn’t look lost in the majors. He’s already very tricky for right-handers to hit. 

Why he’s no lock: Although Ramirez appears to be a quick study, a little more seasoning in the minors wouldn’t hurt him. It remains unclear how he’s going to handle lefties at the highest level and he doesn’t throw that hard. He’s not going to replicate the .081 BABIP that drove his success during his 2017 big-league cameo.

Tim Mayza

Tim Mayza has great stuff but iffy command. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Tim Mayza has great stuff but iffy command. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Age: 26

Throws: Left

2017 Stats: 14.29 K/9, 2.12 BB/9, 1.59 HR/9, 6.88 ERA and 2.98 FIP in 17 IP

Why he’s interesting: Mayza’s raw stuff and ability to miss bats is impressive. He’s got a nasty slider and he held big-league lefties to a .206/.270/.235 line in his time with the Blue Jays last year showing LOOGY potential if nothing else. This guy is more than just a southpaw with a pulse.

Why he’s no lock: Throughout his career Mayza has had serious difficulty finding the strike zone at every level. Last season, he got absolutely mashed by big-league righties and his slider-heavy repertoire suggests he might always be looking at massive platoon splits. If the command slips at all last year will look like a blip not a breakthrough.

Matt Dermody

Matt Dermody hasn’t proven he can get big-league right-handers out consistently yet. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Matt Dermody hasn’t proven he can get big-league right-handers out consistently yet. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Throws: Left

2017 Stats: 7.56 K/9, 1.62 BB/9, 1.62 HR/9, 2.70 ERA and 4.54 FIP in 16.2

Why he’s interesting: He’s a southpaw who throws strikes. He hasn’t shown much more than that at the big-league level where he’s largely been hit around. If he looks solid in the spring, Mayza looks wild, the Blue Jays are dead-set on two lefties and they don’t add anyone else – then you can pencil him in.

Why he’s no lock: Neither stuff nor results stand out. He’s more of a “break glass in case of emergency” lefty than someone you want on the Opening Day roster.

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