The Blue Jays are still looking for bullpen pieces as they head to Spring Training. Could an exile from MLB’s pitching graveyard be a good fit?
The Tampa Bay Rays made a trade yesterday, sending reliever Jake McGee and pitching prospect German Marquez packing to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for expendable outfielder Corey Dickerson and third base prospect Kevin Padlo. This is good news for the Blue Jays. McGee owns a .104 OBA against current members of the Toronto roster and now he’s been banished to Coors Field, the Castle Black of pitching. Enjoy the wall, Jake. You’ll see the balls flying over it.
However, there’s another reason why Blue Jays fans could appreciate this move, and it involves doing something a little crazy.
To make room for McGee on the 40-man roster, the Rockies designated Christian Friedrich for assignment. The 28-year-old former first-rounder has been disappointing to say the least during his tenure in Denver. After being drafted 25th overall out of Eastern Kentucky in the 2008 draft, Friedrich was fast-tracked through the Rockies organization as a starter. When he posted a 3.00 ERA at AAA Colorado Springs, the Rockies deemed him ready for the top baseball circuit.
Upon arrival, he has done nothing but short-circuit.
In 16 starts in 2012, Friedrich served up 14 long balls en route to a 6.17 ERA, and a 1.559 WHIP. His season ended August 3rd due to a stress fracture in his back that caused him to miss most of the 2013 season. When he returned in 2014, he wasn’t any better, giving up a run per inning in three starts. The Rockies moved him to the bullpen after that and saw improvement. He allowed one run in 11 relief appearances and began 2015 as a locked-in bullpen piece.
Friedrich led the Rockies in appearances in 2015, coming out of the pen 68 times. That was the extent of his positive states. His WHIP rose to an obscene 1.714 while his strikeout rate dropped by 30%. A 5.25 ERA was the result. Colorado put a priority on rebuilding it’s bullpen this off-season, signing Jason Motte and Chad Qualls to above-market deals. McGee’s acquisition meant Friedrich didn’t have a chair anymore.
So why would the Blue Jays be interested in a pitcher who can’t keep runners off the bases?
Well, he throws with his left hand, which is always an attractive feature. It’s why the Blue Jays just signed Daniel Schlereth, the man picked right after Friedrich in that 2008 draft. For a team still rebuilding it’s pitching depth following last season’s prospect pantry raid, Friedrich gives them another arm to take a look at and potential fill in should Aaron Loup or Chad Girodo not pan out in spring training.
Friedrich is also a ground ball machine. His fastball/slider combination generates ground balls at a 50% clip according to Brooks Baseball, and generated more ground balls as he got deeper into summer. His slider’s also velocity increased from 86mph to 88mph at seasons end. On the newly converted dirt of the RogerSkyDome, the ball will slow enough for the above average defense and cut down on a .361 BABIP from last season.
Finally, and depending on personal views of the Mark Shapiro/Ross Atkins regime this can be a positive or a negative, Friedrich is cheap. He’s still on his rookie contract, not due for arbitration until 2017, and would be team controlled until 2020. If the Blue Jays acquire him and he doesn’t work out, he can be released without fanfare at the end of the season. If he succeeds, a la Liam Hendriks, he becomes a very attractive sell-high candidate.
The Blue Jays can always use more bullpen arms. When Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca listed the items still on the Blue Jays’ shopping list, bullpen depth was still on the agenda. Nicholson-Smith specifically mentions a pickup made by the Kansas City Royals last year, of a former Rockies starter who had problems, kept in the league because he was a left-hander, converted into a reliever, bouncing around before taking off last year and becoming a key cog in a dominant bullpen. Is Christian Friedrich the next Franklin Morales? The survey says no, but there’s still time for Friedrich to prove he can be a serviceable major league player. The Blue Jays can afford to take a chance that it will happen for them.
*Featured Image Credit: Joel Dinda UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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