JAYS FROM THE COUCH LOOKS AT THE POTENTIAL OF THE BLUE JAYS SIGNING RP BRAD ZIEGLER.
The Blue Jays main offseason requirement continues to be the two corner outfield positions. As the outfield remains to be priority number one for Ross Atkins’ team, the loss of Joaquin Benoit and Brett Cecil also need to be addressed. While the Blue Jays may address some of their bullpen holes through upgrades within their own system, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith, the Blue Jays have shown interest in right hander relief pitcher Brad Ziegler.
#BlueJays among the many teams to have checked on Brad Ziegler per source.
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) December 5, 2016
Ziegler had been a very consistent arm the past few seasons for the Arizona Diamondbacks, serving mainly as their closer. Last season, he was traded in early July to the Boston Red Sox for Jose Almonte and Luis Alejandro Basabe, becoming the setup man behind closer Craig Kimbrel.
With big name closers off the market like Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon, leaves only Kenley Jansen as the last big domino to fall. Many teams have shown interest in signing Ziegler, as he’s positioned in the market as a cost effective route to some of the names mentioned above. With teams putting a premium on effective late inning relievers over the past few offseason, the Blue Jays might want to ink Ziegler before it’s too late.
Last season, Ziegler pitched 68 innings, with a 2.25ERA, 3.10FIP, collecting 22 saves in 28 appearances, and finished his season with a WAR of 1.3, which ranked him in the top 20 for all relievers. You might be thinking to yourself, “Numbers like this, how come I have never heard of this guy?” The simple answer might be, unlike other top quality closers like Chapman, Jeurys Familia, or Dellin Betances, Ziegler simply doesn’t have the swagger of those other pitchers. His Sinker is his fastest pitch which tops out at around 85mph, he’s not a strikeout machine with a career 17.3K%, and doesn’t have that crowd silencing look when he comes out of the bullpen. At 37 years old, Ziegler more looks like he could play on your dad’s softball team.
His greatest asset is his extremely deceptive submarine delivery. Ziegler doesn’t rely on speed in any of his three pitches in his repertoire, Sinker (85), Changeup (77), and a Slider (74). Instead his command of the strike zone, and ability to work ground ball outs is what makes him so effective.
His elite ground ball percentage of 63.3%, ranked him tied for fourth of all relievers last season. GB% has always been a premium in the AL East, as the short porches in almost every stadium can make long fly outs turn into wall scraping home runs.
The Blue Jays last season, had pitchers like Marcus Stroman and J.A. Happ take advantage of the Blue Jays stellar infield defense, working ground balls to Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson for easy outs. Ziegler showed his ability to work ground ball outs could be very effective in the AL East. In his 29.3 innings (124 batters faced) out of the Red Sox bullpen, he posted a 1.52 ERA, 2.71 FIP, leaving 82% of men on base, only allowing one home run. While Ziegler might not be your prototypical closer, his delivery mixed with his elite ability to locate his pitches down in the zone for ground ball outs makes him a very consistent reliever.
When the Blue Jays bullpen was working on all cylinders last year, John Gibbons was very consistent with his close game bullpen rotation. Benoit in the 7th, Jason Grilli in the 8th, and Roberto Osuna in the 9th. Osuna will be almost guaranteed the closer job for next season, but with Benoit out of the picture, it would be a nice fit for Ziegler to move into a similar setup role that he was in with the Red Sox this past season. A lot of things will shake up between now and the start of Spring Training, but it never hurts to hammer down as many quality high leverage arms as possible in the mean time.
The reliever market has been a tough one to judge this offseason. Teams are paying a premium for relievers since the Kansas City Royals proved that an un-hittable 7,8,9 unit was a recipe for success. The reliever market has been split into two separate groups. You have top end talent set to make eight digit contracts, and a steep drop off after the 3-4 names in that group. Ziegler might be the one name that fits right in the middle of both groups. When a reliever like Benoit gets a 1yr/$7.5mil, who’s a similar age to Ziegler, but only pitched two really good months in a contract year, it makes you wonder how much deals like that could drive up a pitcher like Ziegler’s price.
With the number of teams interested in Ziegler, there’s a very low chance the Blue Jays end up getting him for a steal of deal. With the current market, and his solid track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ziegler makes $12.5mil to $14mil per season on a two plus one year deal. This may seem like a steep price for a reliever, especially if you’re Toronto. But, with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees already loading up their bullpen units this offseason, it would be smart for the Blue Jays to counter with talented players of their own.
*Featured Image Credit: Joel Dinda under CC BY-SA 2.0
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