Blue Jays Bullpen Battle ‘Bout to Begin


Jays From the Couch looks at the battle that is about to begin for the Toronto Blue Jays remaining bullpen spots.



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Every year, Spring Training offers up the opportunity for players to compete for a few roster spots on major league squads. The Toronto Blue Jays have a couple of those to offer. The backup catching job and left field positions could be seen as competitions of sorts, though realistically, they look to be set with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Melvin Upton Jr.and Ezequiel Carrera filling those spots. Logically, anything can happen, but guys like Dalton Pompey and A.J. Jimenez have a steep uphill battle to enter the respective conversations.


The same cannot be said for the bullpen. Club management has done a good job of solidifying the group of relievers. But, there remain possibly a couple of spots up for grabs as pitchers and catchers are set to report to camp on Feb 15. We know that the ‘pen is made up of Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, Joe Biagini, Joe Smith and J.P. Howell. That leaves 2 spots up for grabs that could be filled in a variety of ways, depending upon who steps up, management’s preferred usage, player options, Rule 5 requirements, etc.


In Jays From the Couch Radio Podcast Episode 107, we ran down some options and players who could crack the roster



You can bet that the Blue Jays will be adding a right handed reliever to the bullpen. They are not likely to carry 3 lefties to round out this group. So, there is room for at least one more right handed reliever. This very well could come down to an interesting decision.


One would think that Gavin Floyd has a serious shot at cracking the Opening Day roster like he did last season. If he can get his curveball under control, and maintain health, he will most certainly get a long look. He threw 31 innings for Toronto last season, where he showed signs of being a serviceable reliever, putting up 0.3 WAR. His 3.95 FIP was certainly higher than you’d like, but not astronomically higher than his career norm. He left 70.4% of runners on with a 42.2% groundball rate. The one concern for Floyd is how many innings he can give. If the Blue Jays are looking to bring a guy who can serve the ‘swingman’ role – and they should be, since none of the “locks” fit that role – , Floyd’s health and injury history might make him questionable for this role.


Another option is Mike Bolsinger. The former Dodger and Diamondback is someone who has starting experience, but has been flirting with a bullpen role. In 2014 (with the D’backs) he put up a 3.31 xFIP in 9 starts (52.1 IP) and an xFIP of 3.82 in 2015 with the Dodgers in 21 starts (109.1 IP). His 2016 season was hampered by an injury, as he explained on his appearance on Jays From the Couch Radio. By the time he came to the Blue Jays at the July Trade Deadline last year, he was ending his season fairly tired from his injury and recovery.


The interesting part is that Bolsinger spoke to the Dodgers about a move to the bullpen. And, when they tried it, he said he felt better, more energetic and enjoyed an uptick on his velocity. His high ~88 mph fastball enjoyed the shift in workload. Rather than pitching every 5th day, he felt he could contribute more effectively by throwing a couple innings out of the bullpen, and possibly even an inning or two the next night. It is something the Dodgers were open to and something he has spoken to the Blue Jays about. His starting experience, and ability to provide multiple innings out of the bullpen could make him a valuable option. As well, he is out of options, so the Blue Jays may take that into consideration.


Bo Schultz is also out of options. Now, he hasn’t started a game in a few years and hasn’t come close to 100 innings since 2014, which could make him a long shot to be a long man to start 2017, if the club is looking for that kind of guy. Of course, we shouldn’t rule out the notion that Biagini could be used as a long man, thus opening the door for a more traditional reliever. Though, in order for a guy like Schultz to force that kind of decision, he’d have to have a whale of a spring, and even then…


Another candidate is Glenn Sparkman, he of the most recent Rule 5 pick. The 24 yr old, Tommy John recipient has to pull a Biagini act himself if he is going to crack the big league roster on Opening Day. If he cannot, he’ll have to be offered back to the Royals. While it stinks to have to lose pitching depth, losing a Rule 5 pick is not the end of the world. If he doesn’t make the club, and ends up going back to KC, it is because the Blue Jays have that much depth. It’s a good problem to have, really. Like Bolsinger, Sparkman does have starting experience, and the Blue Jays could consider using him in short relief roles if his arm health is a concern. But, in all likelihood, he is on the wrong side of this competition.


There are other options for the club to consider in the persons of Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes. But, given the depth this club has right now, we likely will not see these guys on the Opening Day roster. That doesn’t mean we won’t see them in 2017, though. A club will go through a good deal of relievers to get through a season, so if you’re a fan of either of these two, don’t fret. You’ll see them in 2017.



IF we assume that the Blue Jays are not content with having J.P. Howell as their only lefty in the bullpen, then perhaps one of the spots will go to another left handed reliever. This is where a true competition begins. Many would assume that Aaron Loup would have the inside track on this since the organization is very familiar with him. In the past, manager, John Gibbons has shown faith in the 29 yr old. But, that confidence didn’t extend past 14 innings in 2016. In fairness, injury impacted Loup last year, but even as the season wore on, he didn’t see a full season. Assuming health, Loup could make his return to Toronto.


Of course, that is not guaranteed. He’ll be up against guys like Chad Girodo and Matt Dermody. Girodo tossed 10.1 innings for the big league club last year. In his extremely small big league sample size, he induced over 69% groundballs. His time was evenly split between righties and lefties (again, only 10 IP total) and he held lefties to a .228 wOBA. In 35.2 innings in AAA, he left 82.4% of runners on base.


Dermody saw even less time in the big leagues in his first taste of it last season. He threw 3 innings, and they weren’t what we’d call a success. But, over his 54 innings, over 3 levels of the Blue Jays system, he performed much better. His 1.160 WHIP led to just 11 earned runs all year. Obviously, the Blue Jays will need to have faith that he can perform like that at the big league level before they are ready to hand him a job. More likely, he – and Girodo – will be call ups that we see later in the season.



An interesting candidate is Brett Oberholtzer. The 27 yr old has starting experience, but seems to have left that ship behind. Instead, he’s managed to collect 70 innings in 2016 for the Angels and Phillies. He had difficulty with the home run ball last year, which is not ideal when you’re considering him for a job in Toronto, let alone, the AL East. He seems to have abandoned his cutter last year, in favor of the curveball, even though it doesn’t seem to be a favorable offering. It is also worth noting that, for his career, same handed hitters have actually had more success against him than you would expect: vs LHH: .290/.322/.464   vs RHH: .273/.329/.440.


This conversation is very interesting since we haven’t even talked about guys like Tim Mayza or Ryan Borucki. Both of these guys are young and inexperienced (at the big league level), but present outside shots at surprising this spring. For his part, Borucki was added to the 40-man roster this winter, showing at least some level of consideration by management. But, again, these would be guys the club could look to later in the season, rather than breaking camp with.


It is rare that a team has very few open competitions heading into Spring Training. For the Toronto Blue Jays, there very well could be only a bullpen battle to sort out. And, as pitchers and catchers are set to report very soon, the opening bell is about to ring on this battle royale. While there are options that look to have more of an inside track than others, the club’s choices will depend on just how they want to play certain aspects of the roster management game. Do they risk losing guys on waivers? Do options play into the decision? Does past performance? Does loyalty? How much weight is put on performance this spring? All of these questions will be answered in the coming weeks. Let’s get ready to rumble!






*Featured Image Credit: jcsullivan24 UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0– CROPPED FROM ORIGINAL








Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.

Shaun Doyle

Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.