Blue Jays Need More Lefty Compliments

For the majority of last season, Tim Mayza was the only dependable left-handed bullpen option available. While the days of situational relievers are gone now, entering the 2022 season without southpaw reinforcements could prove costly in close games.


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Tim Mayza finally got an extended opportunity to display his talents in 2021. Since being drafted by Alex Anthopolous in 2013 and debuting with the Blue Jays in 2017, Mayza saw himself split time between the majors and minors and undergo Tommy John surgery in 2019 that caused him to miss the 2020 season. He rewarded the Jays adding him back on the 40-man roster for 2021 by pitching 53 innings over 61 games, registering 18 holds while striking out more than a batter an inning. The good news is Mayza established himself in the eyes of the front office and Jays fans as the primary left-handed option manager Charlie Montoyo can call upon in leverage situations. The bad news is the Toronto bullpen has few legitimate secondary options to consider at this point.

 

While all indicators point to a complete recovery from his UCL tear and an uptick in command and velocity, a serious division title dictates lefty support in the bullpen for Mayza. Of the 22 pitchers currently on the 40-man roster, only 7 are lefties. Hyun Jin Ryu is a primary rotation piece and Zach Logue has only made 11 relief appearances during his minor league career (and only 3 of them over the past 2 seasons). Of the five remaining options, no southpaw stands out as a reliable option should Mayza falter or get injured.

 

Let’s look at the four lefties not named Mayza, Ryu or Logue, currently on the Blue Jays roster, to see why sinistrophobia may afflict the Toronto fan base:

 

RYAN BORUCKI

Ryan Borucki is now the longest-tenured Blue Jay, having been drafted in 2012. One Tommy John surgery, an elbow bone spur and a forearm flexor strain later, he faces a make-it or beat-it spring training now that he is out of options. When Borucki debuted in 2018, his fabulous change-up seemed to pencil him into the Blue Jays rotation for seasons ad infinitum. The injuries and inconsistencies forced the team’s hand in a move to a relief role. But the results did not improve and the changeup that once dazzled has become a pitch hitters can expect rather than fear.

 

Even with his struggles, Borucki’s name regularly comes up in trade discussions. Being a left-hander no doubt plays into that, but it is not a stretch to believe Borucki will be lost on waivers if he does not make the Jays out of spring training. Perhaps the best route for the front office to follow is adding Borucki to a package that will fill needs elsewhere on the roster. Borucki’s best Blue Jays days are distant memories and the time has come for the elder Blue Jays statesman to pitch consistently well throughout the spring. Or try to rediscover his major league future elsewhere.

 

ANTHONY KAY

When you are a former first-round pick acquired in a deal for a franchise star like Marcus Stromanyou expect great things from Anthony Kay. But in limited duty over three seasons, the soon-to-be 27 year old southpaw has provided ERAs of 5.70, 5.14 and 5.61-deceptively good considering Kay posted WHIPs of 1.43, 1.71 and 1.67 in 2019-2021. Equally surprising to me was his designation as a relief pitcher despite being used primarily as a starter throughout his college career at Connecticut and in the minors with the Mets and Jays. Like Borucki, the promise of a difference-making changeup has teased the Jays player development staff enough to continue to get chances to shine. But even looking at Kay’s performance through Blue Jays coloured sports goggles, his future in Toronto will be spent at Triple A Buffalo waiting for an injury or trade to provide another chance at a major league job.

 

If Toronto wants to remain competitive throughout 2022, limited appearances by Anthony Kay must be part of the pitching plans.

 

TAYLER SAUCEDO

Born in Hawaii and spending the majority of his youth living in Japan, Tayler Saucedo has walked a longer path to the major leagues than most. A member of the last Anthopolous draft class (2015), A legitimate four-pitch southpaw, command issues have slowed his progress through the Toronto system. His adoption of a one-seam sinker while at Dunedin seemed to boost his trajectory and in the midst of the bullpen implosion of 2021 Saucedo made his Blue Jays debut. Over 28 appearances, the 28 year-old reliever posted a 4.56 ERA across 25.1 innings. Though his 61 LOB% left fans with tempered expectation for 2022-as highlighted by a 3.51 BB/9.

 

Saucedo would seem to have a chance at securing a secondary bullpen role given his left-handedness. But control issues and lack of overpowering stuff would seem to doom him to Triple A for this season and beyond.

 

KIRBY SNEAD

I will admit that perhaps I am overlooking something in Kirby SneadFangraphs noted last August that Snead had benefitted from a slight uptick in velocity in 2021, but the 27-year old still only topped out at 93 MPH. Eric Longenhagen also noted his low arm angle delivery and looping slider make Snead very tough for left-handed batters to hit him. Snead has posted some prolific K/9 numbers throughout his minor league career, but his BB/9 totals do not instill confidence in his ability to come into games with runners on base. No doubt his 3-year career at the University of Florida after walking-on is still fresh in player development minds. But Toronto is not Gainesville and I do not see anything in his minor league performances to make me believe Snead is more than organizational depth for the Blue Jays.

 

Will the Blue Jays give Snead a long look this spring- they most definitely will. But at best Snead will be a placeholder for a lefty reliever to be obtained via free agency or in season trade.

 

IF NOT THEM, WHO?

Of all the available free agent options, ANDREW CHAFIN stands out as the lone “what are the Jays waiting for” candidate to bolster the 2022 bullpen. Since escaping the restrictive pitching policies in Arizona, Chafin has been a reliable leverage inning bullpen option for the Cubs and the A’s-including 5 saves registered late in the season in Oakland. His talent has been obvious since being a Competitive Round pick by the Diamondbacks (43rd overall) out of Kent State. Tommy John surgery interrupted his collegiate career, but Chafin was dominant upon his return in 2011 in the Cape Cod League.

 

His strikeout per 9 rates have often been in double digits and the 31-year old posted a career high 1.4 WAR in 2021. Chafin did decline a 5.25 million dollar option to join the free agent ranks, so he will not be cheap and will demand multiple years for any contract he does agree too. But given the Blue Jays position as long-term contenders, having a pitcher like Chafin in their bullpen for several seasons match up with team expectations.

 

Blue Jays fans spit out his name after a brief, but disastrous 2021 in Toronto, but Brad Hand is a proven left-handed commodity. Hand saved 21 games for the Nationals before being traded to Toronto for Riley Adams and seemed to rediscover his effectiveness after being claimed by the Mets after being designated for assignment. The Blue Jays have brought players back in the past and a contending team could do far worse than having a Brad Hand available as a secondary left-handed option.

 

One sleeper option would be former Padre lefty Matthew Strahm. While recovering from a patellar tendon surgery in 2021, Strahm had a solid 2019 (114.2 IP, 116 K, 4.72 ERA) and posted a 2.61 ERA and miniscule 0.871 WHIP in 19 games during 2020. Strahm will be 31 in 2022 and should be affordable based on his 2.05 million dollar salary last year. He has swing-and-miss stuff and has a history of having of having his best seasons in even numbered years. Given the left-handed alternatives currently on the 40-man roster, the Jays could do far worse than taking a chance on the only current major leaguer from North Dakota.

 

Keep an eye on the Buffalo Bisons season and minor league veteran Matt GageOnce a heralded Giants prospect, he has seen his velocity increase by 2 MPH in each of his last 3 seasons since having a bone spur removed after the 2018 season. Since being converted to a reliever, Gage has developed a biting slider to go along with his fastball now topping out at 97 MPH.

 

 

 

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Fek

Jersey born, Pittsburgh resident, baseball lifer. Staff Writer jaysfromthecouch.com. Host THE ON FEK CIRCLE on JFtC YouTube Channel. Regular guest on Jays From the couch Radio Podcast. Established WPPJ Rock-a-thon benefit, which has been broadcast annually since 1981 and has raised for than $500,000 for the Early Learning Institute of Pittsburgh. IBWAA member.