Blue Jays free agent options: Lefty reliever Mike Dunn

The Toronto Blue Jays have been linked to left-handed relievers Brett Cecil and Jerry Blevins through the early stages of this off-season

Brett Cecil’s four-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals — worth $30.5 million with a rare no-trade clause for a reliever — isn’t going to do the Toronto Blue Jays any favours.

The left-handed relief market is a very condensed corner of free agency, and with the Blue Jays needing at least one more legitimate option at the position, they could soon run into inflated prices for mid-range options.

If these prices force the Blue Jays to look towards the second tier of bullpen arms, veteran left-hander Mike Dunn will be one name on team’s lists.

The longtime Marlins reliever first broke in with the New York Yankees, who selected him 999th overall in the 2004 draft. Dunn has been with Miami for the past six seasons, and while he’s rarely been pushed into high-leverage situations, the 31-year-old has provided steady value in the seventh and eighth innings.

Dunn is coming off a 3.40 ERA and 0.3 WAR in 2016, something that his free agent suitors will hope he can slightly improve on next season. That’s a reasonable bet to make, given his 2.89 ERA over 150 appearances in 2013 and 2014, though Dunn’s loss of 1.0 MPH off his average fastball in 2016 may cause some teams to hesitate.

Since Dunn does not bring multi-inning length as a primary tool, his clear appeal to the Blue Jays would need to be his ability to handle left-handed hitters. In this area, he’s seen mixed results but is overall a strong option.

Last season, lefties posted a .702 OPS off Dunn. Not a daunting number and better than his numbers against right-handers, but not a specialist’s line by any means.

He was slightly stronger against left-handed hitters in 2015, and held them below a .600 OPS in both 2014 and 2013.

Dunn’s strikeout totals have helped him along nicely, but his K/9 dropped to 8.1 in 2016. This was his lowest career total by 1.5, giving teams further reason to look at potential signs of regression. He also forced ground balls at a rate of 27.9%, a career low.

If Dunn can keep his velocity where it’s at, however, his nice fastball-slider combination should still play well against lefties.

His value could vary from team to team within a very wide range, but perhaps a (slightly) lowered value is something a front office views as opportunity. What some will see as regression, others will see as an outlier. As always, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Experienced left-handers with a relatively stable track record are not a plentiful thing. As Aaron Loup’s career arc has shown, maintaining a level of consistency is difficult for specialists, and given Dunn’s ability to handle right-handers well enough to survive facing one (.747 OPS career), he should find a nice market that lands him a two-year deal.

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