The early days of the MLB off-season have orbited around two major vacancies on the Blue Jays roster: first base and the corner outfield.
It’s understandable given that these positions are being vacated by Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, two unlikely stars that have become the face of a baseball resurgence for many seasons in Toronto.
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What this hyper-focus has overshadowed, however, is a fairly pressing need for two — potentially three — impact pieces in the bullpen.
Brett Cecil‘s reported three-year contract offer from the Blue Jays, first reported by Jamie Campbell, is the one blip on the bullpen radar through the early stages of Toronto’s off-season.
Cecil is joined in free agency by Joaquin Benoit, the veteran trade addition that took over a late-inning role in August and September. Joe Biagini is also looking at a potential return to a starter’s role, so the Blue Jays don’t just need quantity, they need quality.
As brilliant as many of the Blue Jays’ 2016 bullpen moves turned out to be, it’s naive to assume that another Rule 5 wonder is waiting around the corner. Turning a pair of of 39-year-olds with ERAs north of 5.00 back in to dominant late-inning options isn’t the norm, either.
Looking in-house, the Blue Jays have Aaron Loup projected to return with an arbitration number around $1.2 million while fellow left-hander Chad Girodo will be given a legitimate shot at the MLB roster. Right-handers Ryan Tepera, Bo Schultz, and Danny Barnes remain in the picture while the hard-throwing Chris Smith deserves a longer look. Pair these names with the existing minor league depth, and the Blue Jays will ideally fill three vacant bullpen spots internally (though two could be a more realistic goal).
These names do not offer a surefire late-inning option, however, so some of Toronto’s remaining budget may still be on hold until the relief market to unfolds. Perhaps that is Cecil, or perhaps that is another mid-level option more in the realm of Brad Ziegler. Major-league options are available right up to opening day, too, like Franklin Morales in 2016 (who was a fine signing at the time but did not pan out.
Either way, the majority of impact relief arms will demand upwards of $5 million on a multi-year deal.
First base and the corner outfield remain a priority, as does backup catcher and general upper-minors depth. The conversations around the Blue Jays’ off-season have too often blocked out the financial commitments that could be added to the bullpen, however, and that is often the most unpredictable market of all.