Blue Jays sign LH reliever: J.P. Howell

The Blue Jays made a move to shore up the left side of the bullpen on Tuesday, coming to an agreement with J.P. Howell, pending a physical.

The Blue Jays addressed arguably their biggest remaining need on Tuesday, signing a veteran left-handed reliever. The deal is reportedly for 1 year and 3 million dollars, and Howell will have to pass a physical before the deal is official. ESPN’s Buster Olney was the first to break the news on Twitter.

The Blue Jays have been left with a significant need since Brett Cecil‘s departure to the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this offseason. Cecil signed a 4 year, 30.5 million dollar deal with the Cards, which proved to be more than the Blue Jays were willing to pay in order to bring back the talented lefty.

In fact, the Blue Jays were able to spend a significantly smaller amount on the veteran, who could potentially fill the void, if all goes well. Of course that’s a big if, but Howell’s contract appears to be more than reasonable, given the way the bullpen market has developed this offseason.

Howell is now 33 years old, and has had a relatively successful major league career. However, he struggled with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, likely hurting his market in free agency. The California native had a 4.09 ERA over 50.2 innings in 2016, after pitching to a 1.43 ERA in 2015, and 2.39 in 2014. For his career he owns a 3.77 over 502 games and 608.2 innings pitched.

For those feeling a little underwhelmed with the signing, there are plenty of reasons for optimism regarding the veteran lefty. For starters:

And when you dig deeper, you can find tidbits like this:

Of course, it’s also possible that Howell’s poor 2016 was the start of a downward trend for the 11 year veteran. He is only 33, but he is a soft-tossing southpaw, who tops out in the 85-87 MPH range. He’s never been a flame thrower though, so it’s not a case of losing velocity on his fastball as the culprit for his downturn.

The Blue Jays have been in the market for a left-handed reliever for quite some time, and we’ve explored the possibility of the remaining market including Boone Logan, Jerry Blevins, Travis Wood, and even an article a few weeks ago about Howell. The Blue Jays may not be completely done, as they should/may have remaining resources, but at the very least they’ve strengthened the left side of their bullpen. With around two weeks before pitchers and catchers report, there may be some bargains to be had as remaining free agents look for a job in 2017.

Howell will join returning cast members such as Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, Joe Biagini, and many more vying for a spot in the bullpen. Prior to Howell’s signing, the left-handed corps featured Aaron Loup, Matt Dermody, Chad Girodo, and a group of minor league signings, so his addition is a welcome one. He also hasn’t been used exclusively as a left-handed specialist, which gives manager John Gibbons a little more freedom in his bullpen management.

If nothing else, the 2004 first round pick brings some experience and depth to the left side of the bullpen. The bullpen is the most volatile area for a front office to address, as each year we see pitchers like Joe Biagini unexpectedly flourish, while expensive veterans like Jonathan Papelbon struggle, and even get released.

Chalk it up however you want, but for 3 million, I’ll call it a more than worthwhile gamble.

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