The Blue Jays acquired reliever Joaquin Benoit on July 26th in a trade with the Seattle Mariners, sending Drew Storen the other way.
The Blue Jays had an enviable amount of consistency from their starting pitching in 2016, leading the league in several categories. They received production beyond their expectations from free agent signee J.A. Happ, and Marco Estrada continued to thrive as a starter. Aaron Sanchez made the move from the bullpen into the rotation and became a legitimate Cy Young candidate, and all told, the “starting five” including Marcus Stroman and R.A. Dickey combined for 152 starts.
Unfortunately the Blue Jays didn’t have the same luck with the bullpen, especially early on the season. However, they were fortunate to bring in Jason Grilli in a trade with the Braves, and also rolled the dice with Joaquin Benoit from the Mariners. Benoit was swapped for fellow struggling reliever Drew Storen, with both clubs hopeful that a change of scenery would revive the talented arms. In Benoit’s case, that’s exactly what happened after he arrived in Toronto.
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Once the 14-year veteran arrived in Toronto, he looked a lot more like the pitcher he had been throughout the majority of his career. He ended up joining Grilli, Brett Cecil, and Roberto Osuna as manager John Gibbons’ late inning options, and answered when called upon.
With the Blue Jays, the Dominican had a 0.38 ERA in 25 appearances, and 23.2 innings pitched. His walk rate dropped back down to 3.4/9 IP, and he attacked batters with renewed life on his fastball. His contribution and personality were welcomed with open arms, making it one of the better “under-the-radar” trades before last season’s deadline. Ridding themselves of Storen was a plus, but gaining a reliable, late-inning receiver was icing on the cake for the Blue Jays.
There was a reason the Mariners were willing to take a chance on Storen, despite his 6.21 ERA with Toronto. Benoit wasn’t much better in Seattle prior to the trade, authoring a 5.18 ERA over 24.1 innings pitched and 26 appearances. His Hits/9 IP was up to 7.4 compared to 5.0 in 2015, and walks were up to 5.5 from 3.2. Really, not much went right for the 39-year-old prior to the trade as he fell out of favour in the Mariners’ bullpen for his performance and looked like his career may be coming to an end.
As stated above, everything turned around for Benoit in Toronto. The only negative, of course, was his torn calf muscle in late September. Frustratingly enough, the injury occurred while running in from the bullpen to join an on-field scuffle with the Yankees. Unfortunately, it was enough to keep him off the playoff roster.
The former Tiger’s closer will turn 40 next summer, but showed more than enough to earn himself a major league contract for 2017. His injury may have hurt his overall earning potential, but the bullpen has become a premium area of concern in the MLB these days, so he’ll have suitors.
The Blue Jays could easily be among the bidders as they look to re-stock their bullpen after the losses of Cecil and Scott Feldman. Nobody will expect a sub-1.00 ERA like the right-hander had in Toronto, but he’s a worthwhile gamble in 2017 even if he’ll soon be 40. Chances are Benoit will have to taken a pay cut from the $7.5 million he earned last season, but he should have no problem finding a job whether or not Toronto is interested in bringing him back.