11 trade options for bolstering the Blue Jays' struggling bullpen

Anyone who has watched the 2021 Toronto Blue Jays knows the bullpen has been an enormous source of frustration.

As the injuries have mounted, the late-game struggles have snowballed in recent weeks, resulting in a string of heartbreaking defeats. With high-leverage arms like Kirby Yates, David Phelps, Ryan Borucki, Rafael Dolis and Julian Merryweather on the shelf, Charlie Montoyo simply doesn't have enough reliable arms to hand the ball to on a nightly basis.

General manager Ross Atkins acknowledged in a recent media conference that his team has a clear need in the 'pen and said he is focused on improving a relief corps that ranks 25th in the majors in WAR. Toronto made a pair of moves over the weekend, trading for Jacob Barnes and signing John Axford to a minor-league deal, but there is still more room for external additions.

Finding a seller in June is no easy task, as only a handful of teams are truly out of the playoff hunt. It's still early enough in the season for a franchise to turn around its fortunes like the Washington Nationals did in 2019, when they went from 19-31 to World Series champions.

That said, there are a number of struggling squads possessing impact arms that would be of great value to the Blue Jays. For the purposes of this article, we'll focus on teams that are currently at least 10 games out of a wild-card spot.

Here are 11 players who should be available as soon as today for the right price, though more options will be on the table closer to the July 30 trade deadline.

*All player stats accurate as of June 21

Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates

G: 27 | IP: 28.1 | Saves: 8 | ERA: 1.91 | K/9: 7.6 | K/BB: 8.0

Rodriguez's name has popped up in countless trade rumours early this season, and it's easy to see why. The right-hander can generate swing-and-miss, induces plenty of weak contact and barely walks anyone. He's controllable through 2023, making him a potential long-term solution for the back of Toronto's bullpen. The price will be steep and the competition fierce, but the Blue Jays have the prospect capital to strike a deal if they so desire.

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 18:  Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates after a 11-10 win over the Cleveland Indians. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Richard Rodriguez of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates after a 11-10 win over the Cleveland Indians. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins (LHP)

G: 28 | IP: 29.2 | Saves: 7 | ERA: 2.73 | K/9: 12.4 | K/BB: 8.2

The Twins have arguably been MLB's most disappointing team in 2021, but it's no fault of Rogers, who has been dominant. The 30-year-old southpaw throws 95 mph and is under team control through next season. He could immediately step in as the Blue Jays' closer.

Yimi Garcia, Miami Marlins

G: 29 | IP: 27 | Saves: 11 | ERA: 2.67 | K/9: 8.3 | K/BB: 3.13

Garcia has been Mr. Reliable since taking over for Anthony Bass as the Marlins' closer in April. The veteran has been quietly excellent since debuting in 2014, as evidenced by his career 3.30 ERA. He's a free agent at the end of the year, so the acquisition cost would be lower than some of the other closers on this list.

Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies

G: 28 | IP: 30 | Saves: 9 | ERA: 4.20 | K/9: 11.1 | K/BB: 3.08

Bard was out of the majors from 2014-19, but burst back on the scene for the Rockies in 2020, earning NL Comeback Player of the Year honours. He throws in the upper-90s with his heater and also features a changeup and slider. Even though he's 35, he's not a pure rental with one more arbitration year remaining on his deal.

Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers

G: 23 | IP: 23.1 | Saves: 12 | ERA: 2.70 | K/9: 10.4 | K/BB: 3.86

A former starter, Kennedy has found success transitioning to a relief role in his mid-30s. He's seen an uptick in his fastball velocity in 2021 and now sits right around 95mph with the pitch. He'll be a free agent this winter.

Hansel Robles, Minnesota Twins

G: 33 | IP: 32.2 | Saves: 6 | ERA: 2.76 | K/9: 9.4 | K/BB: 1.79

Robles had a disastrous 2020, pitching to a 10.26 ERA with the Los Angeles Angels. He inked a one-year deal with Minnesota in an attempt to rebuild his value and he's done just that. The walks are a concern, but the Jays could do worse than taking a flier on someone with plenty of high-leverage experience who carries an expiring contract.

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Mychal Givens, Colorado Rockies

G: 24 | IP: 22.2 | Saves: 0 | ERA: 2.78 | K/9: 9.9 | K/BB: 2.27

Blue Jays fans will be familiar with Givens from his time with the Baltimore Orioles. The 31-year-old rental is currently on the injured list with a back strain, but had strung together seven consecutive scoreless outings dating back to May 22 — a feat made more impressive considering he calls hitter-friendly Coors Field home. If the injury isn't serious, he's a lock to be moved over the next month.

Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers

G: 23 | IP: 38 | Saves: 6 | ERA: 3.55 | K/9: 9.5 | K/BB: 3.64

Fulmer was the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year and a 2017 all-star but his career was derailed by a series of injuries. His days as a quality starter are in the past, but he's found an effective role in the Tigers' bullpen, closing games and also holding the ability to log multiple innings. His versatility could intrigue Atkins and he won't hit free agency until after the 2022 campaign.

Chris Stratton, Pittsburgh Pirates

G: 28 | IP: 38.2 | Saves: 1 | ERA: 2.79 | K/9: 7.4 | K/BB: 2.67

Stratton is another player who can provide some length, logging two or more innings in 10 of his 28 appearances in 2021. He won't reach the open market until the end of the 2023 season, so the asking price will be higher than some of the options above.

Richard Bleier, Miami Marlins (LHP)

G: 30 | IP: 25.2 | Saves: 0 | ERA: 3.16 | K/9: 7.7 | K/BB: 22.00

Bleier and his 89-mph fastball won't blow you away, but the crafty lefty generates a ton of ground balls and has only walked one (!!) batter this season. He has a lengthy track record of success and his repertoire is one that shouldn't diminish too greatly as he gets further into his 30s. He has one more year of control remaining on his contract.

Chasen Shreve, Pittsburgh Pirates (LHP)

G: 17 | IP: 15 | Saves: 0 | ERA: 1.80 | K/9: 7.8 | K/BB: 3.25

Shreve is no stranger to the AL East, having spent three years with the New York Yankees earlier in his career. He wouldn't be someone you'd want to see consistently in high-leverage spots, but he would be a nice complementary piece and insurance for Borucki and fellow lefty Tim Mayza.

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