While the Toronto Blue Jays have wade into the offseason with starting pitching upgrades as their top priority, their relief corps is also in need of serious reinforcements.
At this point Ken Giles is the only impact arm in the team’s bullpen, and he’s liable to be traded at any time. If the club doesn’t bring in some outside help, it could be in for some late-game heartbreak in 2020.
While there’s an argument to be made that they aren’t close enough to contention for it to make investing in their bullpen very important, investing in relief arms on short-term deals has very little downside as they can become trade pieces if 2020 becomes a lost season.
Here are a few relievers the Jays could consider in free agency:
The Underrated Upgrade: Yoshihisa Hirano
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball, Splitter
Fastball Velocity: 91.1 mph
2019 stats: 10.36 K/9, 3.74 BB/9, 1.19 HR/9, 4.75 ERA and 4.04 FIP in 53 IP
How it works: Hirano’s ERA last season wasn’t pretty, but the splitter specialist missed a tonne of bats and kept the ball in the ballpark at an above-average clip. The Japanese veteran’s biggest problem was a slightly inflated walk rate and poor luck on balls in play.
While his .314 BABIP wasn’t egregious, it certainly seemed on the unfortunate side considering he did a great job limiting hard contact. His exit velocity against of 87.1 mph was in the 72nd percentile league-wide while his Hard Hit rate allowed was in the 94th percentile.
Although his velocity is below average, Hirano’s ability to generate whiffs with his splitter and induce soft contact makes him an appealing option, who could become a trade candidate if he flourishes with slightly better luck.
The 2019 train wreck: Trevor Rosenthal
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball, Cutter, Changeup
Fastball Velocity: 98.0 mph
2019 stats: 9.98 K/9, 15.26 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9, 13.50 ERA and 6.87 FIP in 15.1 IP
How it works: Nothing Rosenthal did last season inspired any level of confidence in his abilities to make an impact at the MLB level. The veteran right-hander was nothing short of dreadful as he was totally unable to control the baseball, let alone command it, and neither the Washington Nationals nor Detroit Tigers were able to coax any semblance of production from him.
That said, the former closer deserves a little bit of slack considering it was his first action since he had Tommy John surgery late in 2017. Rosenthal’s velocity is still outstanding and it comes with a pretty healthy spin rate (68th percentile) suggesting his heater can still be a weapon at the highest level. The 29-year-old might be too risky for a team that needs someone with a reasonable floor, but he represents an interesting gamble for the Blue Jays.
The true long man: Josh Tomlin
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball, Cutter, Changeup, Curveball
Fastball Velocity: 89.3 mph
2019 stats: 5.79 K/9, 0.79 BB/9, 1.59 HR/9, 3.74 ERA and 4.49 FIP in 79.1 IP
How it works: Considering the Blue Jays are likely to rely on a number of unproven pitchers in their rotation, it would pay to have someone to soak up innings when their outings go sideways. Sam Gaviglio played that role last season and pitched close to 100 innings in it — but Tomlin would represent an incremental upgrade.
Adding Tomlin would be far from a thrilling move, but it would help the Blue Jays improve at a spot that could be particularly important to them in 2020. If they were to have a surprising season, he’s the type of guy they’d be glad they added. Gaviglio is close to a replacement-level talent whereas Tomlin has at least one elite skill in his pinpoint control and can provide solid innings in bulk.
The Snake-Bitten Stud: Brad Brach
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball, Two-Seam Fastball, Cutter, Slider, Changeup
Fastball Velocity: 93.9 mph
2019 stats: 9.94 K/9, 5.14 BB/9, 0.66 HR/9, 5.47 ERA and 3.73 FIP in 54.1 IP
How it works: Prior to 2019 Brach had been one of the steadiest relievers in the game, an absolute constant in a Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen that was often outstanding. He was even an all-star in 2016, and not one of those cheap “every team needs a representative” guy. Those Orioles had five representatives in the All-Star Game. When Brach began to falter in 2018, Baltimore shipped him off to Atlanta only to see him regain his elite form.
His 2019 was far from impressive, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as his ERA makes it seem. The gap between the right-hander’s ERA and FIP is big enough to suggest he dealt with some serious misfortune. It’s possible he’s not quite what he once was, but his velocity is good, he still misses bats, and his unorthodox arm angle is still absolute murder on right-handed hitters.
If the Blue Jays scoop him up, there’s a very good chance he’ll either give them strong year-long production or make himself useful as a mid-season trade chip.
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