In the aftermath of the exciting news that AA has picked up Jesse Chavez off of waivers, it is as good a time as any to consider how the Blue Jays bullpen might look next year, and how we might want it to look.
In the past few seasons, Alex Anthopoulos has treated the bullpen as an opportunity to store arms that might yield a compensation pick (Kevin Gregg, Frank Francisco) or become of value on the trade market (Octavio Dotel), and while this pattern might continue to a certain extent, changes to the free agent compensation system and disappointment with bullpen performance may cause major changes. Should the Jays continue to see the pen as a store of value, or do we need to concentrate on performance to be competitive next year?
Casey Janssen had a career year for the Jays this past year, and will be back in 2012, and could be a serviceable set-up man. Luis Perez looked serviceable, was far stronger against lefties than righthanders, and is the only left-handed option remaining on the Jays' 40-man roster. Jesse Litsch looked great out of the bullpen, and Villanueva was good as a long-man. Joel Carreno looked great in a limited sample, but the Jays have the option of keeping him starting in Vegas to see if he can succeed in that role. Shawn Camp could conceivably return if the Jays offer arbitration and Camp accepts (Camp is ranked as a type-B, and so could return a pick if arbitration is offered). That's a fair number of serviceable arms, but none who stand out as relief aces, with the possible exception of Janssen.
Free Agent Lefthanders
The Jays appear to be at least 2 pitchers short of a full bullpen. They only have one southpaw, so a leftie free-agent would seem likely. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of good left-handed options on the market. The best is probably Darren Oliver, who though ancient, is still quite good - but he's also a Type-A, and wouldn't be considered unless the Jays sign another Type-A. Mike Gonzalez and Jeremy Affeldt are also respectable options. George Sherrill, Javier Lopez, Arthur Rhodes and Hideki Okajima round out the free agent pool, but all appear to be decidedly into their declines. If the Jays are confident in Perez perhaps they take a flyer on a player like Okajima; otherwise they could take a run at Affeldt.
Free Agent Righthanders
This is where things get interesting. Here we have our big-name closers: Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, Ryan Madson, Matt Capps, Joe Nathan. All but Nathan are type-A's, so the Jays may be reluctant to sign any. There are also some interesting power-arm options: Jonathan Broxton, Joel Zumaya and Kerry Wood, and plenty of serviceable arms. If the Jays sign Fielder or Pujols, it becomes a fair bit more likely we go after one of the closer candidates; if not, Nathan is probably the best option.
Jesse Chavez is fairly emblematic of the sort of depth the Jays likely will stock in Las Vegas, waiting on injury or ineffectiveness. Danny Farquhar and Chad Beck will also likely await the call from Toronto. The Jays are also likely to sign a few veterans to minor league contracts.
Any of our existing bullpen arms are potential trade pieces in anything Anthopoulos gins up over this offseason; and we might acquire a bullpen arm or two in trades as well. There is also the possibility that one of our existing starters ends up in the bullpen: Brett Cecil seems the most likely to be an odd man out.
What Might Be?
A realistic bullpen might look like this:
I'm thinking at least one of our incumbent relievers will be traded over the offseason: Villanueva's solid work filling in as a starter makes him the most likely guy to be traded away, but it could be anyone. Neither Wood nor Broxton are sure-fire effective closers, but neither is Nathan at the age of 37 continuing a recovery from Tommy John surgery; but one of Wood and Broxton is likely to have a good year, and both might turn into valuable trade pieces at the deadline. Affeldt has been pretty average, but we need another lefty and, as a ground-ball pitcher, he's the best option for the Rogers Centre.
Disagree? Who should we really go after? Ought we to give a substantial contract to one of the proven closers? and if so, who would you prefer?