Last season Blue Jays relievers posted 3.7 WAR, which was good enough to place them at number 11 in the major leagues. This number has the potential to be better as the Jays bullpen struggled in the first half. In the second half of the season the Jays removed Brett Cecil as their closer and let Roberto Osuna handle the ninth inning. Aaron Sanchez moved from the rotation to the bullpen and Aaron Loup went back to being a LOOGY. All of this added up to Toronto having the sixth best bullpen in the second half (according to WAR). The Jays saw Sanchez and Osuna flourish at the back end of the bullpen while Cecil put up another strong season in relief after being relieved from the closer's role.
The Blue Jays are in much better shape heading into 2016 than many fans might believe. While the Jays will be losing Liam Hendriks, Mark Lowe, and LaTroy Hawkins from the roster, there's plenty of optimism that what remains has the making of a strong bullpen.
If the season opened today then Roberto Osuna would figure to be the closer again. Osuna saved 20 games in 2015 and did it relying mostly on his strong fastball. Osuna has many secondary offerings which leads me to believe he could thrive in a rotation role in the future. While that may be the eventual plan, right now, he figures to be at the back end of the bullpen with Aaron Sanchez.
Speaking of Sanchez, he and Brett Cecil will hold down the the setup roles and handle the seventh and eighth innings. Sanchez started the season in the rotation and after some ups and downs (and an injury) John Gibbons moved him to the bullpen to help provide depth. Sanchez shined in this role and posted a 2.39 ERA while stranding 75.2% of runners. Cecil was given the closer job briefly early in the season but struggled. After being moved to a setup role Cecil once again thrived in the bullpen and posted a dazzling 2.34 FIP and a K/9 of 11.6. These two paired with Osuna creates a lot of optimism at the back end of the Jays bullpen.
While the back end of the bullpen might currently be set, I worry about the other four spots available and wonder who will fill those roles. At least one of those spots will go to a guy designated as the "long reliever" or a guy who can pitch multiple innings and even make a spot start if needed. The Jays currently have a wealth of guys to fill this role. The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will most likely come down to Jesse Chavez and Drew Hutchison. The other would most likely be the favorite to win the long man role but he will face competition from guys like Chad Jenkins (who will be out of minor league options in 2016), Scott Copeland, and possibly even Brad Penny and Roberto Hernandez. This is the deepest role in the entire bullpen for the Jays and should not be concerned about come spring training.
This leads us to the biggest concern on the Blue Jays' roster: the three middle relievers Gibbons will be equipped with to start the season. Currently, other than Cecil, Aaron Loup is the only lefty and he figures to be in line for a job as a lefty specialist. The other spots will be a competition between Steve Delabar, Ryan Tepera, and Bo Schultz, all of whom showed moments of strong performance but struggled in the second half.
As it stands, the Jays would be able to field a bullpen that could be serviceable. While there are some concerns among the current roster, just one or two additions could lead to a strong bullpen in 2016. I was bummed to see the Blue Jays fail to sign any of the bigger relievers on the market, but I believe there are still some quality names who could be great additions for the Jays.
1. Antonio Bastardo
Bastardo spent most of his career in the Phillies organization before playing for the Pirates last year. Bastardo has pitched well in the last 3 seasons having a FIP under 3.40 in all three. Bastardo has the added benefit of being a lefty which plays well for him since the Jays currently only have Loup for Bastardo to compete with for that role.
2. Tyler Clippard
Clippard is the most notable reliever on this list and will probably demand the highest contract. Clippard is a great example of consistency as he has pitched 70+ innings a year since 2010. At points during 2015 teams experimented with him in the closer role. This was not the right fit for Clippard as he struggled in the role before being moved back to a middle of the bullpen guy. He has pitched three straight years with an ERA under 3.00 and provides a good option in the middle of the bullpen.
3. Jason Frasor
Many should remember Frasor from his time in Toronto as he holds the franchise record for games pitched. Frasor might be the least exciting guy on this list but the guy has three straight seasons of a sub 2.70-ERA and could at least be a depth option in the bullpen.
4. Neftali Feliz
Feliz was once considered a top closer and was an up and coming star early in his career. Feliz saved 72 games in 2010-2011 before the Rangers tried Feliz as a starter in 2012. Injuries caused Feliz to miss most of 2012 and 2013. in 2014 he pitched 31.2 innings and saved 13 games while sporting an ERA of 1.99. 2015 saw great struggles as he posted a 6.38 ERA between Texas and Detroit. While Feliz might no longer be an elite option in the bullpen, at 27, he's a prime candidate for a bounce-back season.
These four are guys that I think provide good options. There are countless other guys who could provide a spark in Toronto and it's hard to believe that the Jays' front office won't be looking to add.