In the lull of the offseason, I thought it would be fun to see how the players who were part of the Blue Jays in 2017 but were not retained for 2018 because they were deemed to be replacement level fared away from the team. In part one of this series, we looked at players who were in either MLB or MiLB for most of last year. In this post, we will check in on players who are actively playing in another league, or who were removed from playing altogether. And yes, these are all actually people who played for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017.
The Texas Rangers signed Darwin Barney to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training in the 2017 off season, but he never made it to a regular season game because was released on March 19th.
It turns out Darwin Barney’s 2017 season with the Blue Jays was his swan song, as he has officially hung up his cleats as a major league player to be home with his family. Today, Barney has a new mission: bringing a major league baseball team to his home city of Portland. He has been aiding in the efforts as an official advisor and investor in the Portland Diamond Project.
Barney told NBC Sports Northwest in October, “you never know what your path is going to be, you just know what your passions are going to be. I quit playing to spend more time with my family. This came up just at the right time.”
Jason Grilli was a fan favorite set-up man for the Blue Jays in the 2016, and was a major contributor to their 2016 postseason run when he allowed zero runs in his five postseason outings. The team hoped he’d replicate his success in 2017, but after 26 games in which he posted a 6.97 ERA and gave up 9 home runs (including four in one inning to the Yankees) with a 1.010 OPS against, Grilli completely fell out of favor. He was traded to the Texas Rangers where he improved slightly, posting a 5.59 ERA with a .841 OPS against in 20 games.
Grilli, 41, admitted he needed a breather and now he can be found contributing to baseball in a different way: by building and landscaping baseball complexes near his home in Pittsburgh. Grilli’s construction efforts started with a desire to help maintain the fields for his 10-year-old son’s team, and has grown since then. The PNC Park grounds crew has even joined in his efforts to rebuild pitching mounds.
Mike Bolsinger, who may be best remembered by Blue Jays fans for his four strikeouts in one inning at Fenway Park, spent 2018 pitching in Japan for the Chiba Lotte Marines. Bolsinger has had himself a fairly decent season, making 20 starts and pitching 117.2 innings total. He ended the season with a shiny 3.06 ERA, less than half of what it was with the Jays (6.31). Bolsinger credited his team catcher for his success in Japan, but also his frame of mind. He told the Japan Times, “it’s also kind of been just going out there and feeling good. I’ve just been kind of in the zone. In baseball, you’ve gotta keep that going until something happens, because baseball is not always a nice sport to you.”
Leonel Campos, who was called up and optioned back to AAA six times for the Jays last season, also spent his 2018 in Japan. Campos signed a minor league deal with Cleveland in late 2017, but was released so he could play for the Hiroshima Carp. He played all of one game at the major league level in Japan before being relegated to the Carp’s minor league team.
J.P. Howell made the transition over to independent ball in San Rafael in 2018, where he pitched in just about as many innings as he did for the Blue Jays in 2017. In a stadium that seats less than 1,000, Howell pitched a total of 10 innings over three games: two were scoreless outings and in the other he gave up 4 runs over 3 innings. A salary for a player in this league averages $600-$700 per month.
Another player who made the journey to independent ball was former Blue Jay Mat Latos. Latos pitched 76.1 innings for the New Jersey Jackals, putting up a 3.18 ERA in 29 games. He made the news a couple times last season, the first time for starting a bench clearing brawl as seen in the below video, then the second for some troubles with the law toward the end of the season.
Cesar Valdez, who pitched in 11 games for the Blue Jays in 2017 and may be best remembered for winning his first start in over 7 years during a particularly dominant outing against the Oakland A’s, spent 2017 south of the border in the Mexican League. He put up an ERA of 5.93 in 30.1 innings pitched with the Olmecas de Tabasco before being released, then did much better with his second team, the Leones de Yucatan, accumulating a 2.48 ERA in 36.1 innings.
Darrell Ceciliani’s time with the Blue Jays in 2017 was very brief, like the number of plate appearances he had could be counted on one hand brief. However, you may remember plate appearance number 5 (which also now appears to be his last plate appearance as a major leaguer) when he injured his shoulder while hitting a home run. Ceciliani also transitioned to independent ball in 2018, and in 21 games for the New Britain Bees Ceciliani slashed .212/.268/.258. His .525 OPS with the Bees was actually .159 points higher than his OPS through 22 games with the Buffalo Bisons.
Matt Dermody, who will forever be remembered as the player who didn’t know when the game was over, was outrighted off the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training last year, but cleared waivers and was assigned to Buffalo. He missed pretty much the entire season with an undisclosed injury.
None of these players will likely be remembered for making any significant contributions to the team in 2017 (well, any positive contributions at least), so it’s no surprise that they’ve found themselves a fair distance from the major leagues. In reality, most of these players were signed or traded for as minor league depth who ended up with far too much playing time due to one freak injury after another. Recalling that these players all occupied 25-man spots in 2017 puts into perspective how much the team will have changed by the time the 2019 season starts, as significantly more of the minor league depth at the AAA level will be prospects, rather than utility guys filling in as regulars, or veterans seeking one last chance. The same conclusion drawn in part one of this series applies here: the team suffered no significant losses by letting these players go.