This is the second in a series of three blogs looking at the current state of the Blue Jays as they head into the 2010 season. Today, we look at the relief corps.
The bullpen becomes a critical area for the club this season after Roy Halladay’s off-season departure has opened the door for a group of inexperienced, iffy starting pitchers. Consider this: Halladay logged 239 innings pitched for the Jays last season. Of this season’s projected starters, three have yet to accumulate that many innings in their career (Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Marc Rzepczynski).
So, Jays fans, don’t expect a whole lot of complete game efforts from the rotation this season -and this is where the relievers come in. GM Alex Anthopoulos has made some tweaks to the bullpen(so long Brandon League, hello Kevin Gregg), but has ultimately maintained a unit with big league experience capable of being leaned upon if necessary. These are the names to know.
You won’t find many 5’11” closers in the major leagues, but Jason Frasor has earned the faith of the organization after a reliable 2009 in which he went 7-3 with a 2.50 ERA and tallied 11 saves in 14 opportunities. Therefore, Cito Gaston tabbed him as the team’s closer even with more experienced options available.
It will mark Frasor’s first extended opportunity in the pressure cooker since his rookie year of 2004, when he went 17-19 in save chances. He is the longest-tenured member of the Blue Jays’ pitching staff and second-most senior Jay on the team, behind Vernon Wells.
Anthopoulos raised eyebrows in the off-season when he signed veteran reliever Kevin Gregg to a one-year/ $2.75 million deal for a rebuilding season. The acquisition has gotten even more curious now that Gregg, who has a strong closer’s pedigree with 84 saves over the past three seasons, will enter the season as no better than the set-up guy on the team.
The Jays, however, are hoping that the 6’6” right-hander can flourish away from the fishbowl-like atmosphere he experienced as the closer for the Chicago Cubs last season. He will be looked upon to help mentor younger pitchers in the organization over the course of the season. And if he can put together a few solid months and turn himself into a trade commodity nearing the deadline, all the better.
Scott Downs took a step back last year after a career 2008 campaign which saw him post a 1.78 ERA in 66 appearances. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with the 3.09 ERA he earned last season, but he will be relied upon as an anchor for this bullpen moving forward.
Downs will likely partner up with Gregg as dual lefty-righty set-up specialists for Frasor. The 34-year old also provides the Jays with another experienced arm to counterbalance the youth among the pitching corps. Look for his name, along with Frasor’s, to pop up around deadline time, as both men are free agents after this season.
Along with Downs, Jesse Carlson represents the southpaw element in Toronto’s bullpen. Primarily a situational reliever, Carlson has been counted on quite frequently by the team over the past two seasons, making 142 appearances over that stretch.
Carlson will start the season at AAA Las Vegas after a knee injury limited him during the spring, but he will be back with the Jays before long.
The youth and inexperience of the starting rotation may affect Shawn Camp more than any other guy on the 25-man roster. Camp, after all, is the team’s primary long relief option. In 2009, the righty had 18 outings of two innings or more and you can expect that total to go up as guys like Morrow and Rzepczynski experience growing pains.
The Other Guys
Bullpen slots will likely be in flux for much of the season, as injuries mount and young pitchers make their push to join the big club. Merkin Valdez and Shawn Hill joined Toronto in a pair of off-season transactions that emphasized Anthopoulos’ focus on gathering young, inexpensive arms. Valdez was brought over from San Francisco in exchange for cash considerations, while Hill joins his hometown team (he lives in Georgetown, ON) after signing a minor league deal.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Accardo and Casey Janssen are trying to re-establish themselves as deserving big leaguers after struggling through injuries and ineffectiveness. Accardo had a tough 2009 that included a demotion to theminors, while Janssen never fully recovered from shoulder surgery en route to a forgettable year.
Other names in the mix that could find their way into the 2010 Jays bullpen include Josh Roenicke (acquired in the Scott Rolen deal), Robert Ray, David Purcey, Chad Jenkins and Lance Broadway.
About the Author
Written by Ben Fisher