The Toronto Blue Jays began the offseason with some surprising moves for potential game-changers in Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Michael Saunders. These bold acquisitions immediately depleted the 2015 budget while still leaving holes in two areas that contributed to last season’s collapse: second base and the bullpen (12th in the AL with a 4.09 ERA).
There is growing speculation the Blue Jays are looking to add a new closer. When it comes to budget, it’s estimated that GM Alex Anthopoulos has somewhere between $5-$7 million left to secure one of the most essential pieces for a postseason contender – especially in the American League East.
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Someone who could come at a reasonably cheap price and with hometown roots is John Axford. The Canadian closer, who admitted earlier this week he has been approached by the club, had a solid 2011 season with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he led the National League with 46 saves and a 1.95 ERA. Since then he has been on a downward spiral (as compared to Janssen’s disappointing few months), which now has him in search of a fifth team to play with in the past three years. Headlines over the past few days suggest Anthopoulos has his sights set on Axford. It is believed another change of scenery for the 31-year-old former closer could breathe life back into his career.
Along with Axford, another name picking up momentum around Toronto is Jonathan Papelbon. Recent reports suggest the Blue Jays are willing to trade a big name to secure the Phillies star. Even if it cost the club a man versus a buck, Jonathan Papelbon on paper would bring the bullpen back to the top.
In 2014, he recorded 39 saves in 43 opportunities and had an ERA of 2.04. If the Blue Jays can finally put an end to the postseason drought, the right-hander’s experience in two World Series, along with his recognized leadership qualities, would make him a valuable asset.
Although fans hope favorite Casey Janssen will remain with the only club he has played for, his fall from grace after the 2014 All-Star break has overshadow his unshakeable 2011-2013 track record and makes him a gamble, and there are rumors the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers are considering Janssen.
An internal closer option has floated around for some time now: left-hander Brett Cecil. If a deal with Jonathan Papelbon, John Axford or Casey Janssen doesn’t pan out, Cecil would have the job. It might be difficult for some fans to imagine the once-struggling starter in such a pivotal role, but the left-hander found a home in the pen in 2013 when he was chosen for the All-Star team and in 2014 when he established himself as a dependable long reliever who can turn over an inning quickly with his curveball, a pitch that is becoming notorious against the right-handers who gave him trouble at the plate in the past.
As spring training quickly approaches, activity already is heating up in the pen after relievers Preston Guilmet and Scott Barnes were claimed off waivers from Baltimore and Texas, respectively. These moves were followed by an assortment of major and minor league staff changes, which included Dane Johnson’s promotion to bullpen coach.
The bullpen coach’s hat has been passed around a couple of times under John Gibbon’s management. After putting together a relief squad that was the best in the game, Pat Hentgen departed due to family health matters. Bob Stanley took over in 2014, and many of those same arms struggle to stay above water.
Johnson has been with the organization since 2000 and was the minor league coordinator for the last 11 seasons, where he aided in developing today’s top prospects and overnight superstars Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Daniel Norris, to name a few.