Bona fide closers; it seems like a luxury that virtually every team in baseball wants, but it’s one which every team can’t necessarily afford.
Those who can’t usually search internally for a closer candidate or resort to cobbling together some sort of closer-by-committee. And in recent years, the Toronto Blue Jays have applied all of the above strategies.
As the calendar turns and the 2015 season approaches, the Blue Jays still find themselves devoid of a closer. Or at the very least, they find themselves without a capital ‘c’ Closer.
But is that really all that important? Do the Blue Jays really need a “closer” in 2015?
My first inclination is to say ‘no’. Mostly because nearly all the high-end free agent closers are already off the market. No one really knows how much interest the Blue Jays really had in David Robertson or even Andrew Miller anyway, but it’s a moot point.
It seems like a very risky proposition to hand out guaranteed money for such a volatile position, but nearly every reliever has signed a multi-year contract this offseason.
The Jason Grilli two-year/$7.75 million dollar is the latest evidence of the way the reliever market has played out this offseason.
Even Jason Motte and Luke Hochevar (who were thought to have been two buy-low candidates) managed to secure deals worth $4.5 million and $10 million dollars respectively.
This winter, the market has dictated that teams either need to go beyond a one-year deal or pay a lot of money up front; both of which the Toronto Blue Jays weren’t willing to do.
It’s hard to fault the team for that; for a club that’s already escalated their payroll and don’t appear to have much wiggle room, spending $5 million dollars on a closer isn’t exactly a luxury the Blue Jays can afford right now … or so it would appear.
But as we’ve seen in the past, just because you spend top dollar doesn’t necessarily equate to top-tier results. And the opposite can be true as well; there are a slew of very talented relievers who have reasonable contracts or haven’t even hit arbitration yet.
Clearly, those are the kinds of players which Alex Anthopoulos should target in any potential trades for a new closer or back-end bullpen pieces. In this instance, the years of team control and the projected salary may be just as important as the quality of reliever.
But even if Opening Day comes and the Blue Jays still find themselves without a shiny new closer, would that really be detrimental to the team? Perhaps the next closer-in-waiting could already be within the Blue Jays organization.
Think back to the 2011 season, and the club was in virtually the very same position; after employing a dual closer duo of Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch with mixed results, the team was in desperate need of late inning relief help. In acquiring Sergio Santos, the Blue Jays finally had their “closer”.
But then something interesting happened; Santos got hurt in the first week of the 2012 season and was shelved the rest of the year, and the Blue Jays were forced to go down the depth chart and give Casey Janssen a chance to close.
Oddly enough, despite not being a prototypical “closer”, Janssen thrived in the role for nearly three seasons. This is what leads me to believe the Blue Jays may have already an internal candidate to replace Casey Janssen; either Brett Cecil or Aaron Loup.
Cecil and Loup’s performances the past two seasons have elevated them beyond simply LOOGY status; these two are on the cusp of becoming solid late-relief pitchers.
And if Aaron Sanchez doesn’t crack the starting rotation, it’s been debated whether he could possibly slot in as the Blue Jays’ next closer. Although his two-pitch repertoire of fastball/curveball currently sets him up much better to work out of the bullpen, ultimately it sounds like the club wants to stretch out Sanchez as a starter.
I still believe the Blue Jays would be better off getting 140-150 innings out of Sanchez in the rotation rather than just 60-70 innings out of the bullpen. But if there’s no room for him in the rotation, then by all means perhaps Aaron Sanchez should get a shot at pitching in more high leverage situations out of the bullpen instead.
I think more important than finding a “closer” this offseason, the Blue Jays just need to focus on adding more quality relievers to the bullpen.
Because if the club finds themselves preoccupied with only finding a ninth inning guy (which there aren’t really many left of in the free agent pool), they could let a potential setup man or another late inning relief guy slip through their fingers.
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