The Blue Jays’ Bullpen of Interchangeable Long Arms

It may be hard to believe, but in just over two weeks, the Toronto Blue Jays will be making their final roster cuts and constructing their Opening Day roster. There’s only a short time left in Spring Training, and yet so many positions are up for grabs.

One area which is still very much in limbo is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. Aside from a few mainstay relievers like Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup, there are still five and possibly even six spots for relievers; that’s six arms and quite a few candidates to fill that void.

I noticed this as I attempted to discern what the Blue Jays bullpen might look like come April 6th for the season opener at Yankee Stadium. With all those arms still in camp, I found it noticeably difficult to whittle them all down to simply seven or eight guys.


So if it’s tough for an outsider to determine what the bullpen is supposed to look like, imagine what it must be like for John Gibbons and the Blue Jays’ coaching staff to decide.

The Blue Jays definitely went with the quantity over quality this offseason in the relief department. They’ve hung onto some bullpen incumbents, they’re hoping for career rejuvenation in a few other cases (Delabar and Drabek), and they may even take a flier on a few of their young arms as well (Castro and Osuna).

But when all is said and done, the Blue Jays will likely only fork out around $10 million dollars for an entire eight-man bullpen this season. FanGraphs projected the Blue Jays to have the lowest overall bullpen payroll in all of baseball.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon is making $13 million dollars all on his own in 2015.

Back to the issue at hand; assembling that Opening Day bullpen. It appears to be a tough exercise, but as I attempted to pencil in seven or eight names in for relief roles, a pattern revealed itself – there were a lot of long relief or starting pitchers.

Potentially up to five of the bullpen spots are earmarked by guys who have either started games within the past two seasons, or are currently being stretched out as starters.

Here’s a look at how their innings have broken down the past few seasons for all the long relief guys, former starters and current starters. (Both MLB and MiLB stats included)

Player Starts (Last 2 seasons) Relief IP (Last 2 seasons)
Marco Estrada 39 43.2
Todd Redmond 14 82.2
Aaron Sanchez 40 33
Daniel Norris 48 6.2
Chad Jenkins 17 50
Kyle Drabek 24 5.1
Liam Hendricks 51 13.2
Miguel Castro 17 2
Roberto Osuna 18 1

The only “true” relievers on the team right now (and by “true” I mean it’s incredibly unlikely they ever start again) are Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup and Steve Delabar.


So are all these long arms in the bullpen just a happy accident or is it by design? Considering that the back end of the rotation might comprise of rookies like Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris, it’s probably by design.

And that seems like a fairly safe and wise strategy to employ by the Blue Jays; stack the bullpen with a tonne of long relief guys who can also spot start in a pinch.

It also makes the bullpen and the fourth and the fifth spot in the rotation very interchangeable. Say Aaron Sanchez struggles out of the gate; he could simply trade places with Marco Estrada and be relegated to the bullpen.

If Daniel Norris fails to find his footing as the fifth starter, then throw Miguel Castro on the mound and see how he fares. Meanwhile, Norris could go back to the bullpen and pitch in relief just as he did at season’s end in 2014.

Speaking of Castro, I find it interesting the club is continuing to stretch him out throughout Spring Training. He had a three inning outing on Tuesday against the Yankees, and reports surfaced that the Blue Jays want him to pitch four innings during his next scheduled outing.

By all indications, Castro will very likely crack the Opening Day roster as one of the members of the bullpen. But it’s kind of curious how the Blue Jays are maximizing his innings during Castro’s Spring Training outings.


If Spring Training is going to be any preview of what’s to come from the Blue Jays’ pitching staff in 2015, I think it’s indicative their bullpen and rotation might be in a constant state of flux this season.

Thus the surplus of interchangeable long relief arms.

Image courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.