When the Blue Jays announced this past Sunday that Drew Storen was designated for assignment, I assumed he would just slip into the ether and walk away as a Blue Jay for good. It turns out somebody else was going to walk out of the ether before Drew Storen walked in: Joaquin Benoit.
In the second surprise deal of the day on Tuesday, the Blue Jays sent Drew Storen and cash considerations to the Seattle Mariners for Joaquin Benoit. The Jays and Mariners essentially showed up to the bad contract swap meet and took home each other’s relief scraps.
I imagine the negotiation between the Blue Jays and Mariners went something like this:
Blue Jays – "Any interest in Drew Storen?"
Mariners – "Sure. We're thinking abou"
Blue Jays – "Done."
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) July 27, 2016
The fact that the Blue Jays were able to parlay Drew Storen into anything at all is pretty remarkable. I thought the Blue Jays were going to try to slip him through waivers, and failing that, likely just release Storen altogether and eat the remainder of his contract.
But the Seattle Mariners opted to bring Joaquin Benoit to the bargaining table, and apparently that was enough to get it done. Both players are “change of scenery” candidates and could use a fresh start with a new team.
However, Benoit was still on the Mariners 25-man roster at the time of the trade, so that tells you the calibre of relievers we’re dealing with here; one was designated for assignment and the other was traded away for practically nothing.
Much like Drew Storen, Joaquin Benoit used to be one of the premier relievers in the National League. Both found themselves setting up games to begin the season, and both struggled in their transition over to the American League this year with new clubs.
So what are the Blue Jays getting in Joaquin Benoit? They’re getting a guy who’s pitched predominately in a setup role the past two seasons. All but six of his 93 appearances since the beginning of 2015 have come in the eighth inning.
Benoit was the go-to setup guy in Seattle and San Diego, but that may not be the case anymore. Benoit has had some trouble with walks this season (currently riding a career-high 5.5 BB/9 walk rate), but his strikeout numbers are on par with his career norm.
Even though his numbers weren’t great with the Seattle Mariners, the eighth inning was essentially Joaquin Benoit’s. That role on the Blue Jays roster is currently occupied by Jason Grilli; but with his wealth of experience in the role, Joaquin Benoit could very easily overtake Grilli for that role in the bullpen.
But that all seems like a best case scenario for Joaquin Benoit. The much likelier scenario is he slots in somewhere between Joe Biagini and Jesse Chavez on the bullpen depth chart. Benoit is not somebody who should be called upon in a high leverage situation immediately, but he’s okay to throw middle relief for now.
Joaquin Benoit isn’t the prototypical back end of the bullpen in that he doesn’t have a tremendous strikeout rate and he doesn’t induce a lot of whiffs. What Benoit does well is limiting hard contact on the ball, as FanGraphs dove into this past offseason.
The interesting parallel between Joaquin Benoit and Jason Grilli is that although they’re both 39 year-old relievers, they can still consistently throw 92-94 miles per hour. Drew Storen’s drop in velocity this season was well-documented and he still hasn’t regained his form as a reliever who can throw 93-94 MPH.
While the Blue Jays struck gold with the Jason Grilli trade, it’s presumptuous to assume Joaquin Benoit might turn into Jason Grilli 2.0 with the Blue Jays. I’m of the belief that if Benoit can provide something … anything in terms of value out of the bullpen, then the deal is a win for the Blue Jays.
I really like Benoit’s track record as a 15-year veteran and his turnaround could be as simple as getting a fresh start with the Blue Jays and pitching in lover leverage situations. Storen seemed like much more of a lost cause to me, whereas Benoit can still bounce back down the stretch.
This may not be heralded as one of the transactions which helps secure a playoff spot for the Blue Jays, but with very little risk involved here, it’s the quintessential “why not?” trade.
Why not see if Joaquin Benoit has something left in the tank? And if he doesn’t, the Blue Jays gave up next to nothing for Benoit anyway. It’s a worthwhile risk to take for a bullpen which has seen its fair share of struggling relievers.