DUNEDIN, Fla. – Eventually, the Toronto Blue Jays will start narrowing the pool of candidates getting serious consideration for the 2016 bullpen, but they remain in add-mode for now, as evidenced by the signing of former all-star closer Rafael Soriano.
The 36-year-old right-hander joins a crowded bullpen mix on a minor league contract that includes an invitation to big league spring training, where he’ll have the chance to show manager John Gibbons and pitching coach Pete Walker that he can rebound from last year’s poor showing.
Soriano pitched at the MLB level in 2015, but his last taste of MLB success came as a member of the 2014 Washington Nationals, when he posted a 3.19 ERA with 32 saves and 59 strikeouts in 62 innings in the same bullpen as current Blue Jays reliever Drew Storen. At the time, dominant seasons were the norm for Soriano, who saved 40-plus games three times from 2010-13, establishing himself as one of MLB’s top relievers.
That run of success ended abruptly in 2015, when Soriano pitched in just six games with the Chicago Cubs. After signing Soriano to a minor league contract last June, the Cubs placed him on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation on July 31. Chicago would release him Sept. 4 after seeing his average velocity drop to 90.7 mph, down from 94.6 mph in his prime.
Storen, Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup will almost certainly make the Blue Jays’ bullpen, while the roles of Aaron Sanchez, Jesse Chavez and Gavin Floyd have yet to be determined. Soriano joins a bullpen competition that includes the likes of Steve Delabar, Bo Schultz, Ryan Tepera, Pat Venditte and David Aardsma.
The Blue Jays have added experience in recent weeks, signing Domonic Brown, Tony Sanchez and Soriano to minor league deals.