DUNEDIN, Fla. – The 25-man opening day roster the Toronto Blue Jays intend to unveil Wednesday morning will reflect the planning necessary for a full season, a balance of selecting the best players with a mind toward asset management.
To that end, they moved closer to settling matters Tuesday by releasing Steve Delabar and Randy Choate, while revealing that Marco Estrada will “probably” begin the season on the disabled list and that Rule 5 pick Joe Biagini is likely to break camp with the team.
Still on the to-do list is deciding who ends up closer between Drew Storen and Roberto Osuna, picking between reverse-split righty Ryan Tepera and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte for the final spot in the bullpen (Arnold Leon is expected to make the team, Aaron Loup is bound for the DL) and choosing a fourth outfielder from Ezequiel Carrera, Darrell Ceciliani, Junior Lake and Domonic Brown.
CLOSER TO HOME: Watch Stephen Brunt’s TV special Roberto Osuna: Sinaloa to the Show on Sportsnet, April 2 at 4 p.m., following Red Sox vs. Blue Jays in Montreal
Manager John Gibbons is expected to make the announcements Wednesday morning before the team travels to Fort Myers for their Grapefruit League finale against the Minnesota Twins.
“We’ve got to finalize some things,” Gibbons said after his team played just two innings against the Tampa Bay Rays before rain forced the cancellation of their spring home finale.
Estrada, slated to pitch in a minor-league game Wednesday, was slowed by back troubles this spring and the Blue Jays want to build him up more. He’s expected to miss one start and make his season debut April 10 at home against the Boston Red Sox.
The Blue Jays won’t need a fifth starter until then, and putting Estrada on the DL allows them to “carry an extra reliever. It’s not finalized yet but that’s probably what’s going to happen.”
That extra reliever is Biagini, the Rule 5 pick who’s impressed in the spring and must be offered back to the San Francisco Giants for $25,000 if he doesn’t spend the entire season on the big-league roster. The teams can also try to work out a trade.
“We like him, he’s got a great arm, we think he’s just coming into his own,” said Gibbons. “You don’t want to keep him all spring and not take a chance and look at him, see what you’ve got before you send him back. Nothing definite but he could be on the team.”
The release of Delabar (more on that later) and Choate, who is mulling an offer to pitch at triple-A Buffalo, leaves Leon, who is out of options, plus Tepera and Venditte, who both have options, vying for the final two spots in the bullpen.
Tepera may have an edge because of his velocity and a slight mechanical adjustment in his delivery to improve the depth on his cutter to righties, but Venditte has also opened eyes and posted strong numbers against left-handed hitters last year. The odd man out is sure to be called up when need arises.
The closer call may be a coin flip – “They’ve got to have nerves of steel,” Gibbons said of the qualities he likes for the role – as both have looked good all spring. Osuna’s stuff has drawn rave reviews, but Storen’s experience is seen as a plus.
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Carrera is the favourite to end up as the fourth outfielder – he’s staying back with the rest of the team while Ceciliani, Lake and Brown are on the trip to Fort Myers. Ceciliani had the strongest camp but has options remaining, while Carrera and Lake do not. Brown is at camp on a minor-league deal.
Another consideration is that Ceciliani, just 25, still has some room to develop as a player and might benefit from playing regularly at Buffalo rather than being used sparingly in Toronto.
“We’ve talked about that, especially early in the season,” said Gibbons. “Whoever goes down can play their way onto the team, too, by performing well.”
The arrival of some roster clarity brought some relief to the less certain corners of the Blue Jays clubhouse, but the parting of ways with Delabar, an all-star in 2013 before he rode the relief-life roller-coaster, was a difficult one.
Teammates and club staff came by his locker, offering handshakes, hugs and words of encouragement to someone who completed a remarkable comeback from a fractured elbow to dominate in 2013 before his career trajectory took a downward spiral.
“They just told me I was not going to make the team and that I was going to be put on release waivers, and best of luck,” said Delabar, calm and positive in contrast to last spring, when he was frustrated and angry after being optioned to Buffalo. “The last year and a half or so hasn’t been as smooth as possible but I thanked them for bringing me in and giving me the opportunity to at least get innings and get myself back out there. I felt like I had a good enough spring that I could have made this team. They didn’t see it that way. I’m OK with it because I feel like my body is where I need it to be, my stuff is back and I might be able to get an opportunity with another team.”
Delabar is on release waivers and if a team doesn’t claim him, the Blue Jays will owe him 45 days of pay from his $835,000 salary before he becomes a free agent. This is generally a bad time to find work for players as teams often have both their major and minor league rosters set.
Still, relievers with Delabar’s pedigree and stuff get lots of chances. And he feels good about his chances and about where his game is at.
“Mentally I’m in a different place, I feel much different with physically where I am, I just feel like I’m in a better place,” he said. “Last year, it caught me off guard because I thought I was having a decent spring and then they came in said that. Last year there weren’t any lockdown guys in the ‘pen. You had a few guys and I felt like I was going to be a big part of that. It didn’t end up being that way. This year, I knew it was a possibility it was going to happen.”
The resolution is coming for the rest of the team Wednesday, although an important caveat to keep in mind is that the first 25 a team starts won’t be the same 25 it finishes with.