Blue Jays’ trade for Storen evidence of MLB’s changing arms race

With spring training drawing nearer, the Blue Jays closed up a major hole in their roster by trading Ben Revere for Drew Storen, a reliever who solidifies a shaky bullpen and adds options for the team going into 2016.

Of course you’d make the Drew Storen-for-Ben Revere trade, and let the whole leadoff hitter thing figure itself out. The Toronto Blue Jays dealt from an area of surplus (left field, where they still have Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey) to shore up the back end of their bullpen where they only had …

Uh, yeah.

The obvious conclusion from Friday’s deal with the Washington Nationals is that Storen will replace Aaron Sanchez, who will then move from the Blue Jays bullpen to bid for a spot in a starting rotation that already has Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey, J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison and Jesse Chavez. Or, perhaps Roberto Osuna starts, with Sanchez or Storen closing. There are enough arms here to keep some pretty interesting trade talks cooking through spring training.

At any rate, it’s further proof of the changing nature of baseball’s arms race. It’s not just that everybody’s trying to copy the Kansas City Royals’ nuclear bullpen, it’s that part of the trend is toward bullpen specialists – strikeout guys and groundball guys – and that it takes more pitchers to get through a season than it has in the past: major league teams used 735 pitchers last season, 23-per-cent more than as little as five years ago.

It’s been a remarkable off-season for relief pitchers. Of the 35 multi-year contracts handed out to free agents, 12 have gone to relievers. One team, the Houston Astros, will be forking over $18.5 million to three middle relievers (Pat Neshek, Luke Gregorson and Tony Sipp), which is the equivalent to 25 per cent of last season’s payroll; in fact, those three middle relievers will be their fourth, fifth and sixth-highest paid players. Closer Ken Giles, 25, will be pitching for a song – but that’s because the Astros traded four prospects to the Philadelphia Phillies to get him. Darren O’Day received a four-year, $31-million deal to re-sign with the Baltimore Orioles. He’d earned a shade over $8 million in his seven previous big-league seasons, all but two of which were on one-year deals. Mark Lowe and John Axford have gone from the cusp of oblivion to getting two-year contracts.

As for the Blue Jays leadoff spot? Unless another deal is in the works – and chatter is that the Blue Jays are not done – it will likely fall to Troy Tulowitzki or, eventually, Devon Travis to hit atop the order. Revere was in some ways a perfect leadoff hitter for this team – a left-handed hitter on a righty-heavy team who stole bases and made contact and was disciplined in the strike zone – but the Blue Jays figured they could sacrifice some offence for relief.

Used to be teams would blanche at trading an everyday player for a middle reliever. Not now: welcome to the new norm, where you really – really – can’t ever have enough pitching.

RAINES HAS A HALL OF A CHANCE

The summer of 2017 could be some kind of summer in Cooperstown for members of the Expos diaspora, with the possibility that two of the most beloved former Montreal Expos could be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Vladimir Guerrero will be on his first ballot and it’s a weak first-year class, with Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez and Jorge Posada having the strongest cases along with Guerrero. Vlad's case as a first-ballot Hall of Famer would be slim were it not for the thin ballot, although you don’t have to go subterranean to make a compelling case: you can rely on old-fashioned numbers.

Guerrero has a .318 career batting average, 2,590 hits and 449 home runs. The only other hitters with .300/2,500/400 lines in baseball history are Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams and, yeah, they’re all in the Hall.

Even if he doesn’t make it in on the first ballot – and playing in Montreal and on the West Coast cut down on his television exposure – it’s tough to see it taking more than three years for Guerrero to be inducted into Cooperstown. Whether it’s as an Expos player or wearing the cap of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is a tough call …

Another former Expos outfielder, Tim Raines, and Jeff Bagwell are slam dunks for induction next year. Bagwell was named on 71.6 per cent of ballots, Raines on 69.8 per cent and of 18 players to hit the 69 per cent figure with at least a year of eligibility left, the only one who wasn’t elected on the very next ballot was Jim Bunning. The guess here is both Raines and Bagwell get over 80 per cent in 2017 … and Expos Nation will be all over Cooperstown, with or without Vlad.

QUIBBLES AND BITS

• I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if Toronto Blue Jays right-fielder Jose Bautista does elect free agency, he is going to end up with the San Francisco Giants in 2017 – or, that if worse comes to worst for the Blue Jays this season, the Giants will be an ardent suitor should Bautista be made available at the trade deadline. San Francisco is the place to go if you want to win a World Series – although he might have to wait until 2018, since the Giants usually only win in even-numbered seasons – and the club is going to lose over $50 million from its payroll next winter, with two outfielders (Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan) part of the exodus. Even with Hunter Pence and Denard Span, there could be space for Bautista. Giants general manager Brian Sabean knows how to construct a roster: his team shed or saved $53.1 million this winter and was able to sign Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and even though they didn’t land one of the big arms, they were major players in the upper tier of the pitching market. That’s a turnover of over $100 million in salaries over two winters; that’s how you stay light on your feet and win repeated World Series.

• Never mind that $1.3-billion U.S. Powerball ticket up for grabs Tuesday, the number of the day is 476 … the number of goals Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin has scored since the Washington Redskins last won a playoff game. Ovechkin, who picked up his 500th goal Sunday night as the Redskins were being beaten by the Green Bay Packers, scored his 25th career goal on Jan. 6, 2006 against the Philadelphia Flyers – and a day later the Redskins beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17-10 in an NFC wild-card playoff game, their last post-season win.

• Seems like the football gods turned moralists for one weekend in the NFL playoffs. Serial miscreant Adam ‘Pac Man’ Jones embarrassed himself on Saturday and his selfish display of petulance helped light the fuse for the Cincinnati Bengals’ implosion against the Pittsburgh Steelers – poor ‘Pac Man’ claimed he was upset that Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter had gone on the field to cuss out the Bengals during an injury stoppage – and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, meanwhile, spit out the bit again in the post-season on Sunday, fumbling to lead to the Seattle Seahawks’ go-ahead field goal and being held to 45 yards. Peterson fumbled three times in the 2009 NFC Championship. The NFL is a league full of bad people and the game itself is morally corrupt on so many levels, but it was nice to see karma roll to a win over two of its more reprehensible individuals. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer shouldn’t be taken down because of Peterson … but Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis should wear this latest playoff flop.

THE ENDGAME

Perhaps we should consider it a warm-up for the NBA All-Star Game, because if DeMar DeRozan is selected to play in the event at the Air Canada Centre – and he and Kyle Lowry both deserve to be there – it’s a safe bet that DeRozan’s eligibility to opt out of his contract with the Toronto Raptors will be a major talking point, as it was this past week when the New York Post got tongues wagging with a matter of fact statement that DeRozan was going to opt out and that the Brooklyn Nets would covet him. It’s a sign of how far this franchise has come that when the Post decided to make a story out of nothing, there was little in the way of reaction – and that when both DeRozan and general manager Masai Ujiri spoke about the matter to Sportsnet 590/The Fan, it was clear that the player wanted to stay and the Raptors wanted him back. The question remains the same as it was a year ago: do the Raptors view him as a max player?

It’s a sign of how grown up this franchise and fanbase is that you can have a civil debate about it without resurrecting the ghosts of other high-profile departures from the franchise.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan.