Bullpen a prime factor in Blue Jays’ struggles

Casey Janssen. Winslow Townson/AP

Blame it on the bullpen. In Alex Anthopoulos’ post-mortem on Sunday, the Toronto Blue Jays general manager put greater focus on his relievers than everyone else’s favourite hobby-horse: the Blue Jays defence, in particular the diminishing asset that is Jose Reyes.

“We expected to have a top five bullpen,” Anthopoulos said. “We didn’t get that elite ‘pen that we hoped for.”

And now they’ll be without free-agent closer Casey Janssen – whose farewell wave to the crowd on Sunday reinforced that he’s already gone. There are some who believe Brett Cecil can close, especially after finishing the season with a 19 2/3 inning scoreless streak; alas manager John Gibbons is said not to be one of them.

Anthopoulos suggested the organization would look at acquiring a set-up man capable of closing – think David Robertson of the New York Yankees – or simply use free agency and trades to bring in as many good arms as possible and throw open a competition in spring training.

As for Aaron Sanchez? Anthopoulos acknowledged the prospect was a big topic of debate in the Blue Jays year-end meetings and reiterated that Sanchez will be stretched out in to spring training. If the Blue Jays trade, say, R.A. Dickey in the off-season – and there are members of the uniformed staff and front office who will tell you they’ve changed their minds in the past month and will urge Anthopoulos to trade Dickey before Buehrle because of the latter’s stature in the clubhouse – the way is open for Sanchez to start. But there is also a scenario where he closes, and make no mistake: it is real.

One observers pick for baseball’s post-season individual awards:

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – first player to lead the AL in runs, RBIs and extra base hits since Ken Griffey, Jr,. in 1997.

AL Cy Young: Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians – advanced metrics and regular statistics and a better second half give him the edge over Felix Hernandez

AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox – the fourth rookie in club history with 100-plus RBIs and the first since Ron Kittle (1983)

AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles – he’s won in 1994 (New York Yankees) and 2004 (Texas Rangers) so he’s due.

NL MVP: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers – Dodgers are a .500 team without him.

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers – gave up two earned runs or less in 20 of 27 starts.

NL Rookie of the Year: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets – his 1.79 earned run average after July 8 trailed only Clayton Kershaw.

NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates – one year after ending a 21-year playoff drought, Hurdle guided his team on an impressive finishing kick in the games toughest division, the NL Central.

The things you learn in a week hosting a sports call-in show:

“When I was at the (MLS) office, David Beckham went back and trained at Tottenham and I remember pulling an all-nighter to get Thierry Henry back to Arsenal for an FA Cup match. It’s definitely something we’ve discussed; keeping our guys fresh and sharp in the off-season are two things we must balance. But training stints are normal in the world of soccer.”

(*)Tim Bezbatchenko, Toronto FC general manager, appears to open the door to a winter loan move of Jermaine Defoe. Full interview

“I draw the line on, say, something that’s embarrassing and humiliating to the player. Like, somebody called me up and wanted (Derek Jeter’s) chewing gum, when he spit it out, to put it up on auction. I said: ‘I’m not going to do that; I’m not stupid.’”

(*)Brandon Steiner, Founder and CEO of the New York Yankees official memorabilia marketer, Steiner Sports Marketing, discusses what is off base in the field of memorabilia – and, yes, he admitted that selling a Derek Jeter used game sock for $409.99 was a mistake in taste on his part. Full interview

“The problem is that men’s four-man is a difficult challenge and the competition is extremely fierce. Putting myself in a sled with three other guys … athletically we (women) can keep up. You cross-gender too much … again, the starts in our sport are one-third the race, so if you stick too many girls in there with four big, strong, huge guys … it will have to be a balance. I’m just thankful that now the opportunity is available so I can go forward. I plan on having three men in my sled this year.”

(*)Kaillie Humphries, two-time Canadian Olympic gold medallist in women’s bobsleigh and the most dominant driver in her sport, helped spear-head a successful move this week to allow female competitors to take part in the four-man bobsleigh, which has been restricted to males. Women will be allowed effective the start of this World Cup campaign, and there is a chance that a women’s four-man bobsleigh competition is on the horizon. Full interview

(*)A quick glance at some of the remaining unsigned free agents – Dan Carcillo, Paul Bissonnette, George Parros, Krys Barch, Matt Kassian, Zenon Konopka and Kevin Westgarth – suggests there is a new emphasis in the NHL on having fourth-liners with some degree of measurable skill beyond the ability to fight. We have finally moved, it seems, toward a new definition of toughness …

(*)Could Minnesota Wild’s Zach Parise be throwing his lot in with the NHL’s new numbers gurus? Don’t look now, but a guy who cut his teeth in the New Jersey Devils system sounds like he’s become a fan of puck possession. Dumping the puck in should be, in his words, a second or third option. “I read a study this summer that showed shots generated off carrying the puck in as opposed to dumping it in, it’s like 4-to-1,” Parise told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I just found it so interesting, because everyone’s like: ‘Forecheck, forecheck, forecheck.’ I get it, but you dump the puck, you have to get it back. All you’re doing is giving the puck away. I mean, it’s so hard to get it, why would you give it away … I just got kind of, not brainwashed, but my last couple years in New Jersey we were so adamant about dumping it in.” Zach Parise: renaissance man.

(*)If you’re looking for a ray of hope that might suggest the Toronto Blue Jays can re-sign Melky Cabrera, it’s that Cabrera quietly changed agents this winter and is now represented by Jose Reyes’ agents, Peter Greenberg and Chris Leible, instead of ACES (Sam and Seth Levinson.) Greenberg and Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos have had a strong relationship for years, going back to Anthopoulos’ days as an assistant GM. That may not mean a lot but, hey, that’s all I got for you.

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