Jays off-season needs: possible relief targets

Luke Hochevar, Francisco Rodriguez and Ken Giles are among the pitchers who could be of interest to teams seeking impact relievers (AP)

There’s no question the Toronto Blue Jays will be shopping for relievers this winter. They finished 25th in baseball with an unexpectedly poor 4.09 ERA in 2014, and GM Alex Anthopoulos says the dropoff in  performance was one of the biggest reasons his team missed the playoffs.

The good news: the free agent market always includes plenty of relievers, and creative teams can uncover valuable relievers in trades. The bad news: there’s plenty of work to be done, particularly in terms of right-handed relief, with Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan hitting free agency.

Today we take a speculative look at potential relief options for the Blue Jays, starting inside the organization.

Blue Jays infield options | Blue Jays outfield options

Where Things Stand

The Blue Jays have a pair of quality left-handers in Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup. They have solid long relief thanks to Todd Redmond, Chad Jenkins and Kendall Graveman. Then there’s Aaron Sanchez, who will be stretched out as a starter in spring training, but remains a possibility for the Blue Jays’ bullpen depending on how the spring unfolds.

Aiming High

There’s no harm in trying for impact arms, even if they’re tough to obtain. Greg Holland and Wade Davis of the Royals could theoretically be available given Kansas City’s modest payroll, but persuading GM Dayton Moore to part with such important members of a pennant-winning team probably isn’t happening.

How about Ken Giles, who combined a 97 mph fastball with a nasty slider to post a 1.18 ERA for the Phillies? Or his teammate, Jake Diekman, whose 96 mph heater allowed him to strike out 100 batters in 71 innings? Tyler Clippard of the Nationals and Tony Sipp of the Astros (another lefty, but a good one) would help any team’s bullpen, yet it’d admittedly be tough to pull off a move for any of those relievers.

The free agent market includes Rafael Soriano, who lost the closing job in Washington this summer, and established late-inning relievers such as Francisco Rodriguez and Sergio Romo. Each one has a case for a multi-year deal and will generate plenty of interest.

The Blue Jays have never spent more than $4.5 million per year on a reliever under Anthopoulos, so it’d be a big surprise if Toronto went after David Robertson, the top reliever available.

Established Free Agents

The Blue Jays will look beyond established closers and target some setup relievers with closing potential. The free agent market for right-handed setup relievers includes the likes of Luke Gregerson, Joba Chamberlain and Jason Grilli. There’s also Burke Badenhop, who won’t overwhelm many hitters but posted a 61 percent ground ball rate regardless.

Buying Low

Two years ago, Davis and Zach Britton were failed starters – a reminder that dominant relievers come from unexpected places.

The hard part is figuring out who’s next. Randall Delgado looks like a candidate given his dynamic stuff (low opponents’ contact rate, 93.2 mph fastball velocity on average), age (24) and results in relief (.631 opponents’ OPS in relief, .930 opponents’ OPS as starter).

There are tons of other intriguing relievers out there, including Evan Marshall of the Diamondbacks (60.6 percent ground ball rate), Chris Hatcher of the Marlins (3.38 ERA, 95.1 mph fastball) and Christian Friedrich of the Rockies — a true buy-low who’d be a flier rather than a centrepiece (tons of swings and misses yet apparently out of options).

Keep in mind Luke Hochevar (Tommy John surgery), Jason Motte (Tommy John surgery) and Mike Adams (rotator cuff injury), intriguing free agents who missed most or all of the 2014 season recovering from injuries.

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