The 2017 edition of the Toronto Blue Jays continued to take shape Tuesday evening with the reported signing of left-hander J.P. Howell to a one-year, $3-million deal.
Blue Jays fans might be familiar with the reliever, who spent six of his 11 big-league seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. Don’t remember those days? Here’s a quick refresher: He excels at inducing ground balls and is a slow worker with an even slower fastball — think Mark Buehrle out of the bullpen.
But what else should you know about the Modesto, Calif., native? Let’s fill you in with some tidbits.
Name: J.P. Howell
Height: Six-foot | Weight: 180 lbs.
Contract status: Will become free agent after 2017 season
Howell figures to replace Brett Cecil, who signed a four-year, $30.5-million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, as the go-to lefty in the Blue Jays bullpen. While Cecil throws harder, had a better 2016 season and is three years younger than Howell, the two pitchers’ stats are comparable over the past four years.
Here’s a look at some of their career numbers from 2013-2016.
Former Blue Jays general manager and current Dodgers executive Alex Anthopoulos noted on Prime Time Sports Tuesday that Howell is a positive presence in the clubhouse. All-star Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen can attest to that.
“J.P. takes a lot of the insecurity out of me since he got here,” Jansen told MLB.com in October about his Dodgers teammate from 2013-16. “I can get people out, but sometimes you have that insecurity in you and I was young  in 2013 when he came here. Since then, me and him, we have a great bond together. I was insecure with myself pitching out there. And I was too sensitive. He slowed me down and taught me so many things.”
With the veteran Howell alongside elder statesman Jason Grilli, the youngsters in the Blue Jays bullpen appear to be in good hands.
Once Howell’s contract is official, he’ll become the most playoff-tested member of the Blue Jays pitching staff. His 24 appearances across five trips to the post-season (two with the Rays and three with the Dodgers) are easily the best mark on the team. Grilli’s 16 games are second.
Howell has had some success in the playoffs, posting an 0-3 record with a 3.10 ERA over 20.1 innings while allowing 21 hits, walking seven and striking out 23. However, he was left off the Dodgers’ 2016 playoff roster due to his struggles throughout the regular season.
Howell’s got a fiery side to him, as evidenced by this 2013 brawl between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Howell, who weighs in at a light 180-pounds, can be clearly spotted punching Arizona coach Tuner Ward and attempting to throw him over the camera railing at the 5:30 mark.
Howell later admitted that he was caught up in the moment and the two amicably buried the hatchet in early 2016 when Ward was hired as the Dodgers hitting coach.
“I know exactly what J.P. was doing in that situation, doing what you would want any guy on your team to do,” Ward told the Los Angeles Times. “We had a really good laugh about it.”
BEST AGAINST BEST
Even though Howell can’t overpower hitters with his stuff, he’s known as a tough competitor. Having been around for 11 seasons, he’s proved that facing off against some of the sport’s best.
Over his career Howell faced now-retired Red Sox slugger David Ortiz more times than any other batter and held the left-handed hitter to a .227 average (5-for-22). Current Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has hit .143 (2-for-19) while retired mashers Alex Rodriguez (.154), Mark Teixeira (.167) and Jim Thome (.182) did not fare well, either.