Where does Nolin fit into the Blue Jays’ plans?

Sean Nolin could be a candidate for the rotation or bullpen at some point in 2015 depending on how the off-season shakes out, or he may be a chip general manager Alex Anthopoulos decides to play. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO – The free-agent relief market is crawling along this off-season, with only two significant signings of note thus far – Koji Uehara remaining with the Boston Red Sox for $18 million over two years, and Zach Duke getting $15 million over three from the Chicago White Sox.

That’s why for teams that have heavy lifting to do in their bullpens, like the Toronto Blue Jays, the end game has yet to come into focus.

The glut of available relievers is thought to be one reason for the marketplace’s slow pace, as lower tiered arms may want to wait for top closer David Robertson to establish the going rate.

For someone such as closer-in-waiting Andrew Miller, believed to be a Blue Jays target, that would certainly make sense, as he’d easily slot in above Duke’s $5 million average annual value over three, if not four years, and below whatever Robertson gets.

In the interim, the Blue Jays must also weigh their plethora of internal options and decide which of their young arms are ready to either contribute, serve as depth or be used as trade bait.

Sean Nolin, who recently completed a solid stint in the Arizona Fall League, may very well check the box on each of those fronts.

The 6-4, 230-pound left-hander could be a candidate for the rotation or bullpen at some point in 2015 depending on how the off-season shakes out, or he may be a chip general manager Alex Anthopoulos decides to play.

The Philadelphia Phillies scouted Nolin prior to the non-waiver trade deadline in the summer, and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this week that the Oakland Athletics have also inquired about him.

Nolin, who turns 25 on Dec. 26, is ready for any opportunity that presents itself.

“I’m going to be working hard this off-season, getting my legs feeling good, stuff like that,” he says during a recent interview. “I’m going to go into spring training and if they need me as a starter, I’ll be ready, hopefully be like that sixth man for the rotation, but wherever they need me. If they say, ‘Hey, we need you to come in the late innings and get lefties out, or be a hard left-handed thrower coming in,’ I’ll do that. I want to be in the big-leagues, so whatever their plans are, I’ll be up for.”

Nolin was 4-6 with a 3.50 ERA in 17 starts for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons last season, with a WHIP of 1.248 and 7.6 strikeouts per nine over 87.1 innings. Groin troubles hampered his campaign but he still earned a September call-up, doing an inning of mop-up work in a 14-4 win over Seattle on Sept. 22, surrendering a Chris Denorfia solo shot.

With the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL, he was 2-1 with a 4.03 ERA over seven starts, striking out 24 in 22.1 innings.

“I haven’t really thought too much about (relieving) just because I’ve always been a starter, but I was there for a month in relief, I know I got up a couple of times, got in once, so I would think they’ve had some kind of thought on that,” he says. “If I’m going to be in the big-leagues in the bullpen, I’ll take that job for sure. …

“Just getting that chance at maybe being in the big-leagues for a couple of months in the ‘pen, then all of a sudden they say, ‘Hey, we need you to start,’ maybe just that comfort level can help me out a bunch.”

Here’s some more from Nolin:

SN: What were some of your focal points in the AFL?

Nolin: “I would say a little bit of polishing off from the season, throwing strikes, pounding the zone, pounding the zone early and trying to finish late either in the zone or throwing a strike and making it a ball. Definitely not falling behind, trying to stay away from 2-1 counts and deeper, 2-2s, 3-2s, so I’m not going so far into each at-bat, because I’ll be out early. … There have been a couple outings here where I’ve showed that, strike percentage was pretty high.”

SN: What were your main points of progress in 2014?

Nolin: “Coming back after the little injury I had, I started the season feeling good, feeling strong coming in and right after the cold weather went to warm, I don’t know if my body loosened up too quick or whatnot, something didn’t feel right. I tried coming back the first time, it didn’t work, then the second time it finally did. Getting back on my feet and getting back up on the mound was big, that’s a hard thing to do, especially in the middle of the season, when all hitters and fielders are at the top of their game. The first few starts back I didn’t do so great, but the last four or five of the season were definitely good going into September.”

SN: How would you describe your September experience?

Nolin: “I was very anxious, very excited. For the first three weeks I didn’t get in a game but I was always ready. That took a lot out of me, there was a lot of energy being used just being, ‘All right, you’ve got to be ready in case you’re called on.’ I’d be stretching every fifth inning, I did that for three weeks straight, so it was good to finally get in there, I released some built-up energy I had, but obviously I would have liked to get in there a few more times. We were still in the race and all the starters were going six-plus the whole month, they were doing their jobs, so they didn’t need as much help as usual.”

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