When discussing how the Blue Jays might go about spending the roughly $5-million remaining in the team’s payroll, Ross Atkins was quoted in an article by TSN’s Scott Mitchell as saying…
“The bullpen relief market has been a solid market this year for players. A lot of relief pitchers were signed and signed early, but there still are some interesting arms out there that are available, some of them former starters and some guys we might look at in a more creative way.”
From the sounds of it, it appears as if the Blue Jays may be looking to bring in a pitcher with some experience starting, but who will initially be used out of the bullpen. If one of Toronto’s top five starting pitchers does happen to get injured, this new pitcher could then be inserted into the rotation.
Toronto’s achilles heal in 2017 was their lack of depth when it came to starting pitchers. The strange thing is, as things currently stand, the Blue Jays starting pitching depth isn’t all that much different compared to one year ago. Much like he was last season, Joe Biagini is still considered Toronto’s 6th starting pitcher on their depth chart. If the Blue Jays want to get the most out of Biagini however, they’ll keep him in the bullpen for the year and not waiver from that.
As for the idea of signing a free agent pitcher with a history of starting, and who’d also be OK working out of the bullpen, there are some interesting options available. Here’s a look at several free agent pitchers who could make for a very good fit in this role with the Blue Jays.
When healthy, Buchholz was an incredible talent and one of the most untouchable starting pitchers in the American League East between 2010-2013. Unfortunately, Buchholz is also injury prone and at age 33 a move to the bullpen would be a wise decision at this stage of his career. Last season, Buchholz only ended up making two starts and pitching 7.1 innings before partially tearing the flexor tendon in his right forearm. An injury that required surgery and ended his season in April.
Cahill is a lot like Buchholz. A once young and very solid starting pitcher who’d probably be best served working out of the bullpen moving forwards. Although Cahill still has what it takes to start, and start well, he hasn’t started a minimum of 30 games since 2012 when he was just 24. During his only full season as a reliever (2016) with the Cubs, he posted an impressive 2.97 ERA and 60.2 IP.
Originally, I had Chris Tillman listed in this spot. But seeing as he agreed to a deal with the Orioles this morning, we’ve gone ahead and replaced him with R.A. Dickey. There’s a couple of reasons why we didn’t at first have Dickey listed here. The first reason is that he’s probably still good enough to start somewhere and the idea of him not being a starter might not appeal to him. The second is that I don’t know how Dickey’s unpredictable knuckleball will play coming out of the bullpen. One thing is for certain, back in 2016 when the Blue Jays acquired Francisco Liriano and Dickey got bumped from the rotation, it was a comforting feeling to know he was there in case one of Toronto’s starters ever got injured.
The biggest influencing factor regarding how Toronto goes about spending this final $5-million relates to how how confident they are when it comes to their starting pitching beyond Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, and Jaime Garcia. Perhaps if prospects such as Ryan Borucki or Thomas Pannone appear ready to start at the big league level sooner than expected, it would negate the need to bring in a pitcher like Cahill or Buchholz. If on the other hand, Toronto feels the need to give these pitching prospects another year in the minors and keep Biagini in the bullpen…then taking a chance on Cahill or Buchholz may just be in the cards for the Blue Jays.