It’s been a long time since the Blue Jays had a bullpen that could be considered elite. Probably not since the days of Henke, Ward, and Timlin could Toronto boast of having one of, if not the best bullpens in baseball. Since the glory days of the Blue Jays bullpen in the early 90’s, the bullpen has unfortunately become an area of neglect for Toronto. Only with the success the team experienced the past two seasons have they found themselves in a position to spend and go out and bolster the bullpen as the season progressed. Unfortunately, these strong Toronto teams of the past few years still lacked a reliable and dominant bullpen at the beginning of both 2015 and 2016. The recent signing of left-handed reliever J.P. Howell brings the Blue Jays bullpen that much closer to respectability to begin the 2017 season…it also fills the void left by Brett Cecil.
Most teams are going to ease their way into a new season, working out the kinks as it’s players develop their skills over the course of a season. The bullpen is no different in that regard, but just once it would be nice for a recent Blue Jays team that has the potential to contend to begin the season with a bullpen worthy of a contender. Unlike the past two years where it wasn’t until mid-season before Toronto acquired relievers like Jason Grilli, LaTroy Hawkins, and Mark Lowe, the addition of Howell at this early point of the year is a comforting feeling knowing that the Blue Jays bullpen is now that much better when they begin the season.
At 33, and although coming off a rough 2016 (4.09 ERA, 1.401 WHIP), it shouldn’t take away from the fact that Howell was an incredible reliever during his time with both the Rays and Dodgers, and still capable (I believe) of regaining the form that’s served him so well over his career. Howell has had five seasons where his ERA was sub 3.00, including a 2.03 (2013), 2.22 (2008), 2.39 (2014), 2.84 (2009), and his best year, happening only two seasons ago when he posted a ridiculous 1.43 ERA in 65 games. And at only $3 million for the 2017 season, Howell is an absolute bargain compared to the 4 years/$30.5 million that the Cardinals offered to Cecil.
Back when Howell was with the Rays, whenever he faced the Blue Jays, the Toronto hitters could barely touch him (2.13 ERA in 32 appearances against Toronto). Although he doesn’t possess much when it comes to velocity, his bread and butter is the movement he’s able to generate on his pitches from having an incredibly physical and athletic delivery. If given the choice between a healthy Howell vs a healthy Cecil, I’d most certainly take Howell, that’s how good he can be when he’s on top of his game. The acquisition of Howell is bigger than some might think for the Blue Jays…he gives Toronto that left-handed reliever they so sorely needed, while at a price that still allows Ross Atkins to go out and get a little more help.