Much has been made recently over the struggles of the Toronto Blue Jays’ bullpen, and for good reason. In the Jays’ most recent weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles, the bullpen surrendered 12 runs in 11-2/3 innings. The Orioles took two of three from Toronto, and very nearly took the first game of the series, despite being no-hit by Marco Estrada for seven innings. This was not the first time the bullpen has struggled this season for the Jays, as their bullpen ERA of 3.72 ranks 18th in the league.
The primary culprit dragging down the Toronto bullpen has been “closer” Brett Cecil. Clearly, that is a term to be used lightly. Cecil has posted a 5.96 ERA on the year, and has a 1-4 record. His duties as closer were briefly stripped of him and handed to Miguel Castro, but Castro did not fare much better, with just a 4.38 ERA in 13 games before being demoted. Cecil has recorded just five saves, and the team’s total of 10 saves ranks dead last in Major League Baseball. Overall, Toronto has blown more saves — 12 — than they have actually converted.
Cecil has blown only two of his seven save opportunities, but has given up nearly a hit an inning, and has also allowed four home runs in 22.2 innings. The right-hander was very effective as a setup man in 2013 and 2014, striking out 11.5 per nine over that two season span. He is still striking out batters at a good clip this year — 10.3 K/9 — but he is also giving up too many walks and allowing too much solid contact.
It does not appear likely that Cecil will figure himself out this year. By the end of June, statistics are what they are, and it is harder to lean on “statistical corrections.” The Blue Jays cannot afford to allow Cecil to work through his issues in the closer role. The rest of the division has woken up, and the Blue Jays risk falling further behind the surging Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays. Toronto’s recent hot streak was driven by the bats, and the bats alone, but the team needs a solid bullpen if it expects to continue winning.
Because the Blue Jays need so much bullpen help, they have been repeatedly tossed out as the most likely landing spot for a closer-on-the-block like Aroldis Chapman or Jonathan Papelbon. Neither of these All-Stars, especially Chapman, will come cheap. The Jays will need to be prepared to surrender a handful of their top prospects as well as a significant chunk of change to get Chapman or Papelbon. To me, that would be a mistake, as the Blue Jays already have an excellent option in their bullpen who should be given a chance to close.
Roberto Osuna, the 20-year-old right-handed rookie, has been nothing short of phenomenal this season. In 34.0 innings, he has pitched to a 2.12 ERA with 40 strikeouts and only 10 walks. Osuna has allowed only one home run, and opponents are batting just .175 against him. He can touch the upper nineties with his fastball, and has good command of his slider and changeup. In the series with the Orioles, Osuna impressed, with three strikeouts in 1.1 innings.
The best option for the Blue Jays is to give Osuna a chance to close over the next month leading up to the trade deadline. This gives them time to evaluate whether or not a deal for Papelbon or Chapman is really necessary. The Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies are in no rush to trade either, and should the Blue Jays decide they must get a closer, both options should still be on the table. Should Toronto decide they do not need an elite closer, the team should consider bringing in a lower tier reliever such as Francisco Rodriguez of the Milwaukee Brewers, who they have also been linked to. Rodriguez could serve to mentor the young Osuna, as he received his first taste of postseason stardom at the ripe age of 20.
The Blue Jays have the potential to end the longest postseason drought in the four major sports this season. Toronto has not experienced postseason baseball since 1993, and the pressure is on this year, as the Blue Jays have, by far, the best offense in all of baseball. That offense, however, will not take them very far if their bullpen continues to falter. Toronto must figure out how to handle its ninth inning woes. A trade is certainly an option, with All-Stars on the block, but before rushing into a trade that will cost them the potential prospects required to bring back a starting pitcher, the Blue Jays must give Roberto Osuna a shot at winning the closer job. He may be a rookie, and there may be some growing pains, but Osuna looks ready, and could be the answer to Toronto’s late-game problems.