One of the main concerns for the Toronto Blue Jays entering the offseason was the bullpen, and Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro added several pieces. The Jays are expected to head north with seven relievers, and here are my predictions for who they will be.
The Blue Jays bullpen was a work in progress this offseason, and with the additions of Latos, Howell, and Smith, it definitely has improved.
Latos was a minor league free-agent signing late in the offseason but now seems like he could make the Jays bullpen. Latos making the Jays bullpen is all about asset management for the Jays, as they will most likely need 15+ relievers throughout the season. That helps Latos as they can’t afford to lose potential bullpen arms before the season begins. Also, Latos can be a long man in the bullpen and potentially a spot starter every now and then.
Loup was supposed to be the second lefty in the Jays bullpen for the past couple of seasons. However, with Loup’s struggles and inconsistency being an issue, the time is now or never for him to make a serious case for a bullpen spot. With Brett Cecil departed via free agency and the Jays signing Howell, Loup is in the same position again to be a part of this bullpen or spend some time in Triple-A. Matt Dermody is slowly approaching, and right-hander Ryan Tepera could be that ‘second lefty’ due to his reverse splits. Loup will have some competition in spring.
Howell is one of the three free-agent signings the Jays gave out to relievers this past offseason. He is now 33 years old and has been around the AL East with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006-09 and again in 2011-12. The past couple seasons, Howell was in the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen, where he pitched very well last season except for the first two weeks of the season, which really derailed his ERA for the year. Howell is a lock to be in this bullpen and figures to replace Cecil and his role.
Smith was the other free-agent signing and will add much-needed depth and insurance when Osuna needs a night off. Smith has closed games before and was a part of the World Series champion Chicago Cubs bullpen last year. Smith now slides in to a middle-relief role and potentially being a high leverage reliever.
As for the back three of the bullpen, it is set in stone: the seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-inning relievers will be Biagini, Grilli, and Osuna, respectively. With that, the Jays have a stable back end of the bullpen, and if the rest produce, the Jays bullpen will be a good one.