Blue Jays release struggling Ryan
Lefty lost closer role due to command, velocity issues
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays understood the risk when they signed B.J. Ryan to a five-year contract four winters ago to be their closer. It was an expensive gamble, one that paid off briefly but ultimately forced Toronto to make a tough decision.
On Wednesday, the Blue Jays chose to accept the financial repercussions of parting ways with the struggling Ryan, releasing the reliever in order to activate Scott Downs from the 15-day disabled list after a bout with a left foot injury. Toronto will pay Ryan the estimated $15 million remaining on his contract this season and next.
The Blue Jays discussed the move internally on Tuesday night and made sure to explain the decision with team ownership and interim president and CEO Paul Beeston. After the paperwork was officially sent off to the league, Ryan was called into the visiting manager's office at Tropicana Field around 3 p.m. ET to learn of his release.
Ryan promptly packed his bags and headed for the exit.
"When we told him today, he understood that it was probably best for both sides," said Blue Jays assistant general manager Alex Anthopoulos. "He has a chance to move on with his career and hopefully latch on with a team that can give him maybe more of an opportunity to pitch more meaningful innings and get back to hopefully being the closer that he was."
Since his one stellar season with the Blue Jays in 2006, Ryan dealt with injuries and command woes -- issues that convinced manager Cito Gaston to hand the closer role to Downs in April. Ryan's pitch velocity had diminished this season, and his control was erratic. Over his last seven games, dating back to June 17, Ryan had eight walks over 4 1/3 innings and 50 percent of his pitches were strikes.
In 25 appearances for the Jays this season, the 33-year-old Ryan walked 17 over 20 2/3 innings and had a 6.53 ERA. Gaston had reached a point where he was struggling to find the right time to use Ryan, admitting that he might have to only use the lefty in blowouts.
On Monday, Ryan expressed frustration over his situation, adding that he felt more time on the mound might help him get back on track -- comments that might not have sat well with the organization.
"It's frustrating," Ryan said two days before being released. "It's frustrating when you sit and you wait to pitch and you get in there and you don't do good. It's tough. You kind of find yourself in that same circle. You sit for four or five days and you get out there and you want to make pitches, and you don't."
Ryan, who saved 32 games in 60 appearances a year ago, said his situation has been made tougher by the fact that it seemed as though his manager had less confidence in him than he did in himself.
"Absolutely -- 100 percent," Ryan said. "That's universal throughout all of baseball."
On Wednesday, Gaston said he wasn't bothered by Ryan's comments, but he noted that the pitcher's performance led to his decreased usage.
"You get time out there when you go out there and get the job done," Gaston said. "He wasn't really pitching up to where he'd like to be or where we'd like to see him. Like I've always told you guys, I write the lineup, but the guys make the lineup by what they do or when they're out there pitching and how they handle themselves in the game."
Gaston and Anthopoulos both described Ryan as the "12th" man on the pitching staff. That being the case, it made the most sense for the team to cut ties with him, even with his contractual situation. Ryan was not going to receive the type of role he desired, and that essentially made him the odd man out upon Downs' return to health.
"He wants to pitch more," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said during an interview with SIRIUS XM radio. "We just don't have a role for him that he can fill in, and, in our evaluation, we really don't think that he's going to come back and be the pitcher that he was for us his first few years here. So this is a chance to just let the player get on with his life, and obviously we move on."
In the offseason prior to the '06 season, Ryan was signed to a five-year contract worth $47 million -- the largest deal in baseball history for a reliever at the time. The fifth season was needed to help convince Ryan to join the Jays, and he answered by posting a 1.37 ERA with 38 saves in his first campaign with Toronto.
Ryan then missed most of the 2007 season after requiring Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery on his left elbow. Ryan returned to the closer role early in the '08 season and turned in a respectable showing, but his command was inconsistent. Earlier this year, Ryan spent time on the DL with a left shoulder issue.
"In terms of length of contract and things like that, it's just part of the market," said Anthopoulos of Ryan's deal. "It's what the market will bear. I think you saw that winter Billy Wagner got a four-year deal and he [was 33 years old]. B.J., at the time, I believe was 29. We certainly did our homework, and that was the cost in order to get him here.
"I wouldn't say it was a mistake, because B.J. came here, had a tremendous first year for us and made the All-Star team. It's unfortunate that he got hurt."
Having Ryan sitting in the bullpen entered a stage in which it was becoming a burden on the Blue Jays.
"You're supposed to have a team down there," Gaston said. "All the guys down there, you're supposed to be able to use. Unfortunately, he wasn't throwing up to his capabilities. Sometimes you could use him in certain situations, so I don't want to call it a handicap, but it was a little disadvantage sometimes."
Ricciardi said Rogers Communications -- the team's owner -- was understanding of the decision to release Ryan.
"Our ownership has been great," Ricciardi said in the radio interview. "They understand that this is part of the game. It is a big chunk of change, but the money was being spent from the day we signed him, and at this point, we're trying to do what's best for our organization going forward."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.