Blue Jays nearing deal with Gregg
Reliever would compete for closer's role at Spring Training
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are preparing to conduct a Spring Training competition for the closer's role, and the club is on the verge of adding a third arm to the mix. Toronto is in talks with free-agent reliever Kevin Gregg about joining the bullpen as another late-inning option.
On Tuesday, MLB.com confirmed that the Blue Jays have shown legitimate interest in Gregg, and a report on FOXSports.com indicated that the sides were nearing a deal. Gregg's agent, Dan Horwits, said early Tuesday morning that the pitcher's list of suitors had been narrowed to three teams.
Jon Heyman of SI.com reported Tuesday evening that the Blue Jays had tabled an offer of $2.75 million and had included two options that could potentially make the contract worth $12 million. An announcement could could come as early as Wednesday, Major League sources told MLB.com.
The Rockies were believed to be the Blue Jays' biggest competition for Gregg. The Marlins and Padres had also been linked to Gregg, but it now appears that the teams are unlikely finalists to land the closer. It is the opportunity to fill the closer's role that has Toronto in the best position to add the righty.
With the Blue Jays, Gregg would have a chance to come into camp with a shot at grabbing the ninth-inning job. As things currently stand, right-hander Jason Frasor and left-hander Scott Downs are the Blue Jays' leading candidates for closing duties after splitting the role for much of last season.
"That's one of the factors that he's considering in terms of where he'll sign," Horwits said on Tuesday morning. "The ability to close in Toronto, or to at least have the ability to be in a competition to close, however it might work itself out, that would be of interest to Kevin."
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos declined comment, sticking to his policy of not responding to reports or speculation about potential moves. During a question-and-answer session with season-ticket holders on Thursday in Toronto, though, Jays manager Cito Gaston hinted that the team might try to add a new closing candidate to the competition.
"We have a couple of guys that can close -- Downs, Frasor," Gaston said. "But we're going to kind of throw that up in the air. And who knows? We might even be lucky enough to bring somebody else in that can help out, too."
Toronto's ninth-inning role was thrown into a state of flux last season after B.J. Ryan battled injuries and command issues, leading to his release in July. The Blue Jays signed Ryan to a five-year contract worth $47 million prior to the 2006 season and the club is still on the hook for $10 million this year for the former closer.
Downs initially took over as the Jays' closer last year, but Frasor filled in when the left-hander was sidelined with a left foot injury twice during the season. When Ryan was in the fold, Downs thrived out of the bullpen as the Jays' primary setup man. Frasor moved in and out of various roles last season, but pieced together a career year with a 2.50 ERA over 61 games.
Behind Downs and Frasor -- both eligible for free agency after the 2010 campaign -- the Blue Jays do not have a pitcher clearly tabbed as a future closing candidate. Gaston indicated that it is important for Toronto to have someone else who can shift into the ninth-inning role for games in which the closer is not available.
"To bring Frasor out there three nights in a row just doesn't make any sense," Gaston said on Thursday. "You need someone else to step in and maybe save that game -- maybe Downs or maybe someone else that Alex decides to bring in as far as helping out the bullpen."
The Blue Jays have money to spend and Gregg's asking price will likely be much lower than the $4.2 million he made last year with the Cubs.
Gregg qualified as a Type A free agent this winter, but Chicago did not offer him arbitration, meaning a new club would not have to forfeit Draft picks in order to sign him. There is also the possibility Gregg could be worth compensatory Draft picks again in the future -- something that is appealing to a Toronto club that is focusing on a long-term plan.
Over the past three seasons, the 31-year-old Gregg has posted a 3.86 ERA with 84 saves in stints with the Marlins and Cubs. The right-hander has also blown 20 saves over that time period -- seven with Chicago a year ago -- and he allowed 13 home runs last season, which was tied for the most yielded by a Major League reliever.
Gregg did finish with 23 saves and 71 strikeouts over 68 2/3 innings with the Cubs in 2009, but he lost the closer's job to Carlos Marmol in August and was shut down toward the end of September due to a crack in the cartilage in his left rib cage. In the season's final two months, Gregg allowed 18 earned runs over 20 1/3 innings, giving him a bloated 7.97 ERA over that time period.
Given that recent history, Gregg would not be promised the closer's role with the Jays -- only the opportunity to compete against Downs and Frasor for the job.
"It's going to be between those two and anybody else that Alex brings into camp," Gaston said.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.