Inbox: Do Blue Jays have game's best 'pen?
Beat reporter Gregor Chisholm answers fans' questions
With Francisco Cordero on his way to Toronto and the previous trade for Sergio Santos, do the Blue Jays have the best bullpen in baseball?
-- Donald H., Guelph, Ontario
Toronto's relief corps might not be the best in baseball, but there isn't much debating that -- at least on paper -- it's an obvious upgrade over the 2011 version. The Blue Jays have completely overhauled a bullpen that finished tied for the American League lead in blown saves (25), ninth in ERA (3.88) and eighth in walks (183).
The two-headed closer duo of Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch has been replaced by Santos and Cordero, while Darren Oliver, Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen provide reliable middle relief. Carlos Villanueva likely will be used as the long man, while it's expected that Jesse Litsch and left-hander Luis Perez will battle it out for the final spot.
That will give second-year manager John Farrell plenty of weapons to have at his disposal. Results by relievers are notoriously hard to predict from one year to the next, but the Blue Jays will begin the season with one of the best bullpens in recent memory and one of the top groups in the AL.
Who will be the closer for the Blue Jays this season? Sergio Santos or Francisco Cordero?
-- Kevin M., Mississauga, Ontario
Cordero agreed to terms with the Blue Jays earlier this week, but he must pass a physical before the move can become official. Toronto officials won't publicly comment on the veteran righty until the signing goes through, but it appears that Cordero was brought in for a setup role.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos promised the closer job to Santos when the converted infielder was acquired by the Blue Jays in December. Santos debuted in that role with the White Sox last season and converted 30 of 36 saves while striking out 92 in 63 1/3 innings.
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Cordero has the more experience of the two pitchers, but he's also on the downside of his career. He converted 37 of 43 saves in 2011, but saw a small drop in velocity. At this point in his career, Cordero might be best suited as a setup man. The duo should combine to form one of the top 1-2 combinations in baseball out of the bullpen.
I was wondering if you could shed some light on the recent acquisition of Omar Vizquel. There isn't room on the 40-man roster, so why risk exposing another player to waivers just to acquire Vizquel when we have utility players like Mike McCoy and Luis Valbuena?
-- Brendan W., Whitby, Ontario
Anthopoulos' stance on this type of move is that there is no such thing as a bad Minor League signing. Vizquel does not get paid at a big league rate, or even require a spot on the 40-man roster, unless he breaks camp with the team.
Vizquel would be looking to serve a John McDonald-type role in Toronto as a utility infielder, but he will face stiff competition from McCoy and Valbuena. Anthopoulos said earlier this offseason that McCoy had an inside track on the final spot off the bench, but he does have one option remaining on his contract and could be a candidate for Triple-A Las Vegas.
If McCoy wins the utility spot, then Vizquel will likely be cut. But even in that scenario, the Blue Jays would still benefit from Vizquel's leadership and veteran presence during Spring Training. It's a low-risk, low-reward move.
If the price is right, could Manny be Manny in Toronto? Or is this a no go?
-- John B., Napanee, Ontario
Manny Ramirez was a major talking point last offseason when he became a free agent following a three-year tenure with the Dodgers, but contrary to rumors, the Blue Jays were never a serious contender for his services. Toronto opted instead to sign Edwin Encarnacion, because the club put an emphasis on having a designated hitter who also had the ability to play the field.
The 39-year-old Ramirez eventually signed a one-year contract with the Rays, but he abruptly stepped away from the game after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance during Spring Training. He still has to serve a 50-game suspension for that infraction if he makes a return to the Major Leagues.
If Toronto wasn't interested last season, it seems even less likely the club would become involved in any talks this year. Encarnacion seems to be the preferred pick for the organization over a player who would be missed for almost a third of the year and has declining skills at the plate.
Brandon Morrow has been on an innings count the past two years, will he again this year? What about Dustin McGowan, Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek, any innings count on them this year if they are in the rotation all year?
-- Chad M., Yorkton, Saskatchewan
The Blue Jays will continue to monitor Morrow's workload just like they do with every pitcher, but he will no longer be on an innings limit like previous seasons.
Toronto prefers to gradually increase the number of innings thrown by its pitchers each season. Morrow began his career with the Blue Jays in 2010 by tossing 146 1/3 innings and had that increased by 30 2/3 the following season. He has now been stretched out enough that innings should no longer be a concern for the organization.
Alvarez and Drabek will be monitored, but innings limits shouldn't be a major issue for either starter. They both threw more than 150 innings between the Minors and Majors in 2011 and should be in line for a sizeable increase if things go well this season.
McGowan is a much different story than the previous three cases. His previous workload is hard to monitor, because he spent most of the past year throwing in simulated games at extended spring camp while rehabbing a shoulder injury. The 29-year-old threw a combined 56 1/3 innings in the Majors and Minors and will be on a strict workload limit this year, but the exact amount is unknown.
Just a little off-topic maybe, but why is someone like Shawn Camp not signed yet? I'd love to have him back in Toronto, but I think that door is closed. But he's a quality arm no matter where he ends up.
-- Joe F., London, Ontario
Camp is in the unenviable position of having to sit back and watch as the offseason unfolds while he waits for an appropriate offer. The elite relievers often are among the first to sign, with the top setup man not too far behind.
Neither category applies to Camp following a season in which he posted a 4.21 ERA in 66 1/3 innings. The 36-year-old still could provide a lot of value for a club in need of a reliever that has an ability to keep the ball on the ground, but most clubs have spent most of the offseason filling other needs or looking for a superior option.
In the end, Camp shouldn't have any trouble securing a guaranteed Major League deal, but it doesn't appear as though that will happen in Toronto, because of the arms that are already in place.
Carlos Villanueva was the Blue Jays' most consistent bottom-of-the-rotation starter last season up until his injury. Is it likely that he will return to the rotation at the beginning of the 2012 season?
-- Andrew R., London, Ontario
Villanueva will be given an opportunity to throw multiple innings during Spring Training, but it will be to help him prepare for long relief as opposed to work in the rotation. Villanueva's goal has always been to secure a full-time spot in the rotation, but it appears most of his value can be as a durable arm in the bullpen.
The 28-year-old filled that role during the early stages of last year and posted a sparkling 1.48 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. Injuries forced him into making a quick transition into the rotation, and while that led to an eventual injury, he pitched well before arm fatigue began to set in.
Villanueva and the Blue Jays recently avoided arbitration by agreeing on a one-year contract worth $2,277,500, and he'll get plenty of use out of the bullpen. However, with improved depth at the starter position, it doesn't appear that a transition will be possible in 2012.