The Toronto Blue Jays have blown 18 saves this year while amassing a grand total of only 23. During Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Blue Jays blew two saves in extra innings, which cost them the game. Coming into the season, the Blue Jays had four former closers on the team, Jason Frasor, Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel. I thought the bullpen would be one of the strengths of the Blue Jays this year.
The bullpen debacle began with David Purcey in Seattle during the early west coast road trip. Many have been suggesting that the Blue Jays should go out this offseason and sign a closer (Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell) or trade for one (Andrew Bailey). But do I truly believe the Blue Jays will make such a move?
Let me cut right to the chase, unless the Blue Jays finish in the bottom 15 in the MLB standings (a protected first round pick), I do not see the Blue Jays signing a closer this offseason. The Blue Jays value their draft picks too highly to give up a first round pick for a closer. To strengthen that point, I do not see the Blue Jays giving up their draft pick to the Boston Red Sox so they can sign Jonathan Papelbon, either.
Now there is the alternate route of trading for a closer. Names that might be available might include Huston Street, Andrew Bailey or Leo Nunez. In the past, teams have acquired closers while not giving up much talent in return. For example, Jose Valverde returned the Arizona Diamondbacks Chad Qualls, Juan Gutierrez and Chris Burke. Brad Lidge returned the Astros Mike Costanzo, Michael Bourn and Geoff Geary.
However, I do not expect the Blue Jays to acquire a young closer by giving up a current reliever, a fringe prospect and another minor leaguer. Those trades occurred in 2007 and I expect teams to try and extract a top prospect from the Blue Jays in return for a closer. Rumors suggested that the Padres were interested in Travis Snider if the Blue Jays would have acquired Heath Bell. I would not be surprised if the Blue Jays sign a Type B free agent to become their closer next year.
This leads to the next question; do the Blue Jays have a closer in the minors? The short answer is no but all teams do not have closers in the minors. Most closers are starters that end up closing on the major league team due to injury issues or not having enough stamina or pitches to be a starter. One name I have in mind is Henderson Alvarez. I do not expect the guy to come up next year and become the closer, but rather I can see him eventually taking the role over. He does have a great fastball that he can locate and is working on an out-pitch, a changeup. I know there are two arguments that are always brought up about closers:
- Teams should not develop their closers but, rather acquire them
- Teams should not convert starting pitching prospects into closers
I believe there is more truth to the second theory than the first theory. Many old-school thinkers bring up the first point. To them I say, take a look at the world champion Giants who developed their closer Brian Wilson. The Red Sox, Yankees and Athletics are other teams that have developed their own closers too. Now on to the second point, I know many of you are saying they would rather get 200 innings out of Alvarez than 60 innings. Those 60 innings are as important to a team as those 200 innings that he might provide. After all, it’s not like the Blue Jays are lacking good and young starting pitchers, they already have four starters in Romero, Morrow, Cecil and Drabek and there are only five spots in the starting rotation. The Texas Rangers converted Neftali Feliz to their closer and he has done a formidable job at it. It’s worth a shot. The Blue Jays do not need to stop him from starting, but rather let him continue to start so he can work on his changeup and they can call him up this September to determine the progress he has made and what he needs to work on.