B.J. Ryan a Gamble Worth Taking for Minnesota Twins

Jeremiah Graves@cheapseatchronAnalyst IJuly 9, 2009

DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  Pitcher B.J. Ryan #52 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses for a photo on media day during spring training at the Bobboy Mattix Traing Center February 22, 2008 in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays released former closer B.J. Ryan prior to Wednesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays. As a result, the two-time All Star is now a free agent and can be signed for a prorated portion of the league minimum salary.

The Blue Jays are responsible for the roughly $15 million remaining on his contract. The contract—at one time the highest-ever given to a reliever—runs through next season.

Ryan has struggled mightily this season. He currently sits at 1-1 with a 6.53 ERA in 25 relief appearances. The left-hander has allowed 22 hits—five of them home runs—and 17 walks in just 20.67 innings.

His velocity has been down all season and resulted in a stint on the disabled list in April. When Ryan returned, he’d lost the closer’s role to Scott Downs and was used, sparingly, in middle relief.

His overall numbers aren’t pretty. In fact, they are downright ugly. Ryan is obviously walking way too many batters and has recorded a mere three strikeouts in his last 15 appearances dating back to late May.

With all of that in mind, the Minnesota Twins would still be wise to take a gamble on Ryan.

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Despite the recent successes of Matt Guerrier and José Mijares, the Twins’ bullpen is still suspect and, along with the middle infield, is one of the biggest areas of concern if the Twins are serious about winning the AL Central.

Ryan is two years removed from Tommy John surgery and, despite posting solid numbers in 2008 (32 saves, 2.95 ERA), he is clearly still struggling to return to form. Prior to his release, Ryan urged Blue Jays management to give him a more consistent workload and said he believed the irregularity was hurting his performance.

Prior to the surgery—and for most of last season—Ryan was one of the most dominant lefty relievers in all of baseball. If he can get into games on a regular basis and get back to some semblance of the pitcher he was, he would be a serious coup for the Twins down the stretch.

Currently the Twins’ bullpen only has two southpaws, Mijares and rookie Brian Duensing.

Mijares has been solid, posting nearly a strikeout per inning this season. Duensing hasn’t been with the Twins long enough to make any judgments, however, his 4.47 ERA at Triple-A the past two years is less than inspiring.

If the Twins sign Ryan and give him a regular workload to build up his arm and—as is often the case with power-pitchers—his ego, the Twins could have a legitimate weapon out of the bullpen for the stretch run.

Ryan served as a setup man early in his career with Cincinnati and Baltimore and could—along with incumbents Guerrier and Mijares—help bridge the gap to closer extraordinaire Joe Nathan.

The debate will no doubt rage on as to whether Ryan has anything left in the tank, and for good reason. His fastball has certainly lost some zip and his once-feared slider no longer has that devastating bite to it.

If he does have some magic hiding in that left arm, I think we can all agree we’d rather see it on display in a Twins uniform than somewhere else in the American League, let alone the Central.

Plus—and Bill Smith and the Pohlads should like this—the Blue Jays are paying the tab on this one. It would probably cost the Twins less to roll the dice on Ryan for a few months than it would to buy a couple box seats at the new Yankee Stadium.

The way I see it, this is definitely a gamble worth taking.