Lets start things out with a quick recap of recent Jays news.
-On Friday the Jays nabbed former pitcher Adam Loewen from the Orioles. He has been through some major ordeals with his pitching elbow over the past couple seasons and is now attempting to reinvent himself as a positional player a la Rick Ankiel. Being a native Canadian, he saw no better place than Toronto to try to realize this bold project. It is costing the Jays next to nothing to make this move, so why the hell not? The best part is that the Orioles wanted to keep him, thought it would be easy to do so, then dropped the soap and took it in the ass.
-AJ Burnett rumours are all over the place and they all contradict each other. First he doesn't want to play for the Yankees, then he does, then Ricciardi is making progress to keep him in Toronto, then he is not, then the freakin Orioles are in the bidding to keep Mrs Burnett happy. Who knows where the truth lies, but ultimately, more than 16 million a year for that guy seems absolutely ludicrous.
-If he does leave, JP assures the Jays faithful that the cupboard is not bare. The Jays have a stable of lefties who may be able to contribute in the majors in the near future. Remember the names of Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and Brad Mills when you are having Jimmy Key flashbacks.
-Also, when Burnett's cap space gets freed up then the possibility of Manny Ramirez is not a complete pipe dream. (nor is it likely, so don't plan on being invited to his barbeque just yet) Ricciardi tried to hide his boner in this interview.
Now, the Bullpen
While I heaped a great deal of praise on the starting pitchers last week, the bullpen deserves an equal amount of positive reinforcement. Those getting the call from the pen in 2008 were every bit as good as their starting counterparts. So what can we look forward to in 2009 from this group? Lets take a closer look at the individuals…
Jeremy Accardo – Lets assume the innings he pitched in 2008 don’t count since he clearly was not 100% healthy. Back in 2007 Accardo was outstanding when forced to step into the closer’s role when BJ went down. If he can pitch at a similar level next season he will definitely be a contender amongst the ranks for the role of set-up man - or even the closer again. More on that possibility further down…
Scott Downs – Also known as the Roy Halladay of the bullpen. He had a miniscule ERA of only 1.78 in 2008. To think that it was actually lower for the majority of the year before he tried to pitch through a late season injury makes it even more impressive. The guy was money in the bank and gave the Jays countless stress-free innings of set-up work before bringing in BJ Ryan to get the fans pulses racing. There is one major question surrounding Downs and that is whether he was so good that he will be promoted to start? Could he hold up as a starter? That’s a toughie. The last thing I want to read next year is about another major pitching injury. However, with the uncertainty surrounding the starting rotation right now, there is a good possibility that he may be asked to make the jump.
Brian Wolfe – While the sample size of work upon which there was to judge him was small, he did prove to be more than adequate in the innings he pitched. Hopefully he can build off of this solid campaign and earn more work with the big club next year.
Brandon League – He has always had the “stuff” to be a ball player at the highest level. Sadly, he had fallen into the category of guys who couldn’t seem to get his act together. Was he lacking confidence, or did he simply have no control of his pitches? Well I think he answered all the doubts with an outstanding second half of the season. Now the question becomes, “was it a flash in the pan?” I’m going to sit on the fence for the moment, while quietly hoping that the guy in the glasses becomes our Ricky “the Wild Thing” Vaughn.
Jesse Carlson – Yet another Jay in the bullpen to enjoy a super 2008. If it weren’t for the play of Downs, maybe Carlson would be the pitcher to rave about. At the very least, he might have had some horseshoes strategically located in his caboose because he somehow racked up seven victories on the year. That ranked him fifth on the entire pitching staff.
Shawn Camp and Jason Fraser – These two get reviewed together because they share the common trait of being god awful. I would prefer to never see either one of them pitch for Toronto again.
Brian Tallet – He has been decent for the Jays for a few years now and reminds me a bit of Dan Plesac. In other words, a giant, left handed freak. While he undeniably gets the job done more often than not, I wouldn’t want to venture to this well too often, or for very long. Luckily though, he is not one of the primary options. In fact, to say he was the Jays fourth best leftie in the bullpen shows the luxury that Cito was working with in 2008.
BJ Ryan – On the positive side, 32 saves is nothing to sneeze at. It was also good to see him bounce back from a year off and pitch as the Germans say, “quite ok.” However, it was abundantly clear that he has not regained the velocity he had before Tommy John surgery. He sorta gave me flashbacks of Randy Myers during his tenure in Toronto. In other words, a chunky left handed closer with mediocre stuff. He used every shred of veteran savvy and junk balling techniques to rack up those saves and was far from the lock you would like to have trotting out in the ninth. Will he regain the zip he needs to dominate again next season? I hope so, because that may be the only thing that can erase my painful memory of watching Giambi golf a walk-off shot into the upper deck in right field at Yankee Stadium. That one might still be in the air as we speak.
Rumours have been swirling in recent weeks that Ryan may be a trade chip that Ricciardi tries to cash in this offseason. The Blue Jays are currently blessed with an uncanny amount of depth in the bullpen and it is not difficult to imagine the trio of Downs, League and maybe Accardo taking the reins from Ryan. Now the interesting question becomes - what is BJ worth? He does still have 2 years and 20 million left on his contract. Would he be a hot commodity?
Will continue to follow these developments and review the rest of the Jays team in the upcoming weeks. Oh and on a final note, Mike Timlin is going to retire. Which begs the question - how did he ever last 17 years? But alas, it was Timlin who earned the save to clinch 1992 World Series - not Henkenstein or Duane Ward - thus he is above any crticism. (even if he did spend too many years as a member of the Red Sox)