Four Locked In
FORT MYERS, Fla. – For those keeping track at home, Jays manager John Gibbons has now issued two official votes of confidence for relievers this spring. Of course, it’s all talk until that final Opening Day roster is announced.
Much like he did a couple weeks ago for RHP Jason Frasor, though, Gibbons declared that LHP Brian Tallet’s place in Toronto’s bullpen was secure. Counting shoo-ins RHP Jeremy Accardo and LHP Scott Downs, that narrows the race down to three vacant slots.
I say three because, while I’m assuming RHP Brandon League is a lock, especially now that RHP Casey Janssen is done for the year, I won’t consider him thus until the Blue Jays say so. I’m also sticking with three because, while LHP B.J. Ryan has stormed back in his attempt to return from an elbow injury in time for Opening Day, I’m not buying it 100 percent that he does in fact break with the team.
So, that’s three spots in a seven-man bullpen — both Gibbons and GM J.P. Ricciardi have indicated that’s the makeup — up for grabs between Ryan, League, LHP John Parrish, RHP Randy Wells, RHP Brian Wolfe, and RHP Armando Benitez. So let’s get right to it.
The Jays have been high on Parrish all spring, even considering him as a starter briefly not long ago. Now, the Jays like him as a long man, or a guy who can come in and go after lefties. Basically, Parrish could help out in case Downs has to pitch more in the eighth on days Accardo fills in as the closer (Gibby insists Ryan won’t go back-to-back in the first month).
From talking with Gibbons, if Ryan doesn’t make the cut, it almost seems a given that Parrish makes it. If Ryan does, Gibbons said he still likes the idea of having four lefties in the ‘pen to help out against the tough lefty hitters in the American League — East especially.
Among the righties, Wolfe hasn’t been discussed too much, so I’m not sure how high he is on the list of candidates. Right now, just simply from names being tossed around, I’d say the Jays are leaning more toward League and Wells. Remember, Wells is a Rule 5 pick, and would be likely be lost to the Cubs if he doesn’t make the Jays.
There’s also Benitez, who Frank Thomas says "is ready! wow!" Thomas’ opinion aside, Benitez doesn’t have a proper work visa yet and there’s no indication about when he might appear in his first Grapefruit League game. That being the case, I just don’t know how realistic it is — with less than two weeks left in the spring slate — for him to break with the club.
If the Jays open the year without Ryan in the fold, they could afford to take a chance with Wells, because Wolfe has options and can be sent down. If Ryan is in the bullpen come Opening Day, I don’t see how Wells or Wolfe make the cut.
So here’s my thoughts on it right now:
Accardo, Downs, Tallet, Frasor, League, Parrish, Wells
Ryan, Accardo, Downs, Tallet, Frasor, League, Parrish
ON ANOTHER NOTE: Gibbons had a great quote about the pregame standoff between the Red Sox players, the MLB Players’ Association and MLB. Gibbons said he was actually happy to see players stand up for their coaches — that the minor "strike" could only be beneficial in the long run:
"You don’t expect to see that, but I was kind of glad it happened and I was kind of impressed with those guys. Not only are they a very talented team, they’ve got something special over there. That’s a team. They stuck their necks out for the coaching staff — those guys they admire and stand by — and that helps us all. There’s only two teams that can get away with that: Boston and New York. That’s good to see."