The 2016 Jays bullpen isn't quite as clear cut as the starting rotation, but there aren't too many holes to fill. It's more of a question of who's your closer? Does Sanchez start, or setup? Who gets that final spot? I like to get these predictions in before they start playing games so I can say I told you so, or have you tell me how incredibly wrong I always seem to be (like when they broke camp with two 20-year-olds last year). I'm doing the bullpen prediction today because as easy as the rest of the lineup seems to be, they almost traded Michael Saunders for Jay Bruce the other day, so I'm going to take a few days on that to make sure that deal is totally dead.
Your 2016 Blue Jays Bullpen
Closer - Drew Storen
Usually the closer job would go to the incumbent especially if they had done a good job in the past which Roberto Osuna certainly did last year. Storen has been on the other end of that when he lost his job to Jonathan Papelbon last year even though he was lights out at the time. Storen is the more experienced closer having saved 95 games in the MLB, but I wouldn't necessarily say he's better. I don't think you can go wrong with either pitcher, but this decision has more to do with Roberto Osuna's future than anything else. To be continued....
RH Setup - Roberto Osuna
After making the team out of A Ball last season, 20-year-old Osuna took the league by storm, and very quickly solved the Blue Jays' issues at the back end of their bullpen. Having him close games was never the original plan however. The scouts think that Osuna projects well as an impact starter down the road. Rather than develop him in the minors, the Jays took a gamble on him and Miguel Castro (which didn't work out as well) because of how dominant their stuff was, and made them MLB relievers way before it was at all logical to do so. Nevertheless, the gamble paid off in spades with Osuna who ended up saving 20 games plus looking sharp in the post season as well. The issue now is how do you turn him into a starter? Can't send a proven bullpen arm this good to the minors for 2 years to stretch him out, so you get Drew Storen to be your closer, and you start using Osuna in 2 inning set up stints, or save opportunities. Osuna has never pitched more than 80 innings in a season at any level. They need to creatively find a way to use him in the back end of your bullpen but still get him up to at least 110 innings, so in a couple of years you can start using him as a starter.
LH Setup - Brett Cecil
This was your opening day closer last year. He was trotted out on a cold rainy day with the bases loaded in the 8th, and struggled, and the next day John Gibbons changed closers. Went to the first of 2 unproven 20-year-olds in that role. I'm gonna say that I didn't agree with this at the time, and if I had to make that decision 10 times, I think all 10 times I would let Cecil have more than one save opportunity to prove himself, especially considering he was your best reliever for 2 straight years leading up to that. Castro was no better as a closer, but Osuna swooped in to save the day (and Gibbons job). Cecil for his part ended up having a career year despite the adversity. Largely overlooked because of so many other success stories, Cecil scuffled in June, but did not give up an earned run after the All Star break.
LH - Aaron Loup
Loup needs a bounce back year. He makes the team because he's left handed, and the Jays have no other options. He also makes the team because between 2012-2014, he was one of their most consistent and reliable options. He's 28. He hasn't lost anything, but he did pitch to contact a lot more this past year. That didn't turn out well as his 4.46 E.R.A. would indicate, which was well over a run higher than his previous career worst. His control is great. He doesn't usually walk guys, but he did walk 30 guys in 2014. He brought that down to 7 which sounds great, but then he was hit around a lot. Loup can be good again. He just needs stay away from hitters a bit more. Should be a bounce back year, but the Jays have no depth from the left side, so his job is safe even if he doesn't bounce back.
RH - Jesse Chavez
More of a long man option here. Could end up as an emergency starter. His job is safe because they gave up Liam Hendricks for him. I don't think Chavez will be as good as Hendricks as a reliever, but he's a better starter. He may be a human yo-yo with an undefined role this year. He won't be set up for success, but he's done the back and forth thing before in Oakland, so he should be as comfortable with it as anyone. I should note that I'm assuming Aaron Sanchez is the 5th starter to open the season. Chavez will be given a shot in the Spring, but will likely end up in the bullpen
RH - Gavin Floyd
Kind of a surprise that Floyd got a guaranteed deal here. He used to be a really good starter in Chicago. After 2 injury plagued seasons, I thought he'd get a minor league deal. What this means is they will give him a shot at the rotation, but barring injuries, Sanchez will win the 5th job, and Floyd will pitch out of the bullpen. He did this in a few outings with Cleveland last year, and looked decent. He'll be a multiple inning guy probably. Having 2 long men eliminates the need for an 8 man bullpen. This move meant former Jays 1st round pick Chad Jenkins was designated for assignment. Sad. I thought he paid his dues, made the most of opportunities and it was his turn.
RH - Ryan Tepera
This is the one role that is totally up in the air. My money is on Ryan Tepera. Not necessarily the most logical choice because he still has options, and it means they'll have to expose Steve Delabar to waivers. More on that in a minute. Ryan Tepera had a great rookie season last year. He kept opponents under .200, and his WHIP was under 1 in 32 games after being called up. He throws the ball hard, and he's 28, so there's no advantage to sending him down. If Sanchez stays in the rotation, look for Tepera to surpass Loup, Chavez and Floyd on the depth chart, and work in some later inning situations.
On The Bubble
RH - Steve Delabar
This guy was an all-star a couple of years back. When he's on, he goes through incredible stretches. Unfortunately he'll go through a bad stretch that will statistically undo everything he worked so hard for. The numbers weren't pretty last year, but he was lights out up until July. He had 3 bad outings, and they sent him down to the minors. He came up again as a September call up, but pitched so infrequently, and had a couple more bad outings which could have just been rust. Either way, he finishes the season with a 5.22 E.R.A., but at the end of June it was 1.31, so there was a lot more good than bad. What's interesting about this is I feel he's not well liked in the organization. It's just a hunch on my part, but for a veteran pitcher, he seems to have a very short leash. He was snubbed on Opening Day last year for 2 unproven A-Ball pitchers. He was snubbed as a September call up in 2014 after he'd struggled a bit during the season. They just don't seem to like him, and that's why I think Tepera gets the last spot. When Delabar is on, he's just as good if not better, but I think he will be on the waiver wire at the end of Spring.
LH - Pat Venditte
This is the only other left handed pitcher on the 25 man roster. Sometimes they like to start the season with an 8 man bullpen, and the temptation is to carry 3 lefties. In that scenario, he has a shot, and if Loup continues his downward spiral, he might get a look into the season. He's 30 and finally broke into the bigs in 2015 for a bit while in Oakland. He held is own.
RH - Aaron Sanchez
Please understand that Sanchez is vital to this bullpen, and is one of the late inning go to guys if he ends up in the bullpen. He's this far down on the list because I'm 98% positive that he breaks camp as the 5th starter
RH - Bo Schultz
Had a breakout season for us last year after getting called up. Seemed to wear down a bit at the end, but if he has a huge spring like he did last season, and Tepera and Delabar falter, it wouldn't be that unrealistic to see him break camp with the Jays. We will probably see him at some point.
RH - David Aardsma
After Schultz, it's going to take injuries and miracles for any of the other arms in camp to make the team, so for my last guy, I'm going to take a non-roster invitee. Sometimes with veterans who's days have passed, or have been cut short due to injuries, teams will throw some at the wall and see what sticks. I chose Aardsma because he used to be a lights out closer with Seattle. That was quite a while ago, and he doesn't appear to be the same guy. He did get into 33 games for the Braves last year, and it seems as if he could avoid giving up home runs, he wouldn't be too bad. Good luck at the Rogers Centre though.