After watching his promising, young squad repeatedly squander late-inning leads in 1984, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick made it his priority to upgrade the club's bullpen.
On Dec. 8 of that year, the Hall of Fame executive would ship shortstop Alfredo Griffin and outfielder Dave Collins to the Oakland A's for all-star closer Bill Caudill. Gillick would also acquire veteran southpaw Gary Lavelle in a deal with the Giants.
Twenty-seven years later, after witnessing the Jays' bullpen blow 25 saves in 2011, GM Alex Anthopoulos would send highly touted prospect Nestor Molina to the Chicago White Sox for rocket-armed right-hander Sergio Santos. He also inked veteran lefty Darren Oliver and longtime closer Francisco Cordero, and reacquired Jason Frasor.
So heading into 2012, the club's bullpen appeared to be dramatically improved. Unfortunately, as Gillick would attest, things don't always go as planned.
In wake of the walk-off grand slam served up by Cordero Tuesday night in Oakland, the Jays pen has converted just four of 11 save opportunities this season and has surrendered 13 home runs (third most in the American League).
Batters have also posted a league-high .432 slugging percentage against Jays relievers, who are also walking too many batters. Their 35 base on balls in 80 2/3 innings gives them a strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) of 2.14 which ranks 11th in the AL.
To make matters worse, the club will be without Santos for at least two more weeks while he recovers from a shoulder injury. In Santos's absence, Cordero was horrible in the closer's role. Opponents are batting .400 against the 36-year-old Dominican and he had blown his last three save opportunities, before it was announced Wednesday that Casey Janssen, who owns a 5.23 earned-run average, will replace him as the interim closer.
Fortunately for the Jays, three of their division rivals are also experiencing closer woes. The New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and is out for the season, while the Boston Red Sox will be without Andrew Bailey (thumb) until after the all-star break.
And Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth is on the 60-day disabled list with an elbow injury.
So with Santos set to return in a couple of weeks, the Blue Jays' bullpen might be actually be in better shape than that of their division rivals and it could still round into the form that was supposed to make it one of the best in baseball.
With that said, the Jays must address their ninth-inning woes in the short-term and I don't think Janssen is the answer. The team would also benefit from altering the roles of some of their other relievers. Here are three suggestions:
With Caudill faltering as closer in 1985, Gillick looked within the organization and called up Tom Henke. The hard-throwing right-hander had dominated AAA hitters, allowing just 13 hits and recording 60 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings. The bespectacled flame-thrower would make his Blue Jays debut on July 29 and proceed to record 13 saves down the stretch.
Similarly, Anthopoulos can look within his minor league system and summon Igarashi, whose 97-mile-per-hour fastball has been overpowering AAA hitters this season. With 20 strikeouts and a 0.53 WHIP in 15 innings in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, the 32-year-old right-hander, who was a closer in Japan before signing with the Mets in 2009, warrants a promotion.
Calling up Igarashi, who has issued just one walk this season, and trying him in the closer's role while Santos recuperates can't hurt. To make room on the roster, the Jays could demote Carreno, who will likely be needed as a starter later in the season.
Perez has been the Jays' best reliever since the beginning of spring training. Yes, Oliver was signed to a $4-million contract to get outs in the late innings, but Perez, who has added velocity to his fastball and tightened up his breaking pitch, has been much more effective against left-handed batters (.120 opponents' batting average) than Oliver (.250) this season.
Also, Oliver's 1.93 ERA is deceiving because he has allowed 33 per cent of inherited runners to score, while Perez has permitted just eight per cent of his inherited runners to cross the plate.
Aside from one terrible outing, Villanueva has been the best right-hander in the Jays' pen this season. Opponents are hitting just .162 off of him and he has averaged almost a strikeout per inning as a reliever over the course of his seven-year career.
Right-handers Frasor, Janssen and Cordero have all struggled this season, while Villanueva has been used sparingly as a middle reliever. It's time for manager John Farrell to start using Villanueva to secure some important eighth-inning outs.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?