Alex Anthopoulos has stated that the closer role will be up for open competition come spring training, and he has acquired the arms to make it a very competitive battle. Octavio Dotel has the most closing experience of anyone on the Toronto Blue Jays’ staff, with 105 saves over his career. But Dotel has also been around a lot longer and is nearing the twilight of his career, so there is a good chance the role could go to someone younger.
The newly acquired Frank Francisco is likely in the best position to close for the Jays, as he was a closer with the Texas Rangers in 2009. The overpowering stuff of rookie Neftali Feliz was the only reason he wasn’t the full-time closer in 2010. Francisco spent six seasons with the Rangers, notching 32 saves in that time with 315 strikeouts over 283 innings and a strong 17-15 record.
Though he wasn’t closing last year, Francisco posted great numbers with 10.3 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9, a great ratio that translates well to the ninth inning. Francisco and the Jays just avoided arbitration by signing him to a one-year, $4 million dollar contract.
The third new pitcher to the staff who might challenge for the closer role is Jon Rauch, who is actually the tallest player in the majors at 6’11” and 290 lbs. Rauch has been in the closer role at times for the Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins, compiling 47 saves in 69 opportunities. He has never pitched at a strikeout per inning pace, but his walks are usually kept to a minimum, allowing him to post a career 1.24 WHIP.
Scott Downs was impressive in this role last year. The left-hander was perhaps the Jays’ most reliable pitcher, but left in free agency. So it is likely that Jason Frasor, one of the longest serving Jays, will take over a lot of the eighth inning duties.
Frasor struggled mightily in the closer’s role last year, saving only four of eight opportunities with an 8.38 ERA in the first month, but then settled down to have a strong year once Kevin Gregg took over. His temperament and skill set seems to be more suited to eighth inning duties and should thrive in the role with the support of the new members.
While it is tough to say who might be closing for the Jays, or if even two pitchers might share the duty, one thing to look at is their strikeout-to-walk ratio, as the last thing you want in the ninth are batters getting free passes.
Dotel has a much better ratio than Rauch does over his career, so Dotel could work in the ninth when Francisco has the night off and Rauch could work with Frasor in the eighth.
The ever-reliable Shawn Camp should continue to hold down the seventh inning for the Jays, as he did a masterful job with it last year. Camp seemed to excel at coming in at dangerous situations and defusing the attack, minimizing the damage so the pitcher before him could come out relatively unscathed.
Camp broke out in his third year with the Blue Jays, posting an impressive 2.99 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 72 innings. He doesn’t strikeout a lot of batters, but he doesn’t walk many either. Most of his outs come from getting batters to ground out, a skill that helped him get out of those situations by creating double plays.
Come-From-Behind or Long Relief Situations
The listing of pitchers before this is if everything goes to plan and the starter goes a solid six innings, then Camp, Frasor and Francisco take over in that order to finish it up. But things don’t always go according to plan, the starter could go much longer or shorter into the game, a reliever could have a day where he doesn’t have his best stuff, or the Jays could be so far behind that there won’t be a closing opportunity.
This is often where these other pitchers come into play.
Mark Rzepczynski has a chance to be a starter this year if he beats out Jesse Litsch for the fifth spot in the rotation or if there is an injury situation. But if that isn’t the case, he could be an important part of the bullpen as a left-handed, long relief option, the spot Brian Tallet was in last year.
Say the starter gets knocked out in the third. Rzepczynski could come in and pitch a solid two to four innings to bridge the gap to the later innings. He struggled at times last year, but as the season progressed he started to pitch a much stronger game and excelled in the Arizona Fall League.
The Blue Jays have a lot of options for their bullpen, but the number of right-handed pitchers greatly outnumbers their left-handed options right now. But, since they also have such a wealth of arms, it is quite possible they may carry an eight-man bullpen rather than the usual seven.
Other candidates to make the squad are right-handed pitchers Casey Janssen, Josh Roenicke, Carlos Villanueva and Robert Ray. For left-handers they have David Purcey, Jesse Carlson and Jo-Jo Reyes.