Anthopoulos sheds light on bullpen situation
Jonathan Papelbon trade rumors started gaining steam over the weekend, with the Phillies closer being mentioned as a potential fit in Milwaukee and more recently linked to Toronto. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported on Tuesday that Toronto’s interest in Papelbon is “extremely limited” and that any potential trade would have to come with minimal financial risk. On Wednesday, general manager Alex Anthopoulos was a guest on Sportsnet590 The Fan and effectively confirmed Rosenthal’s report, hinting that acquiring Papelbon was not very realistic.
“I can say that we are not going to be in the market for relievers making $10 million or more,” Anthopoulos told Bob McCown and Ken Reid. “It’s just not something that’s going to fit for us. So any rumors that people would see of us being in that price range for a reliever (are) strongly false.”
The hurdle the Brewers and Phillies continue to have difficulty clearing is Papelbon’s $13 million vesting option for 2016, which reports indicate he will require any team on his no-trade list to guarantee before he waives his clause. The Blue Jays are one of the teams on that list and would likely require the Phillies to kick back money to cover both the option and his salary for the upcoming year. Anthopoulos also confirmed during the interview that the team had in the ballpark of $6 million left to spend this offseason, making the chances of Papelbon heading north of the border even more remote.
Anthopoulos didn’t rule out the possibility of trying to acquire a ninth-inning guy via trade or free agency but did say that the club wasn’t “married” to the notion of acquiring an established closer. That being said, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweeted Wednesday night that the club is in contact with the representatives of multiple free-agent relievers, including Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano and Burke Badenhop. Either Rodriguez or Soriano would presumably settle in as the closer, but Anthopoulos stressed that the focus is to simply improve the depth of the bullpen, regardless of who ends up pitching which inning.
Two in-house options that Anthopoulos mentioned he is confident could fill the closer role if necessary are Brett Cecil and Aaron Sanchez. Suggesting Sanchez as a potential option to close may come as a surprise, considering the hard-throwing right-hander has been regarded as one of the favorites to take the fifth spot in Toronto’s rotation. Anthopoulos indicated that the plan remains to stretch Sanchez out during spring and that the long-term hope is still for him to be a front-of-the-rotation guy. However, he suggested that if there was a scenario in which Sanchez and either Daniel Norris or Marco Estrada impressed in spring training, the team might be better off keeping Sanchez in the bullpen.
This would make sense in the given scenario, considering Sanchez thrived in the role last year and that he’s yet to consistently bring a quality third offering to the table. Having Sanchez available out of the bullpen would also give Toronto the flexibility of utilizing Cecil in a situational role rather than having him pitch strictly in the ninth inning, which Anthopoulos acknowledged might make him more valuable to the team.
Another interesting takeaway from the interview was that Anthopoulos mentioned the club is “very high” on 20-year-old Miguel Castro, who will get a chance to make the team out of spring training. Anthopoulos admitted that he doesn’t necessarily expect the 20-year-old to break camp with the team, but hinted at the possibility of accelerating him up the system if he continues to impress. This should raise a few eyebrows considering Castro began last season starting for short-season Vancouver before finishing up the year in the Florida State League. (He struck out 78 and walked 30 in 80 innings across three levels).
The prospect team ranked the projectable right-hander No. 7 in the Jays system in December, noting, “the sitting velocity has ticked up over the course of the last 12 months as the soon-to-be 20-year-old has begun to add strength and mature more physically.” Castro’s fastball typically sat in the 92-95 MPH range out of the rotation last year and Chris Mellen wrote in his summary of the Dominican right-hander, “It’s not out of the question that the fastball can consistently operate more closely to the present peak velocity (97) as this prospect matures further into his mid-twenties or works in more isolated short bursts.”
Castro will get the chance to show how well his stuff can play up in shorter bursts come spring training and will be one of several pitchers looking to solidify their role in Toronto’s fluid pitching staff.