Bullpen picture coming into focus
Wells likely leading candidate for final spot with Ryan out
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Less than a week remains until the Blue Jays pack up their bags and put Florida and Spring Training firmly in the rearview mirror. Before Toronto can take that step, the club has to sort out its bullpen, which is the source of the only decisions left in camp.
On Sunday, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said the plan is to have the makeup of the relief corps settled before the team heads to Philadelphia for a pair of exhibition games next weekend. Ricciardi also hinted at just how the bullpen will stack up, leaving little mystery to the pending decisions.
"We're still ironing some things out in the bullpen," Ricciardi said. "Ideally, our goal is to keep everybody and not lose guys."
With that last sentiment, Ricciardi was referring to players who have contract situations that could influence whether or not they make the team. That line of thinking involves pitchers who are in camp on Minor League contracts, as well as Randy Wells, who was picked up from the Cubs during the Rule 5 Draft in December.
Barring injury, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs, Brian Tallet and Jason Frasor are locks for the bullpen, while Brandon League and Brian Wolfe appear to be favorites to make the cut as well. Considering that closer B.J. Ryan is probably headed to the disabled list to open the season, there is likely just one vacancy in the seven-man 'pen.
Ricciardi said that Ryan, who is coming back from the reconstructive left elbow surgery he had in May, is scheduled to throw in a bullpen session on Monday. Earlier this week, Toronto decided to keep Ryan out of spring games for the time being, and it's unlikely that he'll appear in another game before the regular season begins.
"He's feeling good," said Ricciardi, referring to Ryan. "We'll probably assess that again probably Monday or Wednesday and try to come to a conclusion to what we're going to do that way."
With only one spot seemingly open, the 25-year-old Wells looks like the leading candidate to win a job. If the Jays do not put Wells on the Opening Day roster, Toronto would be required to offer the right-hander back to Chicago for $25,000, risking losing him -- precisely what Ricciardi hinted that he'd like to avoid.
"He's done a good job," Ricciardi said about Wells. "The thing I like about Wells is he's not afraid. It's tough to pitch in the big leagues, but it's even tougher to pitch against the Yankees and the Red Sox. Now, you never know how guys respond when the bell rings for real."
Relief pitchers still in camp for the Blue Jays on Minor League contracts include John Parrish, Jesse Carlson, Mike Gosling and Shawn Camp. Toronto also signed veteran reliever Armando Benitez to a Minor League deal, but the right-hander hasn't obtained a proper working visa, prohibiting him from pitching in Grapefruit League games.
Ricciardi said Benitez threw on Sunday, but the pitcher still needs time to get into game shape, considering he wasn't brought into camp until March 11. It appears as though Benitez, along with the other pitchers signed to Minor League deals, will be ticketed for Triple-A Syracuse to open the season.
"In Armando's case, he might need a little bit more time," Ricciardi said. "I think eventually he's going to be here to help us. He's really been a little better than all of us had thought at this point."
The Jays could still potentially consider keeping a pitcher like Parrish -- should the club feel the need to carry an extra left-hander in Ryan's absence -- but that could lead to roster issues down the road. It's more likely that Parrish and the others will open the year at Triple-A to provide Toronto with added depth.
In order to add a pitcher signed to a Minor League deal to the Opening Day roster, Toronto would need to clear room on the 40-man roster. Then, if the Blue Jays wanted to send that pitcher back to the Minors during the season -- upon Ryan's return, for example -- they would risk losing him to waivers.
"A lot of guys still have their hand in the mix, I'd say," Ricciardi said. "We'll pretty much have it resolved by the time we go to Philly."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.